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Race Snapshot: The Run to the Sun 36 Mile
"Hawaii's Stairway to Heaven"
Kahului, Maui, Hawaii

by Stan Jensen

The Course

Format Point-to-point course from Kahului (sea level) to the summit of Mount Haleakala (10,023 feet).

Description Of Terrain The course has 10,000 feet of climb (and less than 1,000 feet of descent). There are some rolling hills in the first fifteen miles, but it's nearly all uphill.

Major Climbs The first section (the start to mile 12.9) is fairly level (Pulehu Road), followed by a short section (miles 12.9 to 14.5) of steep hills (Pulehuiki Road), followed by a downhill (miles 14.5 to 15), and then a continuous climb (miles 15 to 36.2) to the summit. Since the course is all on public paved roads, none of the hills are so steep that you can't run them.

Surface The course is on the paved shoulder of roads.

Course records 4:45:31 ... Steve Sobaje ('86) 5:39:08 ... Rachel Portner ('93)

Qualifying There is no qualifying standard, but runners must be 18 years of age and "rigorously prepared to meet the challenge." Each member of a relay team must run two of the six relay legs (7.3, 5.6, 6.5, 5.6, 6.0 and 5.2).

Aid Stations There are 20 aid stations (at miles 2.5, 4.5, 7.3, 10.3, 12.9, 15.4, 17.4, 19.4, 21, 22.9, 25, 26.3, 27.5, 28.8, 29.8, 31, 32, 33.1, 34.2 and 35.4).

Type of Aid Offered Water and diluted Coke are available at all aid stations. Food items (e.g. pretzels, bananas) will be available at the aid stations from mile 15.4 to the finish, with aid every two miles or so.

Number of Drop Bag Sites Two: mile 26.3 (park headquarters) and mile 36.2 (the summit).

Medical Arrangements Limited first aid (e.g. aspirin and ibuprofen, bandages, Vaseline, etc.) is available at some of the aid stations, but there will be personnel at the finish line if the altitude and/or temperature get to you.

Time Limit Ten hours (4:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) with an intermediate cutoff of 9:30 a.m. at mile 17.4 and 12:30 p.m. at mile 26.

Awards All official finishers receive a T-shirt. There are awards for first overall finisher and age group awards for men and women, plus awards for the relay teams.

Hotels There are several hotels and motels to choose from in Kahului (e.g. Maui Beach Hotel) and nearby towns, like Kihei.

Airports Kahului (Maui, Hawaii) is within 15 minutes of the start and a short flight from Honolulu (Oahu, Hawaii).

Crew Your crew can meet you anywhere along the first 30 miles at any of the aid stations. Crew access is not allowed in the final six miles.

Crew Tips After you see your runner off at the start, grab some breakfast and then follow Haleakala Highway (#37, then #377) to aid station #6 (mile 15.4). You can buy supplies at the Sunrise Country Market near the aid station.

Pacing Pacers are not allowed.

Running The Race

Running Strategy Go out somewhat cautiously until sunrise. See how the humidity is affecting you and be sure to drink at the first five aid stations to stay hydrated. When you reach the short, steep hills of Pulehuiki, walk them even though they're short. Stretch your legs out on the short downhill that follows, but take it easy. Once you make the right turn onto the Haleakala Highway, find a run-walk pattern that works for you. There are ten aid stations in the last ten miles, so don't stop at each one.

Water Crossings And Mud There are no water crossings or mud to worry about.

Obstacles The biggest potential obstacle in this event is the traffic sharing the narrow roads with you. For the first 90 minutes, you'll be running in the dark, so a flashlight might help drivers see you. On the climb to the summit (from mile 15 on), you run the risk of a head-on collision with the downhill bike tours and buses. You must run facing traffic, so stay on the shoulder and don't cut the corners! If you do, you'll be disqualified and may be fined heavily by the park rangers, too! You'll also be above 5,000 feet for the last half of the course, so don't be surprised if you feel lightheaded. If it rains or gets windy near the summit, hypothermia can be a problem, so consider carrying a windbreaker from your drop bag at park headquarters (mile 26.3). This is also a good place to have sunscreen, lip balm and sunglasses, since you'll be at 6,000 feet.

Weather Concerns Average temperatures usually range from 80 degrees at the start to 40 degrees at the finish! Plan for humidity and possible rain showers (usually between miles 18 and 26, the tree line) and bring warm clothing for the finish.

Civil Twilight To Sunrise 5:51 a.m. to 6:14 a.m.

Sunset To Civil Twilight 6:29 p.m. to 6:51 p.m.

Tips For The First-Time Runner Drink, drink, drink! Use sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. Have a drop bag for mile 26.3 and the finish. Carry a disposable camera to capture the views from the switchbacks above Kula. Don't psyche yourself out thinking of this as a 36-mile uphill road race: even if you're a trail runner, you will be able to finish this race and you'll love almost every part of it!

Other Items Of Interest

  • The scenery of this course changes constantly: urban landscape at the start, cane fields, residences in the foothills, cow pastures, eucalyptus, silverswords and nene geese on the switchbacks and finally the volcano.
  • Hal Higdon called it "the single most spectacular run I have ever done."
  • Join the locals for a 13-mile sunrise run in the Haleakala Crater the following day.
  • Your entry fee includes the finisher's T-shirt, medical services, refreshments, transportation back to the start and a post-race picnic (from 11:00 to 5:00). There are also hot showers and massages.

For an entry form, please send a SASE to:
Run to the Sun
Valley Isle Road Runners
P.O. Box 945
Kihei, HI 96753
Work: (808)871-6441 or
Home: (808)566-6543

Contributors: akabill Molmen, John and P.J. Salmonson, Michael Tsai, Mike Garcia and Richard China