Running on the Big Island, Hawaii

If I lived on the Big Island, I would just quit running. Seriously. I’ve run many places in the United States and around the world, and frankly running on the Big Island was not pleasant. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s really effing hilly. And there aren’t that many places where I felt comfortable and safe to run. I don’t mean I didn’t feel safe because I thought someone was going to mug me or kidnap me, but I didn’t feel safe because on several streets, I would be running on sidewalk-less or shoulderless streets with cars traveling at crazy speeds. There weren’t as many pedestrian/bike paths away from traffic as I thought there would be.

So running was a bit of a challenge.

Hilo

I did a couple of runs in Hilo. In my mind, Hilo got its name from, hill – oh! because the hills are neverending unless you go right by the shore. One run was from our AirBnB to the University of Hawaii, Hilo. It was a short hilly run on boring streets, but thankfully had sidewalks.

In an effort to find longer running paths, I went down to right by the ocean to Hilo Bayfront Park and Liliuokalani Gardens because usually there are long lovely pedestrian/biking paths right by the ocean. No such luck in Hilo. There are pedestrian/biking paths, but they’re short. Very short. You can piece together a “long-ish” run but you still need to run on streets to connect them. Liliuokalani Gardens was a fun little garden to run through because I like Japanese gardens. Some of the paths were flooded when I was there, so I couldn’t meander around as much as I would have liked, but it was still a fun place to run through. Also you can find water fountains and restrooms here. Past Liliuokalani Gardens is a street called Banyan Drive. There isn’t much traffic, so it’s not a bad place to run through. It gets its name from the gorgeous grove of towering banyan trees that provide much shady relief from the relentless sun. This general area of Hilo that I described is where all the runners are because I saw several people running.

Kona

I was rather disappointed that there were no sidewalks or shoulders on the streets near the AirBnB we were staying at up on the mountainside. Being high up, there were wonderful views of the ocean, plus it was lusher, so the streets were lovely. It was a fantastic scenic bypass. Being that it was rather heavily trafficked and curvy with blind spots, I didn’t feel safe running on those streets without sidewalks or wide shoulders. All I needed was one careless speedy driver to take me out, so I always drove elsewhere to do my runs.

Because of the heat in Kona, if you want to see runners, you need to go running at 5 am or earlier. By 7 am, most of the runners are already done and inside their homes, but at 5 am, I saw them running all over Kona.

Ane Keohokalole Highway

If you’re going to run in Kona, the bike path along Ane Keohokalole Highway is probably your best option. It’s three miles long one way with only one major street to cross. Despite the fact that it’s a bike path, I saw absolutely no bikes. All the cyclists were on the highway and I only saw other runners and walkers on the path. There’s a free parking lot at one end (Ane Keohokalole & Hina Lani St) or there is free 2-hr parking at the Civic Center (Ane Keohokalole & Kealakehe Parkway). Cold water fountains, restrooms, vending machines, and a small snack shop (they have popsicles!) are available at the Civic Center. The entire length of the bike path is U-shaped in terms of inclines and declines, meaning that the two ends are at a higher elevation and the “center,” roughly where the Civic Center is, is the lowest. Relative to other parts of Kona, the inclines are not that bad, tough but still runnable. If you were looking to make the run longer, you can go to other streets/highways that connect to Ane Keohokalole. They have wide shoulders and/or sidewalks, so they’re perfectly safe to run. There is absolutely no shade here. They did plant a few trees, so maybe in ten years, there’ll be some shade, but for now, nada.

Kaloko-Honokohao National Historical Park

On Google maps, this national park seems like a great place to run. In practice, it is not. It’s free to enter and there’s a parking lot here. Water fountains and restrooms are available. Aside from a few short sections (maybe a half mile) of cinder trail/packed gravel, the trails here are not runnable. The trails are too rocky and uneven (unless you’re nimble like a goat and I’m not) and after a few minutes of trying to run, I gave up and walked out. I do recommend visiting the park because the views of the ocean are beautiful, they have a cool petroglyph trail (King’s Trail), and the information found in the park are highly informative.

Hina Lani Street

Only run uphill on Hina Lani Street if you 1) are an ultra trail runner who is in training for a race with major elevation, 2) are a mountaineer, or 3) really, really, really hate yourself. Since I’m neither 1 nor 2, I must really, really, really hate myself. I don’t know what I was thinking. The good thing about Hina Lani Street is that the shoulders are super wide, so despite all the traffic and roaring trucks, I always felt perfectly safe. How steep was Hina Lani? I climbed over 300 feet in every mile that I went uphill. One mile was close to 400 feet of climbing. Certain sections were absolutely unrunnable, so I crawled up and when I was going downhill, again those sections were so steep that I couldn’t run down and I walked down. Even then, walking down my toes protested from all the pressure so I had to step a little sideways to relieve them of some of the pressure. The only thing that kept me going was that running downhill was going to be fun. And it was, except for the very steepest portions.

14 thoughts on “Running on the Big Island, Hawaii

  1. Oh, this makes me so sad! I actually love the Big Island and running there because of all the climactic diversity. I haven’t run in Hilo and agree that the streets in Kona are busy. In Kona, I ran Ali’i Drive early in the morning–so hilly and hot! But up along the Kohala coast and around Mauna Kea there are lots of quiet, empty roads where I’ve had some fantastic runs complete with ocean breezes and/or cloudy skies. It’s tough to see/do it all because the island is so large, but there is good running to be had. Sorry you didn’t find any!

    • Good to know that there is good running to be had on the Big Island. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t get a chance to see that part of the Big Island while I was there. I was just cooking alive for every single one of my runs. I know I should have gone out earlier, but I really wanted to sleep.

  2. I live on Oahu – I get so jealous of people talking about running in fall! I haven’t headed over to the Big Island though – but I sometimes find it a struggle to get out here – it takes a lot of mental preparation!

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