Hawai’i Island is the triathlon Mecca of the world. But Hawai’i is also a great running vacation destination, as my husband, Phil, and I learned on a trip there in August, which was sponsored by the Hawai’i Visitors and Convention Bureau. When it comes to running in Hawai’i—whether you’re going there to race, to train or just for fun—there are many iconic, unforgettable places to get in a jog.
I put together a “Running Vacation” guide to Hawai’i, the Big Island in my column at The Washington Times Communities. Here are some highlights and embellishments.
What To Race
Triathlons in Hawai’i
To compete in the Ironman World Championship, athletes must earn a spot at a qualifying race, gain entry through a lottery or win a bib at a charitable auction. But that’s not the only triathlon on Hawai’i Island.
The Ironman 70.3 Hawai’i on May 31, 2014 is the only Ironman World Championship qualifier held on the island, with a start and finish on the Kohala Coast.
Or try the Lavaman Triathlon Series with Olympic distance races at Keauhou on November 24, 2013 and Waikoloa on March 30, 2014. And many other triathlon events take place on the island throughout the year.
Running in Hawai’i
And Peaman puts on a free series of events throughout the year. There are lots of year-round options for running in Hawai’i.
Where To Run
The most famous spot for running in Hawai’i might be Ali’i Drive. The iconic road is seven-miles long from start to finish with markers every mile. Winding through Kailua-Kona, the oceanfront road features prominently in most races in Kona, including the Ironman World Championship and Kona Marathon.
Phil and I made sure to get in a run along the route while we were staying at the Sheraton Kona, which is perfectly situated and the end of Ali’i Drive.
Expect a few big hills along with some flat stretches and lots of gorgeous scenery. The shoulder narrows once you get closer to town, so you have to be mindful of cars. But you won’t be alone out there. You’ll pass, and be passed by, plenty of other runners making their way along the iconic road. There are a few water fountains lining the way, but bring plenty of water in case you don’t happen to spot them. The road has very little shade, so make sure you’ve got sun protection too.
But this spot is a must run if you’re staying in Kona.
For running in Hawai’i's northern end, venture to Mana Road in Waimea, especially if you’re staying on the Kohala Coast. The largely dirt road winds for more than 40-miles around Mauna Kea, Hawai’i’s tallest peak. Be prepared for erratic weather from strong winds to rain or sun. But the views are worth it. Bring plenty of water and fuel if you plan on running long. And for inspiration, Choy at TheRunStuff.com has some gorgeous photos of running Mana Road.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Not to be missed is Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on the island’s south end with 150 miles of trails and two active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Running in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park affords a wide variety of trails, roads and terrain. Some trails are better suited than others for running, due to varied groundcover underfoot.
For hiking in the park, consider a private tour with Native Guide Hawaii’s Warren Costa, a former ranger who knows all of the park’s 333,000 acres, history, geology, flora and fauna.
Having toured this park twice now—once with my family without a guide and once with my husband with a guide—I can honestly say that you get so much more out of the visit with a guide. And Costa is as knowledgable and easy-going as any guide I’ve ever had anywhere.
Who else would point out Pele’s hair, Lava trees, give you all the wonderful back stories about each lava flow you walk on, and take you off the beaten path? At the very least, bring a guide book so you can truly appreciate what a natural marvel the park is.
Where To Stay
Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay
If you’re Kona or bust, the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay is perfectly situated for running Ali’i Drive. The entrance to the resort is just a quarter of a mile to the famous road. Alternately, the treadmills at the 24-hour fitness center face spectacular ocean views. The view was so gorgeous I was almost tempted to run indoors, but the ocean breezes of Ali’i Drive won out.
The buffet breakfast on the terrace at Ainakai restaurant overlooking Keauhou Bay is a great place to refuel after a morning run or complimentary yoga on a bay view lawn.
The hotel doesn’t have much of a beach, but dip in the 14,100 sq. ft. pool tucked into oceanfront lava cliffs. Two whirlpools, waterfalls, lazy river and 200-foot-long waterslide make the hotel a family-friendly or kid-at-heart favorite, putting myself in the latter category. I love a good pool.
The Sheraton Kona underwent a $20 million renovation in 2012. Guest rooms have been updated with lovely furnishings and comfortable linens. I was genuinely impressed by how darn comfortable the bed was. And views from the oceanfront rooms are stunning.
Vistas are on the menu throughout the hotel, with stunning views of Keauhou Bay and Manta Rays from Rays on the Bay restaurant.
The property is also the headquarter hotel and finish line for the Lavaman Keauhou Triathlon and Kona Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K and 5K.
After researching Hawai’i hotel options and pricing, the Sheraton Kona offers a lot of bang for your buck, with current rate specials starting at just $139 per night. With an excellent location for exploring Kailua-Kona, coffee tours, volcanoes and running in Hawai’i, I’d happily stay here again.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
Further north on the Kohala Coast, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel sits perched on arguably the loveliest stretch of beach on all of Hawai’i Island.
Originally opened in 1965, this hotel is for the Don Drapers of the world, with its sleek mid-century modern design and world-class 1,600-piece Pacific and Asian art collection.
Walking into the hotel lobby felt like stepping back in time into the magical Hawai’i your parents told you about, with lush gardens, pristine beaches and a relaxed “aloha” vibe. For me this was especially true, since my parents stayed at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in the early ’70s.
When I told my mother where we were staying, she gushed. She said it was one of her favorite hotels she ever stayed at, and that was saying a lot; she was a Delta flight attendant who traveled extensively in the ’60s and ’70s before my sister and I came along.
And you know what? It was every bit as magical and luxurious as my mother recalled. This may have been my favorite spot of my entire trip.
An extensive $150 million renovation finished in 2009 restored the hotel to a truly luxury experience. A full renovation of the 1968 beachfront wing concluded last month.
Unlike many hotels on the island, guests still receive floral leis upon check-in, L’Occitane bath products adorn deep soaking tubs, and spacious oceanfront lanais encourage guests to spend more of their time outdoors than in. The rooms aren’t the largest you’ll find in Hawai’i, but who goes to Hawai’i to sit in their room? When you do need relief from the sun, Mauna Kea’s rooms offer everything you’ll need and more.
But if you came to swim, bike and run you won’t have to look much further than the Mauna Kea property itself.
You’ll find swimmers doing laps in the crystalline water beside Kauna’oa Beach.
Grab your bike and ride Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway just beyond the resort’s gates.
Or drive 25 minutes to Mana Road in Waimea to run more than 40 miles of rolling hills for running in Hawai’i's mountains instead of beaches.
If you prefer to workout indoors, try the 2,500 sq. ft. fitness center, which also offers complimentary yoga on a beachfront lawn.
After you’re worked up an appetite, breakfast onsite at the Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar on standouts like homemade corned beef hash, Portuguese sweet bread French toast, or fresh Hawaiian fruit and banana bread, which I ate aplenty.
If you like to refresh with a cocktail, be sure to try the hotel’s signature drink. The Fredrico is a rum and whiskey concoction with four fruit juices named for two guests of yore. It packs even more punch than a Mai Tai. And at night, watch Manta Rays swim along the hotel’s shore.
If you’re looking for other activities from the hotel’s doorstep, head to Kohala Zipline in North Kohala for an aerial tour of Hawai’i’s tree tops just 30 minutes north of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.
Or snorkel offshore waters and sail aboard a 58 ft. catamaran with Ocean Sports, where you might spot spinner dolphins and sea turtles. Ocean Sports will even pick you up and drop you off from the hotel.
To see the island in all its grandeur, consider a visit to Mauna Kea itself, where visitors can hike or drive to the summit of the mountain at 13,796 ft. The Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station at 9,200 ft. is just an hour and 15 minute drive from the hotel and offers free star gazing from public telescopes at night. If you do plan to head to the summit, be sure to visit the Information Station, which offers a list of precautions and planning guide for anyone hoping to hike or drive. Coming from sea level, where you might have been SCUBA diving to 14,000 ft. in a matter of hours comes with its own risks.
And at the end of the day, you have the lovely, otherworldly Mauna Kea Beach Hotel to come home to. This is one of those properties I could visit again and again. Phil and I are already fantasizing about a return trip.
More Running Vacations
For more tips on where to swim, bike, eat and play, check out my entire “Running Vacation: Train like an Ironman in Kona, Hawai’i” at The Washington Times Communities.
I started writing the “Running Vacation” series this summer. The first was “Running vacation: Try a triathlon in Montauk, N.Y.”
And there are many more to come!
For more Hawai’i vacation ideas, visit GoHawaii.com.
The Hawai’i Visitors and Convention Bureau sponsored my trip to Hawai’i including the accommodations and some activities mentioned. But as always, all opinions are purely my own. I really do believe in being honest about my experiences. For more information read my Disclosure Policy.