The Ironman Triathlon World Championship will be underway Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m., following a traditional Hawaiian blessing, when Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi fires the starting cannon. At 6:30 and 6:35, the professional men and then the women will start their swim in Kailua Bay. At 7 a.m. Mayor Kenoi will again fire the cannon to get the 1850 age groupers, the amateurs off on their quest for personal achievement. This year, competitors hail from 64 countries.
The athletes will swim 2.4 miles in Kailua Bay, then ride bikes 112 miles up Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway to Hawi in North Kohala and back to the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. They will then run a 26.2-mile marathon which will take them down Ali’i Drive, out Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway to the Natural Energy Lab south of Kailua-Kona Airport, and back down the highway, then along Kuakini Highway, down Hualalai Road, and up to the iconic finish line on Ali’i Drive right by Kailua Pier.
The first pro finishers should come in between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. The men’s 2011 champion, Craig Alexander,is back to defend his crown. The 2011 women’s champion, Chrissie Wellington, is not racing this year. But 2010′s women champion, Mirinda Carfrae, is racing and hoping to regain her title.
The real stories are in all the age groupers, who will be on the course for up to 17 hours. The final official finish time is midnight.
The race should be challenged by the weather, which is expected to be hot, sunny, and humid. There should be windy conditions up the Kohala Coast to Hawi.
Kona Race Director Diana Bertsch and Mayor Kenoi will be at the finish line to greet the first male and the first female finishers. And they will also be at the finish line to greet and celebrate the final finishers at midnight.
Roads around Kailua Village from Kahakai Estates, about three miles south of town on Kuakini Highway, Ali’i Drive, and Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway will be closed or severely restricted much of Saturday. Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway closures extend up to Kawaihae during the bike portion of the race, and Akoni Pule Highway to Hawi will also be restricted. Those wishing to get to Hawi should go through Waimea and take Kohala Mountain Road (Highway 250) over the hill. People needing to get to the Keahole Kona Airport should take Palani Road (the upper highway, Highway 190) to Ka’iminani and go down Ka’iminani to Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. Police will let traffic through periodically, but extra time should be allowed.
The Ironman World Championship will be on television on NBC in December, but today, you may follow live coverage online at live.ironmanlive.com The site also has an athlete tracker so you can follow the progress of any athlete through all three legs of the race.
Note: at 5:30 a.m., spectators’ cars were already parked mauka of Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway, with spectators streaming across Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway going down to Kailua Bay. The atmosphere is festive.