New owner takes over Kona Marathon

  • Brent Imonen (left) of Kamuela takes over as new owner and race director for the Kona Marathon Events and Volcano Rainforest Runs from Sharron Faff (right). He will also be in charge of the Aloha Keiki Runs. (Sharron Faff/Courtesy Photo)

After months of speculation and rumors of new ownership for next year’s Kona Marathon Events, the word is finally out — it is true.

This week Sharron Faff, who has been at the helm for the popular running events over the last decade, confirmed that she has finally “passed the torch” and is now able to publicly talk about it.

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“I feel very good about passing the Kona Marathon on to someone who I feel is very capable of being able to take it to new levels,” Faff said. “And also, to someone young and who has a lot of ambition to really put a lot of energy behind it.”

Entering as the new race director and owner for the Kona Marathon, which is typically held in the month of June, will be Brent Imonen.

For Imonen, a former Hawaii professional triathlete, competitive swimmer and elite runner, taking the reins for the Kona Marathon Events won’t be a new endeavor or his only stint – he brings plenty of expertise with him from Oahu.

The 50-year old Kamuela resident is the race director for the Great Aloha Run, an 8.15-mile run/walk from Aloha Tower to the Aloha Stadium, attracting well over 25,000 participants each year. He is also the event director for Duke’s Oceanfest, an annual festival held on the shores of Waikiki featuring a variety of ocean sports close to Duke Kahanamoku’s heart and honoring his legacy. Finally, Imonen is the race director for The Honolulu Ekiden &Music Festival, a team spirited style of racing where relay members from Hawaii and Japan join to compete in a marathon distance run.

Imonen is also the president of Pacific Rim Sports, a sporting event marketing and promotion company.

Faff felt that Imonen would be a perfect fit for the Kona Marathon. In addition to being in charge of June’s Aloha Keiki Runs, Imonen will also be the new owner and race director for the Volcano Rainforest Runs, which is scheduled for Aug. 10.

Faff, who was busy with last minute meetings before leaving on a trip, took some time to share her thoughts on departing from the Kona Marathon Events, her decision that led to Brent Imonen taking over, some feedback and lasting memories, and her hope for the future of the event.

Q: When did you decide it was time?

I actually had a three-year plan to get it to a level where it was in a really great shape in Waikoloa. Then be able to turn it over to someone that would fit in really well and be able to have it expand.

While this was our fifth year out at Waikoloa, the three-year plan actually began three years ago, just a little thing between my son and I. (Quinn Weaver) is part owner of the Kona Marathon and I said to him, “This is your race if you want it.” For me, being 74-years old, I was at a point that I felt I was done with this kind of intense work. My son is young (33-years old), and he helps the whole time as he’s in charge of the production of it on race weekend.

So every year since we would have a discussion about it, with me asking him, “Well, what do you think?” And then it got to the point where he really looked at it seriously and said that he didn’t mind helping out, but he didn’t want to be the one to take it on. So that’s when I decided, “Okay then, we will put it up for sale.”

So to answer your question, it’s been a while for me knowing that, “it was time.”

Q: Was it bittersweet to be at this year’s 25th anniversary knowing it was going to be your last?

I’ve completed a lot of things throughout my life, so I always knew that the next thing I do after the Kona Marathon would be just as exciting and more wonderful. I want to really start traveling more and see more of the world. I also work for Princess Cruise Ships. I’ve been doing it for 12 years now, and I do all the Naturalist talks and lectures on Hawaii. I do about five months now at sea and that will probably increase.

So I don’t feel bad. I’m actually excited on what’s next. But I wanted to make sure that this year’s race was really well done.

For one, it was the 25th anniversary, and two, I knew it was going to be my last year as race director. Now I will be working with Brent and Quinn, as well as all the volunteers, and we will all be there for next year’s race. So Quinn and I will still be there next year as that’s the way we set it up. But, my role now will be as an advisor.

So maybe that’s why I never really felt like this was “it” for me because it’s not true. I’ll still very much be in touch with this event.

Q: How did you decide on Brent Imonen?

I knew that I wanted to have the race move on to someone who could take it to new levels. It took some time to really pull that together and find the right person that I felt could do it. The transition for me was pretty easy because I already had it in my mind that it was time to move on from owning and being race director. And while there were others vying for the position, I really believe Brent is the right person to do it well.

Q: What has been some of the reaction/feedback from sponsors, your staff and volunteers who work closely with you?

Everyone has been very supportive with “passing the torch” to Brent as he is well known in the running community and well thought of. I am very pleased to be turning over both the Kona Marathon and the Volcano Rain Forest Runs to Brent, and feel he will not only continue the long legacy of these events, but also increase the number of participants from all parts of the world.

Q: Looking back, how would you sum up 10-years of being Kona Marathon’s Race Director?

Being involved with this event for the last 12 years, ten as race director, has been just an amazing part of my life. To work with both the volunteers and the community to put this race on has been very inspirational to me as well as the runners who come with so many different stories and so many reasons why they come to Hawaii to do this race.

It always has been a pleasure to actually be involved with something of this caliber, and history, and recognition throughout the running world. I just loved doing it. The runners are just wonderful. For one, they are generally very healthy, happy, and enthusiastic. I’m now friends with over 6,000 of them on Facebook! I just loved hearing about their life and they personal stories. But overall, when they come through that finish line, it’s very, very inspiring.

Q: What are some of your best memories?

I feel very privileged to have been a major player in the long history of the Kona Marathon and have enjoyed both the stress and success of producing an event known throughout the world’s runners. Having been a small part of their lives, they have been a very large part of my life over the years. And I will always be inspired by the courage and strength that each person must have to come across that finish line.

Q: What do you hope Brent Imonen will continue to do for the Kona Marathon?

The Kona Marathon has always been a venue for people to come and experience Hawaii and be able to run. My purpose was to really sell Hawaii to runners. My wish is that this continues to be an event that people look forward to, and that they are thrilled to come and run in this beautiful place. I think Brent is the one who will continue to do that.

About the Kona Marathon

The Kona Marathon originally started in 1986 and was held for three years by a couple who eventually moved to the mainland in 1990. After a few years of having no marathon event in Kona, Jon Kunitake, of Kunitake Farms, decided to fill the void by bringing the event back to be held along the Kona Coastline in 1993.

Kunitake then partnered with Jim Lovell, who owns JTL Timing, to be race director and in 1994, both co-founded The Kona Marathon and Family Runs in order to revitalize running on the west side of the Big Island.

In 1997, Kunitake secured a key sponsorship with Ueshima Coffee Company, thus beginning a long and close relationship with UCC, whose heavy sponsorship continues still today. From then, a combination of Lovell’s marketing expertise, and Kunitake’s multiple contacts on the mainland and Japan, helped to catapult the event to an international level and attract world-class athletes, Olympians, and a top competitive local field.

The Kona Marathon had several venues to which it called home. From the former Keauhou Beach Hotel and Kona Surf Hotel, to the Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay, and now the Waikoloa Beach Resort where the event has been held for the last five years.

Then in 2009, Sharron Faff purchased the event and expanded the professional management team with a focus to guide the event to new levels. Jim Lovell continues to play a major role in the coordination and timing of the events, while Kunitake retired in 2014 but continues his role as an ambassador.

This year the Kona Marathon Events celebrated the its 25th anniversary on June 24.

The weekend consisted of a Health &Fitness Fair on Saturday at the Hilton Waikoloa Village Convention Center, followed by the popular footraces that consist of four different distances — the marathon (26.2-miles), the half marathon (13.1-miles), the quarter marathon (6.2-miles) and the 5K (3.1-miles). All events start and finish at the Waikoloa Bowl.

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Next year’s 26th edition of the Kona Marathon Events is scheduled for June 30.

Columnist note: Brent Imonen could not be reached for an interview prior to the submission of this column due to his travel schedule and short notice for a request. A later interview and subsequent column with Imonen will be scheduled.

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