Wayne Joseph’s Blog

Running with the Big Dog

Big Island Running Pioneer, Robert Hillier

Bob Hillier

It’s been more than 20 years since I moved from Honolulu to teach, raise my family and become part of the running community here on the Big Island.

   During the 1980’s the Big Island running scene was anchored by several pioneers who brought with them the enthusiasm and commitment to start, maintain and bring to full bloom the competitive spirit of our sport.

   One such pioneer that deserves much credit is Robert Hillier who came to Hawaii in 1968 to teach English at Hilo High School after serving two years in the Peace Corps in the Philippines.

   “I was recruited by the Hawaii Department of Education who wanted to bring into the school system returning Peace Corp volunteers,” Hillier said.  Other former Peace Corps Volunteer who taught school and who enjoyed running included Donald Romero, Patricia Richardson and Rob Banashek.

    Hillier was born and raised in Laramie, Wyoming and ran track and cross country in high school.  “I ran cross country at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, but stopped running altogether from 1966 to ’74,” he said. 

   “In the 1960’s six miles was considered a long training run.  Running shoes were lightweight canvas shoes with no cushioning or support and the Boston Marathon was open to any male who wanted to enter, but 26 miles seemed like an impossible distance,” Hillier said.

   The opportunity to coach the Hilo High girls cross country team, newly formed in 1974 also encouraged Hillier to resume running.

   By 1979 Hillier had begun to establish himself as a regular Big Island harrier and during the 1980’s could be found entered in almost every local race.

  “My training by the ‘80s exceeded 40 miles per week as I raced almost every month doing 25 marathons and a few shorter ultra-marathons,” Hillier said.

   By 1985 Hillier was at the top of his running performance with a personal best 2 hours 38 minutes and 8 seconds for the 1985 Honolulu Marathon. 

  “I ran marathons in Hilo, Volcano, Kona, Maui, Boston, San Francisco and Cheyenne and had two marathon victories,” he said.  Hillier won the 1985 Kona Marathon and the 1986 Big Island Marathon while he coached and trained with the lady Viking harrier squads.

   Hillier also helped to promote running through the Big Island Road Runners as he and Alvin Wakayama co-directed the Saddle Road Relay and Ultra-Marathon for four years.  Hillier also co-directed the Pepsi Challenge 10K with Calvin Shindo in Hilo for two years and was instrumental as a pioneer in helping to continue the running craze that was sweeping the country during that time period.

   When I arrived in Hilo during the 80’s Robert Hillier’s name was well known within the local running community as the Viking teach/coach had established himself as a solid competitive runner and a contributing member of the BIRR.

   “Running is the most basic of athletic activities,” Hillier said.  “All you have to do is put on your shoes and go.  It promotes aerobic fitness more readily than almost any sport.  Running can be social when you run with others, or it can be meditative when you run alone on trails.”

   One of the most challenging activities that Hillier has ever done is when he decided to hike the Long’s Peak which is a 16 mile round trip to the summit with an elevation gain of almost 5,000 feet.

    “The same breathing techniques that helped my marathon pacing also got me to the top of the mountain and back down,” Hillier said.

   Today, at age 66, Hillier continues to work full time for the DOE as the State Coordinator for the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).

   Although not as competitive as he once was Hillier continues to run an occasional fund-raiser event and was last seen in the EMS 5K runs hosted by the County’s Fire Department this past May.

   “Now I run mostly for health, but I try to participate each year in an occasional fund-raiser,” he said.  “With age and an injury I decreased my mileage to between 10 and 25 miles per week and sometimes the running turns out to be walking.”

   Hillier doesn’t let age and a nagging injury deter his drive to stay healthy and fit and has incorporated variety into his fitness plans.

   “I follow no special diet, but try to include healthy foods in my meals,” he said.  “I like a full range of foods with lean protein, salads, fruits and especially wholegrain carbohydrates.  I also cross train a bit, visiting Spencer’s Health and Fitness on weekends and I include light weights and stretching into my regular routine.”

   Robert Hillier exemplifies the essence of what we strive for in health and fitness that of achieving balance in our lives. 

   “Running is a great way of exploring cities,” he said.  “Exercise promotes health and contributes to balance in life.  Usually a runner can use pacing and mind power to get past “the wall” but there are also times when a runner needs to slow to a walk and if injured to drop out.”

   And what’s in store for this super healthy senior citizen?  “My exercise goals are to keep active and take pleasure in exercise,” Hillier said.  “My health goals are to remain active and productive.”


August 2, 2010 Posted by | Profiles, Running on the Big Island | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Original Hilo Marathon (1975-1987) Remembered

Marie Kuramoto with her original 1986 Hilo Marathon award

A few weeks ago I wrote a story about Michael Georgi, a three time winner of the Big Island International Marathon, and his return to Hilo to run in the 13th Annual 26.2-mile race.

   In that Georgi story I mentioned that he ran the original Hilo Marathon three times during the 1980’s and in 1985 Georgi won the race with an amazing time of 2 hours 32 minutes and 4 seconds.  I wrote that the course was never certified and may have been a little short, which according to Bob Culnan, is incorrect.

  “I thought you would like to know that the Hilo Marathon of the 80’s was certified,” Culnan said.  “I did the bike riding with the calibration wheel in 1984 and received a handmade ‘Outstanding Volunteer’ certificate for the measuring and marking of the 10th Annual Big Island Marathon and Half-Marathon.”

Bob Culnan

Culnan’s volunteer certificate was signed by the 1984 race director, Laurie Lannan, along with signatures by Judy and Lee Howard, Betty Healy, Donald Romero and Cher Hillier.

   Culnan remembers that the original Big Island Marathon started and finished on Banyan Drive, went through Pu’ueo, by the community college, then around Banyan out to Keaukaha, back around Banyan and out to Bayfront then had one more loop to Keaukaha with the finish line in the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel’s parking lot.

   The original Hilo Marathon race went on for 13 years, from 1975 to 1987, and attracted some of the most famous Hawaii runners of the day.

   People like Harry Yoshida, Stewart Miyashiro, Bob Standard, Bob Hillier, Andy Levin, Connie Comiso, Rueben Chappins, John Kelly, Giovanni Bartolini, Paul Ryan, and Hilo’s own Marie Kuramoto and Mille Cooke were in their heyday of running.

   “I remember pacing Harry Yoshida on my bike to the winning time and the first Big Islander to finish,” Culnan said.  “In 1984 I also measured a half marathon (13.1-miles) course which became part of the race.”

   Culnan can also recall escorting on his bike Georgi, Yoshida, Bob Hillier and Connie Comiso to wins.  “After the Hilo Bike Club stopped their volunteering I took over and can remember escorting Connie to her only sub 3 hour race,” he said.  (Comiso, a nurse from Honolulu, set the women’s course record in 1985 with a time of 2 hours 59 minutes and 27 seconds.)

   Many other participants had fond memories of Hilo’s hometown race of yesteryear, but some of the details were a bit fuzzy with the passing of 30 years.

   “I still have the award I won in 1986 that states 12th Annual on it,” Marie Kuramoto said.  “I have a photo of us ladies, all five of us, receiving this pretty Big Island carving just for participating in the marathon.”

   Key people that helped put together the marathon race during the 70’s and 80’s were then Big Island Road Runner club officers Dwayne Kanuha, Larry “Fats” Loa, Jerry Hirata, Don Romero, Nick Baligit and Don Ahuna.

   “We saw three different phases of this race,” Hirata said.  “Different people came forward and helped during different periods of time, most of them are now long gone.”

   Part of the stimulus for the marathon getting organized in Hilo came during the mid ‘70s with the popularity of the Carol Kai bed races that were partly sponsored by the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel and had the support of Lorraine Inouye, known as Lorraine Jitchaku back then.

   “The bed race in Hilo was an original for the neighbor island,” Inouye said.  “The activities (for the bed race) were the same as the ones on Oahu and it brought some business into the hotel. The course ran from Banyan, near the HELCO plant and ended at the intersection of the entrance near Coconut Island.”

   Inouye, at the time, was the Assistant Manager and Director of Sales for the Big Island Properties of Hawaiian Pacific Resorts, which included the Hilo Lagoon, Hilo Hawaiian and Kona Lagoon Hotels.

   “We were looking for different activities that would bring more visitors to the Big Island and decided to sponsor the Big Island Marathon,” Inouye said.

   Inouye, although not the race director, spent lots of time during the early years helping to organize the race.

   “I can remember Lorraine and I staying up in the middle of the night folding T-shirts and assigning running numbers,” Bob Quitiquit said of his late 1970’s involvement.  “It was a lot of work and during its peak we must have had around 600 total runners.”

   The race, which was held in July of each year, had its growing pains with a slow start, a peak in the early ‘80’s before suddenly dropping off in numbers with a loss of interest by 1987.

   In the 1987 race, won by Hilo’s Robert Standard in 2:39:07, only 53 marathoners crossed the finish line which marked the end of an era.

   “I still have fond memories of the Big Island Marathon,” Kuramoto said.  “In 1982 it became the first marathon I ever did along with Millie Cooke and it was such a thrill for me.  I love running in my home town.”

   Kuramoto is the only woman to have run all of the current 13 Big Island International Marathons and at 60 plus years of age shows no signs of letting up.

   “I may be getting slower, since those early days, but I have the endurance to continue running marathons,” she said.

   “The original Hilo Marathon was my first back in 1982 as I had just started running at that time,” Kuramoto said.  “I can’t believe that 25 to 30 years has already passed me by.”

May 10, 2010 Posted by | Marathon Running, Running on the Big Island | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments