As the world-famous Ironman Hawaii approaches, it's tough not to daydream about what it would be like to go there yourself. Hawaii beckons to the health buff in all of us, with its clear waters, miles of running trails along picturesque coastlines, and ample opportunity for mountain and road biking.
As I am not up for swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running a marathon on my vacation, I designed a Hawaiian triathlon of my own. The idea grew into an inter-island sports guide that is not only accessible and challenging, but provides a foray into the world of triathlon for the uninitiated. I call it the Do-It-Yourself Hawaii Ironman.
Hawaii's most seductive callings hail from its warm waters and turquoise-blue oceans that remain inviting even in the coldest winter months. The first leg of the Hawaii Ironman was originally on the island of Oahu, behind the main commercial strip of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.
Beyond the crowded shops and restaurants of Ala Moana Boulevard is a three-mile stretch of surf and sand that is the course for the annual Waikiki Roughwater Swim. This 2.4-mile race was the precursor and inspiration for the swim leg of the Hawaii Ironman.
The Roughwater Swim occurs only once a year on Labor Day, but local swimmers and masters groups gather at the start and finish lines year-round for organized training swims.
Do it Yourself: Take part in a bit of Ironman history. With a partner, start from either Sans Souci beach--the Waikiki Roughwater Swim's start--or the Hilton Hawaiian Village beach--the official finish. The latter area offers a hidden shipwreck for stronger swimmers who venture out past the channel markers. A quarter-mile off shore, the site seems a long way to go but the water is rarely deeper than 10 feet.
Watch out for the local surfers who pepper the breakwater, but take solace in the fact that they are never too far to offer assistance should you need it.
On Maui, the remote stretch of beach in Wailea--known as Makena (big) Beach--has been a swimming destination for triathletes and locals for decades. A pristine crescent of white, untouched sand curves around a body of water roughly 1,000 meters wide. A swim in these waters will turn up a few fearless turtles and some beautiful coral reef formations.
Strong currents are rare, but take care not to swim alone regardless of the benign surroundings. Usually the water is so still that it mimics a lake, but you never want to swim in open water by yourself.
You can run virtually anywhere in Hawaii. The question is: With so many possibilities, where do you begin?
On Oahu, the prettiest trail is a round-trip eight-mile stretch of paved road and dirt path that spans east from Waikiki to the lone Kahala Mandarin Hotel, four miles away. This popular route is an integral segment to the annual Honolulu Marathon--another founding event of the original Ironman.
Do it Yourself--Oahu: Beginning at Queen's beach, the easternmost beach on Waikiki's famous strip, runners pass by the Honolulu Aquarium and an ancient war memorial natatorium built into the ocean and filled with seawater. A slight grade around the famous Diamond Head crater challenges runners about a mile in, with a peak that provides a spectacular view of the reef and ocean below.
From there its downhill, flattening out through an upscale neighborhood of luxurious beachside homes and a generous dirt path a safe distance away from oncoming traffic. The road ends at the exclusive Mandarin Hotel resort, where you can turn around and repeat the four-mile trail back to Honolulu.
Local runners and cyclists populate this path at all times of day, and a sense of camaraderie permeates the air as locals and athletic tourists find common ground during their daily workouts.