Wayne Joseph’s Blog

Running with the Big Dog


The Kilauea Volcano Marathon, held in July at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, will be no more.

The event, which just celebrated its 26th consecutive year, had been under the criticism from the Kupuna Council (Native Hawaiian elders) advisory group to the National Park.

Park Superintendent, Cindy Orlando, pulled the plug on the annual event due to growing concerns from the Kupuna Council who believed that Kilauea is a sacred mountain to the goddess Pele.

Kupuna Council members lobbied the Park to discontinue the race due to Native Hawaiian cultural concerns in their belief that the 1000 annual runners and walkers were disrespecting their religious culture. (Orlando could not be reached for comment despite phone and email messages being left at her office).

“Our determination that this activity was not appropriate to the park was based on compliance checks which require that the event doesn’t impact the park adversely,” Chief Ranger Talmadge Magno said.

Magno went on to explain that impact to the trails, the bringing into the park of invasive species, the overuse of the trails due to increased visitors and the sacredness of the mountain to the Native population, all played a role in the demise of the race.

Billed as one of the world toughest trail runs the Kilauea Marathon is no longer open to the public.

Park Service Employee, Tom Foster, echoed Magno’s assessment. “It is a combination of several factors that the Park considered in canceling this race,” he said.

Foster, who represents the parks maintenance division on the Kupuna Council, did concede that thre was a vocal voice on the group that wanted the race removed from the park.

The 333,000- acre park includes Mauna Loa which rises 13,677 feet above sea level and also descends eight miles beneath the ocean, making it the earth’s most massive volcano. Legend has it that the goddess Pele makes Mauna Loa her home.

Hawaiian culture also includes “The Legend of Makoa” who for many runners is the direct descendent of many of the worlds cultural tradition of a long distance runners.

Makoa was given the title of “kukini” or foot racer and to this day, when a runner shows great speed, that runner is referred to as “He poki’i no Makoa” or Makoa’s younger brother or sister.

Artist Dietrich Varez created the image of Makoa in his art and the image was placed on finisher medals and T-shirts for all participants to enjoy.

The Kilauea Wilderness Runs, as it was originally called, was created back in 1983 when Chief Park Ranger, Dan Sholly, used the 26.2-mile footrace as a way of keeping his staff of rangers fit by challenging their endurance.

“It wasn’t an easy thing for us to do,” Magno said of canceling the race. “We had to consider many factors, including the eruption of Halema’uma’u.

Due to the emission of gases from Halema’uma’u Crater park officials nearly canceled the race this past May, but allowed race organizers to reroute the marathon and 10-mile course to avoid possible dangers.

Proceeds from the event have gone to benefit the Volcano Art Center and their many Hawaiian cultural programs and VAC Executive Director, Phyllis Segawa, is scrambling to find an alternative course outside the park.

“We’re looking at different options of holding the event up in the Volcano area, but on private land so that we can continue the annual tradition,” Segawa said.

Segawa, who was the race director for the first Kilauea Wilderness Run, remains optimistic that a new marathon course can be found to salvage the race.

The 26.2 mile marathon had been rated by many national magazines, including Runners World and Marathon & Beyond, as one of the 10 most difficult trail marathons in the world.

Due to the “wilderness” nature of the run the park, along with race organizers, limited the marathon field to 225 runners and had set a maximum finish time of 7 ½ hours. Accompanying the marathon was a 10-mile crater rim trail run and a 5-mile run/walk into the crater of Kilauea Iki.

The total of three distance races often would attract 1000 athletes from around the world who would marvel at its beauty and charm.

Magno left the door open to possibly starting the race within the park, while having most of the distance run in areas outside of the park.

“I’ve been a runner for most of my life,” Magno said, “and this was a difficult decision for us to make.”

And someday should you happen to see a “kukini” making his way around Hilo Bayfront remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”

The Big Dog can be reached through email at waiakeabigdog@aol.com.

For over 20 years park officials would bring supplies into the Wilderness Areas of Kilauea to set up aid stations for the runners

For over 20 years park officials would bring supplies into the Wilderness Areas of Kilauea to set up aid stations for the runners


February 22, 2009 Posted by | Events, Health and Fitness, Marathon Running, Wilderness Trail Runs | , , | Leave a comment