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Kona run: The marathon where dreams come true – or are shattered

The run is the final obstacle that any athlete racing at the IRONMAN World Championships will have to conquer

Staff Reporter
Last updated -
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The run – arguably the most important discipline of all in the triathlon.

In Kona, it’s out on the run course that dreams become reality. Who can forget Patrick Lange’s storming runs in 2017 and 2018, but especially in 2017, where he broke Canadian hearts as he reeled in Lionel Sanders out on the asphalt before taking his maiden victory.

When it comes to the Big Island, you really have to run for the “dough”.

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The course

The run course in Kona is a marathon made up of only pavement/asphalt running in the sweltering conditions that are commonplace in Hawaii.

The athletes will be able to see the finish line as they leave transition to start the run, with the fabled finishing chute on their right hand side as they head out on Ali’i drive towards the first turnaround point by Pahoehoe Beach Park.

Kona run course credit IRONMAN
[Kona Run Course – Credit: IRONMAN]

The initial 10km along Ali’i Drive offers a chance for the athletes to shake out some of the residual fatigue from the bike leg and get into a rhythm, with the first stretch alongside the coastline the flattest part of the course.

The first of the three main inclines comes just after mile seven, where the athletes will hope they can rely on the support of the crowd to get them up the 5.4% hill out of downtown Kona that they cycled up earlier on in the day.

Once they head out of downtown, the adrenaline begins to fade, as the heat and humidity combine with the daunting prospect of the challenge ahead to form a realisation that can break many an athlete’s spirit. They’ll find themselves looking into the distance, as their competitors line the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway ahead of them.

After what will likely feel like an eternity, the athletes will turn down and into the fabled ‘Energy Lab’. Completely exposed, the ‘Energy Lab’ comes at mile 16 and after 132 miles of racing is where even the best athletes can often find themselves hitting “the wall”.

The three miles that the athletes spend in the ‘Energy Lab’ might make or break them, with the area actually recording some of the highest levels of insolation in the US (the power of the rays of the sun). On top of that, the longest climb on the course comes in this section – two miles up a 1.5% gradient on ‘Airport Hill’ to get back to the Queen K.

Once back onto the Queen K, the racers with any strength left will be faced with a challenging final 10km back into town, whilst the broken will be left to walk in the remainder of the marathon as their competition heads into the distance.

The final climb of the course comes at mile 24, with the athletes left to tackle just under a kilometre at a 3% gradient as they try and make use of their final dredges of energy to get up and over the hill into Kona. Once there, even the most drained competitors will be able to find solace in the raucous cheers of the crowd that will greet them back down onto Ali’i Drive and into the finishing line to the spine tingling announcement, “you are an IRONMAN”.

The record holders (and potential breakers?)

In Kona, we’ve already established that the run is crucial. Whoever can conquer it is likely to get the better of their competition. However, there are some athletes, such as Uber-runner Patrick Lange, who have managed to set absolutely blistering times on the tough course in Kona.

KAILUA KONA, HI - OCTOBER 13: Patrick Lange of Germany celebrates before he crosses the finish line and sets a course record of 7:52:39 to win the IRONMAN World Championships brought to you by Amazon on October 13, 2018 in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images for IRONMAN)
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images for IRONMAN

On the men’s side, the record belongs to two-time IRONMAN World Champion Patrick Lange, who in 2016 ran 2:39:45.

However, this run record may well be under threat this year, as 2021 IRONMAN World Champion Kristian Blummenfelt is making his debut in Kona, after running 2:38:00 in St George to capture the world title in May. Lange may well also have to break his own record if he has any chance of taking a third world title, whilst recent IRONMAN Wales winner Joe Skipper also looks to be in incredible run form after recording an astonishing 2:37:24 clocking on the tough course in Tenby.

For the women, the record belongs to Mirinda Carfrae, who in 2014 ran 2:50:26 on her way to beating Daniela Ryf to the world crown. Her record is another that could be under threat however, with the German Anne Haug, who won the 2019 IRONMAN World Championships with a 2:51:07 split, looking capable of closing the 40 second deficit to the record after some stellar runs off the bike this year, including a 2:46:04 in Challenge Roth.

Whatever ends up happening at this year’s IRONMAN World Championships, do your utmost to tune in for the last few miles of the run. It is an absolute spectacle and is a true demonstration of human grit and determination after the athletes have had everything stripped away over the previous miles.

TRI247’s Kona course guides:

Tomos Land
Written by
Tomos Land
Tomos Land is a triathlon & running journalist whose expertise lies in the professional world of short course & long distance triathlon, though he also boasts an extensive knowledge of ultra-running.

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