In the 16th century, Maui’s king and his messengers used the Honoapi’ilani Trail to travel the island. On June 12, 500 triathletes will wake up before dawn so they can gather along the trail at the Maui Prince Hotel in Makena at 7 a.m.
They’ll be part of the King’s Trail Triathlon, an Olympic distance event consisting of a .9 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike ride and 6.2 mile run. It’s hosted by the Maui Multisports Club.
Today’s triathletes might have a few advantages over Maui’s ancient royalty—paved roads, a pair of Nikes, and aid stations to name a few. But the race does have a regal quality about it. After crossing the finish line, competitors are treated like royalty with free post-race massage and meal provided by Outback Steak House.
As a Maui Master’s Swim Club coach I’ve watched Lisa Thomas rise through the ranks since the race’s inception five years ago. Finishing first in her age group the first year of the race, Thomas finished third woman overall in last year’s competition.
I asked Thomas, a Maui resident for 10 years, what she likes most about this race.
“It’s here on Maui, our own turf,” she said. “And it’s my kind of a course. A typical triathlon course has a long, flat bike ride. I like that it’s hilly and goes out over really beautiful terrain. The toughest part is training. Getting ready for the race. You just have to work out so much.”
At her peak, Thomas spends 15-20 hours per week training, working out each morning, and frequently in the afternoon as well. If training for a triathlon could be a part-time job, Thomas would nearly have enough hours to warrant insurance coverage.
“It’s a tough little race because of the terrain,”she said. “When you hit the run at the end, you have the heat. Running out on the road through the lava is like torture. It’s super hot.”
She also sees these challenges as a benefit. If you live on Maui, that is.
“It’s actually to our advantage being here, being able to train in the heat on the course,” she said. “And, the bike course—it’s just so hilly. A lot of the people that I talk to are just not from hilly areas and don’t train riding hills like that.”
“It’s a very difficult Olympic distance triathlon,” said race organizer Aaron Altura. “The bike course if very difficult because of the climb up Kaukahi Street. It’s a very steep hill, and you have to go up it twice. The course is two loops.”
I asked Thomas if it was tough racing against her friends.
“No, it’s more fun,” she said. “It’s definitely competitive, you have friends who are really good athletes. I think it just makes it a lot more fun because you know the person. You’ve probably raced against them before and there are times where maybe they’ve beat you and vice versa.
“It’s a whole different feeling when you have people that you know instead of going into a race that’s all strangers. It just adds to all the camaraderie on Maui that the athletes have.”
Speaking of camaraderie, each year at the King’s Trail triathlon Thomas finds herself in the company of 325 racers from the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society.
“A lot are first-time triathletes, newbies trying to raise money for the LLS,” Altura told me. He estimated that 24 states are represented.
“I think it makes it more positive,” Thomas said. “It inspires me when I see someone running, and they have a shirt with a picture of someone they loved who they are running for—their loved one who suffered and who they have lost. It makes you realize even more how alive you are doing this race and how lucky you are to have your health.” MTW