With a race every weekend, Hawaii's runners go strong year-round

Monday, January 24th 2005, 2:45 pm
By: News On 6

HONOLULU (AP) _ Barring hard-core endorphin junkies, most runners stash their shoes beside their tank tops and flip-flops when winter comes calling, or they're confined to a gym, logging monotonous miles on treadmills and elliptical machines.

In Hawaii, however, runners have few excuses to lounge in their living rooms.

The land of aloha and perennial sun offers at least one road race every weekend of the year and more than 20 running clubs statewide.

``The opportunity is here. Everyone should be super-fit,'' said Geoff Howard, a spokesman for Mid-Pacific Road Runners Club.

Honolulu resident Ellen Humphrey, 77, participates in about 20 races a year.

``There are so many,'' she said. ``I don't really keep track.''

San Diego is Humphrey's second-favorite place to run after Hawaii and she loves logging miles on New Zealand's well-maintained trails.

California, Florida and Texas also have races year-round, according to Bart Yasso, race and event promotion director at Runner's World magazine.

``But most other areas do not have many races in winter,'' Yasso said. ``Certainly not every weekend, not like in Hawaii where you can have them all the time.''

Hawaii races include 1K fun-runs, biathlons and triathlons and the Honolulu Marathon, which posted 22,407 finishers in December, and was the third-largest marathon in the United States last year behind New York and Chicago.

Seasoned runners can tackle next month's Oahu Perimeter Relay, a 134-mile relay race that roughly traces the outline of Hawaii's most populous island. And in March, Maui offers the Haleakala Run to the Sun, a 36-mile ``ultra marathon'' that starts at sea level, and winds up a paved highway of switchbacks to the 10,023-foot summit of the dormant volcano.

Humphrey's favorite race is the Kilauea Volcano Wilderness Run, a 10-miler that leads runners into Kilauea caldera on the Big Island.

``I'm always really really slow, but it's still one of my favorites,'' Humphrey said.

The social aspect of running ends up trumping the jostle of mass competition for some, especially when they train or just run for fun.

``I don't like to run with a whole mob of people,'' said Janice Higa. ``For me, running is more social, so I'll run with a friend or a small group.''

Higa plots her routes around her kids' sports practices. She often jogs along the Ala Wai Canal _ behind the tourist center of Waikiki _ where her daughter's high-school outrigger canoe team paddles to and fro in the greenish water.

Runners in Honolulu also treat themselves to trots through Ala Moana Beach Park or Kapiolani Park, two popular open spaces flanking Waikiki. A longer route wraps around Diamond Head or leads through a tunnel into the extinct volcano's crater.

Escaping Waikiki's vacationing masses can be a bit challenging. Endurance-sport trainer Brian Clarke calls Waikiki his ``urban guerrilla warfare run.''

He occasionally plots a course along the row of iconic beachfront hotels because he enjoys the challenge of weaving through crowds on the sidewalk and seeing ``dozens of runners of all nationalities.''

Clarke, who trained at the University of Oregon under pioneering running coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, leads distance runners and triathletes of all abilities on routes all over Oahu.

``Hawaii is probably one of the safest places in world to run,'' Clarke said.

While Hawaii's miles of beaches may tempt runners looking for relief from paths and pavement, Clarke advises against shore running. The camber, or slant, of a beach, even over short distances, can jar joints and strain muscles or tendons on one side of the body.

``It's a recipe for injury for most people,'' Clarke said.

Hawaii's runner-friendly climate may have helped Honolulu win the second-fittest city designation by Men's Fitness magazine recently. Seattle came in first.

``Seattle is a nice place to run, I can't argue with that,'' said Howard, of the Mid-Pacific runners club. ``But I'd rather run here than Seattle.''