“There is a lot that keeps me coming back,” said King, who is a bio-chemical engineer when he's not winning races. “There is a good prize purse and Hawaiian Airlines miles to the winner, of course it’s hard to pass up when it's in Hawaii, and I now have a streak going that will be hard to break. I love the challenging course, and it gives me a couple days away from the freezing temperatures of Oregon.”
While the event will host its largest field ever with 2,000 runners expected on Sunday, none appear to be in the same class as King. In fact, for most in attendance the actual race site itself at Kualoa Ranch will be the star of the show.
Lee Saltonstall, a Hawaii-based runner, has done all three so far and has two age-group world titles to show for it. “Each time the vistas overwhelm me with their magnificent beauty,” said Saltonstall, 64. “It’s difficult to stay focused on the trail because you just want to stop and gaze upon the surrounding ethereal mountains and valleys. Of all the trail races I have done, Kualoa Ranch is, by far, my favorite course to run. Challenging, for sure, but the setting embraces you with its bucolic beauty.”
Part of the lure is the mystery. The trails at Kualoa Ranch are normally closed to the public, and the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship is one of only a handful of events that has been granted a permit to stage a race there.
Most of the time, the beautiful natural backdrop of Kualoa Ranch is reserved for filming of movies, television shows, or commercials. Among the credits are blockbuster movies such as Jurassic Park, Godzilla, Pearl Harbor, 50 First Dates, and hit television series such as LOST and Hawaii Five-O.
It has also become the perfect setting to determine the XTERRA Trail Run World Champions.
“Beautiful,” is how Colorado elite runner Bruce Rahmig described it. “Perfect location for a trail run with its mixed terrain – from the very challenging to fast and rolling. While you have to be prepared for some significant climbing, it’s not a race for only one type of runner. You have to be prepared with both speed and strength, so I think it fits a broad array of runners, which is part of the reason you see so many smiling happy runners there. That, and because you’re running through such dramatic terrain it’s hard not to get caught up in just the beauty of the place.”
There are some hidden dangers within that beauty. Although Kualoa Ranch reaches a peak of less than 750 feet above sea level, the 21-kilometer championship course will still feature close to 3,000 feet of total climbing.
As Saltonstall put it: “The advice I would have for first time runners at Kualoa Ranch is to not charge up the first few hills at the beginning of the race, because the last monster hill on the second half is a killer, and will take every ounce of strength you have to make it to the top.”
Photo Credit: Xterra