After making the difficult decision to postpone the Kona Marathon Events for a second year, race director Brent Imonen has his running shoes laced and ready to go for his next event.
“We had to postpone two times now, and there’s definitely interest in a virtual event,” Imonen said. “With events popping up around the country right now, there is a movement to get back to normal. I want to make sure that the experience we do create is something people want. It’s hard enough to make everyone happy when it’s an in-person event, so when the virtual event is their second choice then it’s important to figure out what will make it happen for them virtually.”
Imonen, who has held one in-person Kona Marathon event since purchasing the race in late 2018, hopes to have his virtual event up and running by June, and is currently working on finalizing a few details like the name and featured distances.
In the first interview out of two, the Waimea resident shared his thoughts on creating a Kona Marathon virtual event, his experience with organizing other virtual races, and the focus for 2022.
Q: What’s happening with Kona Marathon in terms of having a virtual event?
I am in the process of creating a virtual event, which will be an offshoot of the in-person Kona Marathon event and theme. I’ve had a good number of inquiries asking when and if we will be launching a virtual event. I think there is still enough interest to make it a successful event, but I do believe that with in-person events starting to pop up across the country in various areas, it will be more challenging to create a virtual experience that the running community wants to continue with moving forward.
From my perspective, people are ready to get back to normal; that includes in-person events, and there is just no comparison. So, I’ve been a little hesitant as I try and figure out a virtual experience that I would want to personally take part in, and which I would then feel worthy to share with the community. It’s definitely not an easy process with so many variables up in the air these days.
Q: Describe your experience and success with organizing virtual events in regards to the Great Aloha Run, the Turkey Trot Hawaii, and your Hawaiian Islands Challenge.
When I am not involved with the Kona Marathon, I am involved with a number of non-profits and their events. One event under the Carole Kai Charities banner is the Great Aloha Run. We were lucky last year in 2020 having just finished up with the Presidents Day event in February before everything started falling apart with COVID. Given that all my other event work dried up over the course of the year, I started focusing on what the virtual event world would be.
I created two (virtual) events to see how things would transition but, in the end, it wasn’t the slam dunk I was hoping for. I created the Turkey Trot Hawaii and the Hawaiian Islands Challenge and learned a lot with both experiences. I’d like to say we created positive experiences for both audiences and a challenge that was timely for the need to get outside, away from the COVID reality, and just train and have fun. More importantly, we were able to raise over $10K for the Hawaii Foodbank through the support of these two events and running community — I think that is the single best part of the experience for me.
What I learned with these two events allowed me to help the Great Aloha Run team with that virtual event held in February 2021. Through it all, everyone involved had to shift focus and comfort zones to provide an entirely different product. In some ways, it’s more challenging even though you are not face-to-face.
It’s true that I’m looking forward to kicking off a Kona Marathon related virtual event sometime soon, but more importantly I am excited about representing Hawaii Island in 2022 with something more unique that we can offer to locals and visitors alike when the in-person Kona Marathon comes back.
Q: What did you find was the response from having a virtual Challenge?
It’s a different skill set. You know people are doing it but it’s their second choice as they would rather be out there competing in-person. While we didn’t hit a homerun — I believe there is evolution to everything — I think we did fairly well and we certainly learned as we went. For the most part, I think people were happy. I think that the Hawaiian Island and the Kona Marathon relationship had an audience that is a large part, folks interested in coming back to participate but they missed Hawaii. A Kukui nut lei, the T-shirt, the medal, the macadamia nuts that we gave out helped to fulfill the Hawaii experience. My hope was for people to get a good running experience, a good educational experience, as opposed to just keeping it on the Queen K.
Q: What will be the focus for the 2022 race?
My recent focus has been on firming up our plans for 2022 and the long-awaited return of the in-person Kona Marathon. Given that we’ve had to push the event back twice now due to COVID-19, I really want to be prepared and be proactive moving forward. I think a number of events will not return to the running community after the pandemic is over, and I want to be sure that the Kona Marathon is poised to come back stronger and better than ever.
The event has a strong tie to the community and some really great partners like UCC Hawaii Kona Coffee (title sponsor), the Hilton Waikoloa Village, Waikoloa Land Company, and Bike Works. The goal is to keep it local but with a global appeal. Historically, the event has had a good number of out of state participants as well, and that’s why it is so important to get the experience right. Something that appeals to everyone and allows our community to shine.
Columnist Note: This is Part 1 out of 2 interviews with Kona Marathon race director, Brent Imonen. In Part 2, Imonen shares the difficulties of being a race director during COVID-19.