Friday, July 29, 2005

Kilauea races
hot event for
Volcano town

VOLCANO, Hawaii » Honolulu running coach Rachel Portner loves the feeling of racing across lava fields in the uplands of Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island.


"It's the most beautiful scenery. It's like being on the moon," she said.

Portner has run in the Wilderness Marathon in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park almost every year since 1986, setting records four times on the present course.

When the marathon and three other events are held in the park tomorrow, an injury will keep Portner at home on Oahu, but she still looks on the events with nostalgia.

"I think it attracts people who love the outdoors, who appreciate the volcano," she said.

"It's a big party," added her husband, Bernie. "Our whole family goes. We meet up with friends that we only meet at that time, once a year."

About a thousand participants and their families will gather for the events tomorrow, only about 150 of them for the grueling marathon. The majority will be in the easier 10-mile run around Kilauea caldera, the 5-mile run through the caldera, or the 5-mile walk along the same route.

Besides support from the national park, the events are sponsored by the Volcano Art Center, which runs a gallery in the original 1877 Volcano House in the park. Although far smaller than the annual triathlon in Kona or the Honolulu marathon, the events produce a little income for the art center, about $10,000 to $14,000, said center Executive Director Marilyn Nicholson.

They give a much bigger economic boost to businesses in the Volcano village area just outside the park.

The art center web site (www.volcanoartcenter.org) lists about 35 bed-and-breakfasts. About twice as many other types of vacation rentals are also in the area. They all fill up for about three days at race time, Nicholson said.

Eighty percent of participants come from the Big Island and Oahu, but some travel from Japan and Europe, said race director Howard Shapiro. A few stay in hotels in Hilo or Kona, then drive to the runs early on race day, Nicholson said. The marathon starts at 6 a.m., other events at 7 a.m.

Rachel Portner remembers the first time she won a race, receiving a huge silver cup and wondering how she would lug it home on a plane.

Later, the art center switched prizes to its strength, now giving out about 300 works of art to winners each year, Nicholson said.

Winners this year will also receive medals for only the second time in 14 years.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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