A diverse and talented field of trail runners from around the world will participate in the 2012 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship on Sunday, December 2.
More than 2,000 runners from 15 countries and 37 states are entered, but once again, the site of the race will be the star of the show. The majestic Kualoa Ranch will serve as the host site for the fifth consecutive year, and the runners will be treated to trails that are breathtaking in more ways than one.
"The course is totally unique," said Canada's Lucy Smith, who placed second overall among the elite women in 2011. "I have run many World Championships in cross country, and while some were unbelievably hard, the XTERRA World Championship course is the most remote and the 'wildest' and craziest run course I have ever done."
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.
Oregon's Max King won the event in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. He will not enter the race this year due to the expected birth of his child. However, he explained why he considers the course at Kualoa Ranch one his favorites: "It's one of my favorites because of the atmosphere surrounding the race. There aren't too many races that take place in such a beautiful place. The Kualoa Valley surrounded by massive green ridges on three sides and the crystal clear blue ocean on the other is a 360 degree awe-inspiring place to compete for a World Championship. I love the course since it is one of those that requires an all-around athlete -- strong in all aspects of different running surfaces."
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.
"I think the constant climbing and descending makes the course challenging and fun," Smith said. "From dealing with the steep climbs right off the bat to the final mad dash down the hill, you are constantly trying to find a rhythm in the inconsistent elevation. I would describe the course as relentlessly hilly and the final hill as most wonderfully and hilariously insane."
There is also the weather to deal with. Although it takes place every December, the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship is not exactly known for its winter conditions. In fact, temperatures are usually in the 80s on race day.
Brandon Mader has made the trip from Alabama to Hawaii to do the race several times, and said the drastic difference in weather change can be shocking for some runners coming from colder climates. "If you haven't been preparing for the weather, it can be very oppressive in middle of the race," he said. "Coming from colder climates is particularly difficult because of how long it takes your body to adapt to heat. Most of the country has been in cold weather for two solid months."
As if the intrigue of the course were not enough, there is also the drama of the actual race this year. New world champions are guaranteed in both the men's and women's races, as there are no past winners in the field.
In the men's race, top contenders include Ben Bruce, Joseph Gray, Mario Mendoza, Will Christian, Thomas Rivers Puzey, Jacob Puzey, Willie Schefer and J. Marshall Thomson. Leading women's contenders include Smith, Amber Moran, Polina Babkina, Kim Kuehnert and Marion Summerer.
The XTERRA Trail Run World Championship is open to runners of all ages and skill levels, and every age-group winner from the 21-kilometer long course will earn the title of 2012 XTERRA Trail Run World Champion. Age groups range from 10-14 to 75-79.
In addition to the 21K championship course, there will also be separate 10-kilometer and 5-kilometer courses for the less-experienced runners.
There is still one last chance to join the race and see what this course is all about. In-person registration will be held on Saturday, December 1, at the Waikiki Beach Walk (Lewers Street) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more about the race, please visit www.xterratrailrun.com.