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Despite vog, half-Ironman race on Kohala Coast will go ahead

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Watching footage of the Kilauea lava eruptions has been awe-inspiring for coach and 22-time Ironman finisher Raul “Boca” Torres of Honolulu. He described it as beautiful, yet terrifying.

Despite all that lava brings, which includes vog, Torres, founder of Boca Hawaii, still plans on bringing about 35 athletes to compete Saturday in the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii on the Kohala Coast of Hawaii island.

The course, half of the Ironman World Championship, involves a 1.2-mile swim at Hapuna Beach State Park, followed by a 56-mile bike loop up the Kohala coastline to Hawi and back, capped by a 13.1-mile run on Fairmont Orchid resort grounds.

The Ironman Foundation launched a $100,000 campaign to support local recovery efforts on Hawaii island, starting with an initial pledge of $50,000 at

The Hawaii Interagency Vog Information Dashboard is available at

“You know, it is what it is,” said Torres, who travels to Hawaii island about five times a year for races. “The power of the volcano, the power of Pele, right? I feel sorry for everybody there on that side of the island. And I’m sure the vog is going to get bad, even here, if the wind shifts to this side. Race day, I feel bad for people that have asthma.”

Still, Torres said he did not think it was a reason to cancel the race.

It will proceed as scheduled, according to Ironman spokesman Dan Berglund. About 1,600 athletes are registered to compete.

“As of now, event preparation continues, and we are looking forward to a great race with clear blue skies,” Berglund said. “We are aware and have been continuously monitoring the volcano activity on the east side of the island of Hawaii and subsequent potential impacts to the west side of the island.”

While there had been recent reports of air quality concerns in the town of Kailua-Kona, air quality along the Kohala Coast has been considered good, he said. Race organizers will continue to work with local authorities and the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau to make sure “athlete safety is kept as the paramount concern.”

Race organizers informed athletes on Facebook a week ago that the areas impacted by the volcanic activity were on the east side of Hawaii island, and limited to lower Puna, while the race is on the west side.

However, on Tuesday afternoon, the air quality index in Kona was red, meaning it was unhealthy, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. On Wednesday morning, trades had cleared up the air and the index registered orange, which meant the health of some individuals could be negatively impacted. By late afternoon Wednesday, Kona’s air quality index was yellow, or moderate, meaning the air quality was acceptable.

When an area is listed as red, the state Health Department said, people with heart or lung diseases, older adults and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

“We provide access to the (air quality) website, making sure people can make their own decisions,” said Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau.

Birch said the race course heads north from the Mauna Lani Resort area, and should be traveling away from potential air quality hazards. However, he said there were no air quality monitors north of Kona, and that it would be helpful if there were.

“It’s a day-by-day situation,” he said. “The volcano is like that as well. We don’t have a long forecast of what the tradewinds might do, and we don’t know where the vog might end up going. Who knows how long the ash plumes will continue as well?”

On Tuesday, Jon Jokiel of Kona, who is volunteering at the race, said he headed north to Waikoloa because of the poor air quality. Earlier in the week, he also went up to Waimea seeking cleaner air to get a long-distance run in.

“We’ve always had vog, but this is the worse I’ve seen it,” said Jokiel, a park ranger at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. “Even last week, there were some pretty bad days, too.”

But Jokiel, who has completed the race before, said it will be fine as long as there are tradewinds.

“If the winds are here, they’ll be fine,” he said. “It’ll just be heat and everything else they’ll have to deal with.”

Last week, the Hawaii Tourism Authority reassured travelers that the air quality for the majority of the Hawaiian Islands is fine.

State Health Department Director Virginia Pressler said in a news release from HTA Friday: “The emissions from Kilauea volcano are a non-factor for Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kauai. The weather is beautiful and warm with cooling trade winds everywhere in Hawaii and is exactly what travelers expect when coming here for a relaxing and fun vacation experience. This includes Hilo, Pahoa and the Kona and Kohala coasts on the island of Hawaii.”

But Lacey Holland, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who runs vog measurement and prediction models, said about 20,000 tons of vog per day are coming out of the Kilauea summit compared to 2,500 tons per day before the eruptions. That’s not counting the additional 20,000 tons per day coming out of the Lower East Rift Zone.

“It’s almost like we’ve got 15 to 20 times the vog in the air that we used to have,” said Holland. “This means also that we’ve got a lot more vog than usual.”

The way the vog travels depends on the way the trades blow, and vog models can vary with the slightest shift in source, wind speed and direction, she said. Any interruption in the trades can affect Hawaii island as a whole. The eruptions, going on for four weeks, are a “very unusual event,” she said.

Casey Fitzpatrick of Makakilo, who trains with Boca Hawaii, is looking forward to Saturday’s race, his third half Ironman. Fortunately, he is not sensitive to vog.

“You know sometimes you just can’t control it,” he said. “Here’s the way you look at it. It impacts people differently, but everybody has to go through the same conditions. If it’s windy, everybody has to go through it. If it’s voggy, everybody has to go through it.”

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