½ Ironman Race Advice

Big Kahuna or Barb’s Race

Here is the advice given by club members to help me make up my mind between Big Kahuna and Barb’s Race. Do I know which one I am going to do? No. I am leaning toward Big Kahuna, but the river swim makes Barb’s Race sound interesting. Plus after watching Kona, I am intrigued by racing on an Ironman course.

Thanks so much for all the advice. You gave me race specific information so I hope my decision will be an informed one…but hey last year I made snap decisions regarding racing—like choosing Wildflower to be my first Olympic Distance—and I enjoyed every race.

Thanks again everyone!


Jason Berkowitz

I've done half-vineman twice (my only half-Ironman experiences) and I'm pretty sure it's the same course as Barb's race. My recommendation would be to do the Big Kahuna instead - from what I've heard it's an easier course. The thing about the Vineman course is that, while there is only one "climb" on the bike (about 45 miles in) the vast majority of the rest of the course is fairly challenging rolling hills which makes it really hard to get into a rhythm on the bike. The hills are too long and steep to power over, and if you jump out of the saddle at each hill, you'll be toast before you even get on the run. I'm not a terribly strong biker, and I found the bike course really taxing. Then, once you get on the run, it's HOT and can be very challenging. On the plus side, the bike course is GORGEOUS as you are biking mostly by vineyards the whole time.

Don't get me wrong - Vineman is NOTHING like Wildflower - the hills are shorter and flatter, but much more numerous. Also, the Vineman run is mostly flat (maybe a little rolling) with only 2 or 3 hills to go over. It's a doable race, but if you commit to it - make sure you train strength and power on the bike. I moved up from Olympic and found I actually prefer the longer distance as it is more focused on endurance and less on anaerobic speed (of which I have little).

If you are going to move up to this distance, I'd recommend getting a coach

Gareth Thomas

Big K is a great race and so is 1/2 vineman. 1/2 vineman has an easy river swim though.

Julie Guthrie

I have done both 1/2 Vineman followed by Big Kahuna the last 2 years. I hear the atmosphere for Barb's Race is fun, and it's the same vineman course. In comparison, I would say the bike rides are simply different - Vineman has more up/down quick hills, and Kahuna is more rolling. The wind at Kahuna is quite challenging on the 1st half, but the way back into Santa Cruz is quite fun. I find the run at Kahuna a little easier, and part of it is on trail. Maybe I've just "raced myself into shape" by doing both, I don't know. The waves in Santa Cruz have not been a problem, it's a little cold, but not below 61 or 62. Hope this helps, if you have any other questions, feel free to ask!

Mary Reid

You'll get lots of responses I'm sure but just a few thoughts based on my own ruminations about these races - never having done either but having done 3 HIM and 1 IM...

I DID do the Half Vineman which is, I believe, the same course as Barb's so I do know the course. If I'm right about this, then there's only one real hill to worry about and frankly, it wasn't much of a worry after all the hype. Wildflower was MUCH worse - hilly, massive hill, much rougher roads. Word in the transition area was that Barb's is great. The women-only thing is good but it doesn't feel too sleepy because of all the IM competitors. So you get the festive endorphin atmosphere AND a supportive crowd to race with. But you're right about the heat - it's just a roll of the dice on that one.

Big Kahuna: I know the area well. I don't think the bike course is particularly flat, just a good set of rollers and beautiful. I've thought about doing this since it's been offered for precisely that reason. My hesitation (besides travel)? What will the surf be like? Santa Cruz is known for its waves so it's a bit like the T's at Barb's - what will the dice send your way?

I'm may be at one or both of the races next year so I'd be interested in learning about feedback you get.

Carlyn Challgren Hinds

Good for you for wanting to do a 1/2 IM- I have never done Barb's but I can recommend the Big Kahuna! It is so well run, the pottery-type big kahuna finishing medals are cool and the run start ands ends in the sand! For your first- I would recommend this one- I also recommend it to anyone who wants to get a PR in a 1/2 IM. The bike has some rolling hills like on PCH north of Zuma- nothing too big but they are rollers! The run is flat and can be hot depending on the weather but is is along the bluffs in Santa Cruz- absolutely gorgeous!

Gina D

I have done Barbs race before and recommend it highly. I have never done the kahuna race.

Barbs race course is hot -but it starts out foggy in the morning. The bike course is hilly, but not nearly as bad as wildflower. The route is a little confusing, so I recommend driving it before hand. The hills start at about mile 45 (like wildflower), but are not nearly as bad. (it is still an effort though). It is somewhat a pain to have 2 transition areas.

The best part about the race -I think is that it runs at same time as the full ironman which means the aid stations are FULLY stocked - due to the ironman race. Since the chicks do the half, there is NO chance that they will be out of anything. No half ironman I've ever done stocks the aid stations like a full ironman-there is no comparison.

Testosterone was never a problem. The swim start was very easy-due to all women.

Travis Burrell

I did the Full Vineman in 2002. Which that year turned into the "Ironman" Vineman(officially) because of the Idaho death/ Ironman turned Duathlon. This was my first Ironman, And I did a 11:13 on that course. It was Overcast all morning until I got off the bike and THEN it got warm. But, it wasn't Brutal. We ran WITH the Barb ladies. It's pretty low key, but a good experience overall. There is only one Real Hill on the bike(Chalk Hill) and it's not that long. It's nothing like WildFlower. It's mostly easy rolling hills.

I can't say much for Kuhuna because I have never done it. Although, My buddy(Ben Cornell) did it and posted a 4:39. So, I may be doing that race next year. It's pretty darn flat. Although, I heard the water is cold(57).


Big Kahuna was my first half-ironman this past season. I finished about 20 minutes faster than my expected time. Santa Cruz has the best weather for racing when it takes place. I thought it was well-organized and although the bike course was a little tougher than expected because of the head winds going north, it was a beautiful bike ride. The run was quite easy and scenic. The swim entry is easy since there are practically no waves--the water was warmer than advertised. I had a good time in Santa Cruz--and would do it again except for that it takes place on the same day as LA.

Michael Archer

I did Kahuna last year. It is much hillier, big rollers, than they say, and plan for a head or crosswind for almost the entire bike. Santa Cruz was great and the course was very nice

Ian Murray

I'd suggest Big Kahuna. Also suggests getting a coach for this distance