Hana Relay and a race rundown

The Hana Relay goes 52 miles from Kahului to Hana and only accepts 100 teams.
The Hana Relay goes 52 miles from Kahului to Hana and only accepts 100 teams. Photo Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson
Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

The road to Hana is breathtaking for more reasons than one. First there are the 617 curves and 56 bridges, most of them wide enough for just one car, where you hold your breath hoping a large SUV is not on the other side of a blind corner.

Then there are the cliffs, waterfalls and expansive views of the Pacific that make you gasp when you have enough time to take your eyes off the road or, on second thought, pull over at one of the many scenic overlooks.

The 64-mile road, a notoriously harrowing journey for drivers, is well known in Hawaii, a rite of passage to enjoy Hana's rural, picturesque atmosphere and slow, relaxed pace. The road is rough in places, and undulates up and down repeatedly over the rocky coastline. One's calves should burn at the very thought of running the road to Hana, and so of course a group of intrepid runners decided to do exactly that in 1971, and haven't stopped since.

The Hana Relay, a 52-mile relay race from Kahului Airport to the Hana Ballpark, will celebrate its 46th year on Sept. 9. The race is limited to 100 teams with six runners per team, and registration, which fills up fast, starts at 5 a.m. on June 1.

Each participant runs three legs of about two to three miles each. While one team member is running, the rest of the group drives ahead to the next exchange point. Everyone ends up in Hana, where they join in celebration, including food, drinks and live music, and rest their weary legs. Spectators line the route and cheer on the runners, and there is a lot of camaraderie among the teams, many of which dress up in costume.

The race is put on by the Valley Isle Road Runners, and in addition to the typical awards for the fastest teams in certain categories, they also award a prize for the most spirited team based on enthusiasm, sportsmanship, costumes and van decoration.

While it can be tough to think about running in Hawaii when the weather is at its hottest and muggiest, many of the registration periods for the fall races are starting now. Also, for the especially hearty runners, Hawaii Island proves its mettle by holding the Kona Marathon in June.

More Hawaii races

Kona Marathon: The race on Hawaii Island is scheduled for June 25, and registration is still open. Options include the full marathon, half marathon, quarter marathon and a 5k. Runners start at the Hilton Waikoloa Village and end up at the Waikoloa Bowl.

Kauai Marathon: The Garden Isle's annual race also includes a half marathon, and both courses start in the resort town of Poipu and head out along the Kauai coast. The full marathon course heads toward Lawai and climbs to Kalaheo where runners are rewarded with sweeping ocean views. The Kauai Marathon will be on Sept. 3, and the party at the finish includes food and live entertainment.

Maui Marathon: This event on Oct. 15 also includes a half-marathon, 10k and 5k. The course starts in Kahului and winds around the West Maui Mountains to the finish at Kaanapali Beach.

Honolulu Marathon: This road race being held Dec. 10 is one of the largest marathons in the U.S., drawing more than 30,000 participants each year. With no limit on the number of runners and no cut-off time when runners have to abandon the course, it is a beginner-friendly marathon. The race starts at the Ala Moana Beach Park, heads out toward the Niu Valley, and then doubles back and finishes on Waikiki.  

Maui Oceanfront Marathon:  One of the first long races each year, the Maui Oceanfront is slated for Jan. 14, 2018. The race starts in Wailea and heads toward Lahaina, around the western coast. The day also features a half marathon, 15k, 10k and 5k, all of which start from different locations. The course runs along numerous beaches, and given the time of year, it's not uncommon for runners to see whales off the shore.
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