By Cynthia Sweeney
Special to NHN
What started 15 years ago as a race with 84 participants, has grown into an international event with 1,600 athletes, and an opportunity for just about everyone to get in shape.
“It’s something within reach for a lot of people. It’s a race where someone can set a goal and most people can achieve it,” said Gerry Rott, Race Director and owner of the Lavaman Triathlon, which takes place April 1 in Waikoloa, and November 18 in Keauhou.
Unlike the Ironman, the Lavaman Triathlon is structured by age group, and is not as grueling – er, long. The majority of participants in the Lavaman are in their early 30’s to mid 60’s, and for those who are not up to completing the whole three legs of the race, relay teams share the pain – er, gain. The relay is also a way for people to ease into racing without committing to an entire triathlon. While professional athletes do compete in this race, they have their own category and win no prize money here, but the race is an excellent training ground for more demanding races.
Of the 1,600 participants this year, 12 are from Japan, three are from the United Kingdom, 400 are from Hawaii and the rest are mostly from the Pacific West Coast.
Quite a few first-timers will be participating in this year’s Lavaman as well. Jason Trask, of Waikoloa, started training for the race January 1 of this year. At 37, he said he’s doing it to get in shape.
His training involves lifting weights, push-ups and stretches. He also bought a used bike and practices actual legs of the race to build up his endurance. He also stopped drinking soda, cut back on sweets and started drinking protein shakes.
Trask is a pilot with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and has the added motivation of competing against two other pilots he works with, Toshi Mochizuki, 43, and Dave Wierenga, 52.
“I just hope I can make it through the race without stopping,” he said.
The first wave of the race starts at 7:25 a.m. with a 1,500 meter (.9 mile) swim out of Anaehoomalu Bay, followed by a 500 meter dash to the bikes, followed by a 40 kilometer bicycle trek. Bikers will travel south on Queen Kaahumanu Highway, on a portion of the Ironman Triathlon route to Kukio, near Hualalai Resort, and back for a 10 kilometer run through the Waikoloa Beach Resort.
For the first eight years of the Lavaman, Rott said the race was operating in the red. That has changed. The race is now a $250,000 venture and creates big business for the community. The Hilton Waikoloa, which sponsors the event, has 2,000 rooms booked in conjunction with the Lavaman, and the Waikoloa Beach Marriot is sold out during the event. Rott is proudest, however, of the amount of money raised by Leukemia & Lymphoma Research, which basically trains “couch potatoes” to participate and be sponsored in the race to raise money for the disease center. Last year, $2.5 million was raised by 548 Team in Training participants. Since 2001, these teams have raised over $14 million for blood cancer research and patient services.
“It makes you feel really good about the race,” Rott said. “To me, that’s the reward.”
Keiki also have a chance to get their feet wet in the Lavaman, with an introduction to the world of triathlons with their own races and coaching from professional athletes. Ages six and under can participate in a beach run, ages 7 – 10 swim and run, and ages 11 -14 take on the full challenge of a swim, run and bike race. Sports clinics sponsored by the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Hotel also teach children how to exercise and how to eat right with professional coaches, athletes and local chefs.
Inspiring young people is something Wendy Minor enjoys doing. Minor is something of a legend in local racing. She has competed in 28 Ironman Triathlons including the last 15 in Kona. In 2010, at age 65, she competed in the three-day Ultraman World Championships, which consists of a six mile swim, 261 mile bike ride and 52 mile run. She was the oldest person to compete in the race, and the oldest woman by 10 years.
“How’s that?!” Minor was emphatic. “That was the frosting on the cake,” she said referring to her long career in racing. “Those three days couldn’t have been any better.”
This year, at 67, Minor will be participating in both the Waikoloa and Keauhou Lavaman races. She said she is done with serious racing, adding she is racing for the fun of it now.
“It’s way more enjoyable not to have the pressure,” she said.
Minor does not have any secrets or tricks to her training. She credits her success to eating regular food, like peanut butter sandwiches, common sense, moderation, and not over-training or running herself into the ground.
“In 1986 we didn’t train with heart monitors and GPS and carbon fiber frames on our bikes. My bike weighed 30 pounds,” she said.
Minor also uses visualization, running and biking the race in her head in advance.
“For three weeks before the Ironman I visualized the whole course. Running is my weakest link, and I am able to reach deep inside to pull out of a tough race. It’s amazing how that works,” she said.
Minor hopes her years of racing are an inspiration to others.
“It’s great feeling this good and being in this good of shape. My health is incredibly good. It’s just part of a lifestyle,” she said.
For spectators, the best place to view the Lavaman is from A-Bay, and Rott recommends coming early – before 7 a.m. – to get a good spot. Parking is near A-Bay and in a special area in the Queen Shop’s parking lot next door.
A large part of what makes this race so popular, Rott noted, is the big beach party after the race. Awards are given and athletes, volunteers and spectators gather for beer and barbeque for one of the best parties in triathaldom.
“As race director, looking out and everyone is smiling, that’s a really good feeling,” she said.