Runnin’ With Rani: A new beginning for historic Kona Marathon race

  • Runners prepare for the start of the 2016 Kona Marathon at Wailokoa Beach Resort. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today)

An estimated 1,200 runners from around the globe are set to compete in Sunday’s Kona Marathon Events featuring a combination of four races ranging from the marathon (26.2 miles), half-marathon (13.1 miles), quarter-marathon (6.2 miles) and 5K (3.1 miles).

Presented by title sponsor Ueshima Coffee Company (UCC), the weekend festivities begin on Saturday with the Health and Fitness Fair at the Hilton Waikoloa Village Convention Center and once again, will include over 30 vendors, entertainment, guest speakers and food for attendees.

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The Health and Fitness Fair is open to the public at no charge from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will also serve as the race number pickup and late registration for all Kona Marathon Events participants.

The excitement continues early Sunday morning with the start of the Kona Marathon at 5 a.m., followed by the half marathon (6 a.m. start), 5K (6:45 a.m. start), and the quarter-marathon (7 a.m. start) at the Waikoloa Bowl located next to Queens’ Marketplace. The Waikoloa Bowl will also serve as the pre-race staging area and later, the finish line for all running events.

New owner and race director, Brent Imonen of Kamuela — a former Hawaii professional triathlete, competitive swimmer and elite runner — acquired the race from Sharron Faff last December and will finally get a chance to make his mark by putting his lengthy resume and expertise with organizing, promoting and competitive racing to use on his home turf.

Other events he is currently in charge of are all on Oahu and include the Great Aloha Run and Keiki Runs, The Honolulu Ekiden &Music Festival, Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships and Duke’s Oceanfest. He is also the president of Pacific Rim Sports, a sporting event marketing and promotion company, and volunteers his time at several Big Island race events such as Lavaman Waikoloa.

Imonen said participants will have plenty to be excited about as the iconic endurance running event will celebrate its 26th year.

“We have some great excitement and interest from off-island participants so we will have a pretty big group of people coming in from out of state,” Imonen said. “Last year was an anniversary year so the numbers were significantly larger than normal. My hope is that everyone has the happy vibe to being part of a great event and not feel that they are just getting lost in the mix.”

On that note, Imonen said this year’s theme will focus on the “overall experience” that can resonate with participants in various ways.

Whether one is utilizing it as a destination race, a personal tribute or charity, or to set a new personal best in a respective race, from first-timers to elite athletes, Imonen hopes to expand upon what has a been a successful run for the Kona Marathon Events while keeping its foundation intact – the volunteers and sponsors.

“I’ve participated in this race in years past and the one thing that I’ve wanted to keep was some similarity for the ease of transition and keep up the energy we get from the community and the volunteer groups,” he said. “So I’ve been focusing a lot of my energy and interests toward how well these volunteer groups get in and support, and how strongly they get involved.

“There are several volunteer groups that have been involved for many years with Sharron and have stuck through this year’s transition. It’s been really nice to see that. They are the Keauhou Canoe Club, Hawaii Water Works, Special Olympics and Kai Ehitu Canoe Club. Hawaii Island has so many events so it’s nice to see that people get involved for various reasons.”

While Ueshima Coffee Company (UCC) returns as the event’s title sponsor along with contributing sponsors such as Waikoloa Land Company, Hilton Waikoloa Village and Bike Works, Imonen said he was also able to secure a new partnership with The ODOM Corporation, a family owned wholesale beverage distributer operating in five states.

“So ODOM are the Hawaii distributors for Coco Cola, Powerade, and Vitamin Water,” he said. “It’s always hot out there so participants can feel good knowing that they will be well hydrated with some Powerade out there.”

But as one can imagine, no matter how seasoned a race director may be, organizing any large-scale event does come with some pre-race butterflies.

“We got great partners with the Hilton and Waikoloa Land and obviously with UCC, so that side has been great,” Imonen said. “But the chaos of the operations side of it is always crazy, busy and nerve-racking, and you just want it to all work out safely and have it come together. But as much as you do worry about things, ultimately and somehow, you do get through it and it all works out.

“Last week my stomach was roaring all week because I was worrying about things and half of those things still needed work. So I just focused on working on the other half, things that I can get done. These are feelings with come with every event but you just have to trust the process.”

Rainforest Runs &Aloha Keiki Runs

There was much confusion regarding the cancellation of August’s Rainforest Runs due to an earlier column that confirmed Imonen’s purchase of the 9th annual event. Also, many wondered if there would be a return to the popular Aloha Keiki Runs typically held in June. Imonen was happy to clarify both.

“I actually did not purchase the Rainforest Runs this year,” he said. “I think it was mentioned earlier that I did or was going to, but I had too many things going on in August so I decided not to. I know there is another group putting on a similar event there in July and I think it’s great. So I’ve reached out to them as I would like to be able to support them in any way I can.

“My focus this year was to be able to try and take on the Kona Marathon. For the cancellation of the Aloha Keiki Runs, it really wasn’t in my control as Kona Commons had to make some changes, but we definitely can look forward to it happening again in 2020.”

Sunday’s Marathon Race

While most will be happy to just cross the finish line in the 26.2-mile footrace, a few will be gunning it from the start to complete the event in the fastest time possible. Vaclav Seifert and Bree Brown are two of my top picks.

Seifert, a native of the Czech Republic, has been vacationing on the island with his family since last September and won four Peaman Biathlon titles this year. He should be on everyone’s radar on race day. The 43-year-old former competitive swimmer, European duathlete and triathlete whose strength has always been the run, will certainly be a force to be reckoned with.

Last year’s winner, Enrico Kuhn, has yet to sign up, while second and third place male finishers, Volcano’s Billy Barnett and Kailua-Kona’s Patrick Stover, both confirmed they will not be running in this year’s marathon event.

On the women’s side, two-time champion (2017-18), Bree Brown, will return to defend her title. Last year, Brown won in convincing fashion posting a speedy time of 3 hours and 13 minutes on a day that featured hot and humid conditions. However, she will certainly be pushed by Oahu’s Tammy Bautista.

Bautista, who recently competed in April’s Hapalua Half Marathon’s “Chase Race” representing Team Hawaii and has a 2018 Grandma’s Marathon PR of 3:11, will be making her Kona Marathon debut. Of course, nothing is ever guaranteed and no one ever knows who will show up on race day, so there’s always a chance for everyone.

Imonen said he couldn’t help but feel thankful heading into this weekend’s Kona Marathon Events to kick off a new beginning and his first as race director.

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“I appreciate the opportunity to be able to take this on from Sharron, and I appreciate the fact that her team is helping out in the capacity they are helping out as well as the volunteers. I can’t thank UCC, Bike Works and those community partners enough either. My hope is that we make it through this year with a great experience so that we can build into the future.”

If you have not already registered, there’s still plenty of time to sign-up for the 26th edition of the Kona Marathon Events. For more information and late registration details visit konamarathon.com.

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