PO‘IPU — Michael Wardian, winner of the 2010 Kaua‘i Marathon, will have his hands full trying to defend his title when the third Kaua‘i Marathon rolls out of the gate at 6 a.m. on Sunday in front of Po‘ipu Shopping Village.
Wardian, missing the $15,000 Speed Challenge by less than a minute in the 2010 Kaua‘i Marathon will be competing against several elite runners hoping to get the Challenge purse for running the full marathon in less than 2:30:00; and for women, less than 2:45:00.
“The Speed Challenge is drawing a lot of top runners from all over,” said Robin Jumper, the event’s public relations director, during the sports and health expo at the Sheraton Kaua‘i Resort in Po‘ipu on Friday. “One of the viable candidates is Tyler McCandless, and the Kenyan runners are back.”
During the 2010 event, the Kenyan runners lost little time blasting out of the starting gate and were in the lead before having to withdraw from the race.
Jumper said this year’s field will be larger than 2010 when 1,520 runners left the starting gate.
“As of Thursday, we’ve got 1,605 athletes registered,” Jumper said. “We’ve still got runners walking in to register at the expo. By the time the starting gun goes off, we should be in the excess of 1,700 runners. This is more than the inaugural Kaua‘i Marathon, where we hosted 1,681 runners.”
Jumper said there are 440 Kaua‘i runners registered. The field includes runners from 12 countries, including Canada, Japan, Guam, Korea, Sweden, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Qatar and Switzerland. Runners are also coming from 47 states, plus Washington, D.C., and breaks down to 60 percent women and 40 percent men.
McCandless, who started running as a freshman in high school as a cross training for soccer, advanced through his running career, earning a bachelor’s degree in meteorology by running for Penn State.
“You can always work a 9-to-5 job, but it’s not every day you can pursue marathons,” McCandless said while browsing through the offerings at the expo. “I’ve driven the full marathon course, and I have full respect for the sub-2:30:00 time. There isn’t a spot on the course that isn’t a hill.”
Earlier in the year, McCandless outlasted Wardian at the Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota where they both recorded personal bests, Jumper said. McCandless’ time at that event came in at 2:17:09.
Rue Quizon of Ottawa, Canada, is running her first Kaua‘i Marathon after picking up running only last year.
“This is my fourth personal marathon,” Quizon, who was studying the course map, said. “I have to get out to learn the course. I only know where the Tunnel of Trees is because we passed it getting here.”
Leesha Kawamura of Wailua is running her third Kaua‘i Marathon.
“I had to run the inaugural event,” she said. “But I’m only doing the half marathon for cross training. It’s pretty hard because on the uphill leg, there’s a point where your body is crooked.”
Traffic will be affected in the Po‘ipu, Koloa, Oma‘o, Lawai and Kalaheo areas from 5 to 9 a.m. during the marathon.
Visit www.thekauaimarathon.com for complete course maps and which areas will be affected.
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.