A hill is just a hill. Until it’s Diamond Head.
Then that hill becomes what it really is — a volcano.
That’s what the 25 elite runners in the inaugural Hapalua Half Marathon experienced Sunday morning. Their 13.1-mile race heated up some 9 miles into the course when taking on Leahi, as they battled gusty winds and two world-class marathoners from Kenya hot on their heels.
A 9-minute head start was more than enough for Thomas Puzey to cross the Kapiolani Park finish line first, winning $5,000. The 27-year-old former Brigham Young-Hawaii cross country champion had a handicap time of 1 hour, 1 minute and 24 seconds — 12 seconds ahead of former Hawaii Pacific cross country runner Dany Malley, 21, last month’s Great Aloha Run winner.
Kailua-Kona’s Bree Wee, one of a dozen local elite women given an 18-minute lead in The Chase portion of the event, was third overall with the handicap time of 1:03:05. Three of the other 13 elite men and women who couldn’t catch Wee also didn’t get caught by the Kenyans, with Kailua’s Todd Iacovelli fourth (1:03:35) Honolulu’s Jonathan Cleghorn fifth (1:03:49), Mililani’s Marty Muchow sixth (1:04:36) and Honolulu’s Cindy Anderson seventh (1:04:56).
"The course was hard," said Puzey, the first Hawaii resident finisher in last December’s Honolulu Marathon. "You expect the uphill run, but it was more the downhill portion (after the 12-mile point on Diamond Head Road) that was hard.
"I knew the course, but sometimes it’s nice not to know how much (distance) you have left. You can see the finish line from a long ways off and that last stretch (down Kalakaua Avenue) is long."
But it wasn’t long enough for the two "chasers." Two-time defending Honolulu Marathon champion Nicholas Chelimo and six-time Honolulu Marathon winner Jimmy Muindi, who started with the rest of the 2,600 runners, simply ran out of ground to catch most of the elite pack.
Without the handicap, Muindi would have been first (1:05:05) and Chelimo second (1:05:18), more than 5 minutes ahead of Puzey. Instead, they were eighth and ninth, respectively, but still in the prize money awarded to the top 10.
"I think the (time) was too much," Muindi said. "Maybe for the men it should have been 6 minutes. It was a fast race and a good one for marathon training.
"I had never done this kind of race before. I think the idea was good and it’s good for the local runners."
"The locals trained really hard for this," said Jim Barahal, the Honolulu Marathon president who came up with the idea for Sunday’s companion race. "It being the first time, we were unsure how much of a head start to give them.
"The locals were faster than we thought and the Kenyans ran a little slower. The Chase was a fun thing to do, got the top local runners involved, and we’re already the third-largest run in Hawaii. For it to be sustainable, we’ll need to grow it."
The three-year plan would grow the race in 2,500 increments so that it reaches 7,500 in 2014. The possibility of adding another world-class runner or two is there as well, which would increase the excitement for the local running community.
"We never get the opportunities here to compete with these types of (world-class) runners," Iacovelli said. "The handicap levels the playing field. I thought the concept was great."
Having the lead all to herself was a new concept for Wee, who was the last one to board her flight Saturday to Honolulu and the last to line up among her group Sunday morning in front of the Duke Kahanamoku Statue. But she went out fast, had a 2-minute lead on Anderson at the 9-mile mark, and wasn’t caught by Puzey and Malley until the downhill after the Diamond Head lookout.
"I’m not used to being up front like that," said Wee, who is headed out to Costa Rica for a triathlon later this month. "It’s hard when there’s no one else around you and you aren’t sure where everyone else is."
"But we were all so excited about the concept. These guys are world-class runners and we’re surfing instead of wearing running shoes sometimes."
"The Kenyans were so smooth and it was great to watch them as they passed us around Triangle Park," said Rachel Ross, 15th overall and the fifth elite female (1:08:48).
"They caught us on Monsarrat," added Katherine Nichols, 20th overall and the seventh elite female (1:10:38). "It was amazing to see how fast they are. They blow by you like you’re standing still."