LAST UPDATED: 18 June 2023

Hiccup: Reusable Water Cups

Could reusable water cups help races reduce waste? We chat to Kristina Smithe, owner of reusable water cup service Hiccup.

Kristina Smithe Kristina Smithe

Hiccup: Reusable Water Cups

In a number of our past podcasts, we’ve touched on the issue of race waste - and specifically a particularly significant and persistent part of that issue which is water cup waste.

In an ideal world - or shall I say in a trail running world - we’d all love to put on cupless races, where racers themselves are responsible for bringing along their own water containers to the race. But, unfortunately, that high standard may be a little ways off still for the majority of road running and multisport races out there.

So what can we do to take some of the strain of water cup waste off of our industry?

One approach, coming out of Florida-based company Hiccup is reusable water cups, that is, durable cups that are collected, professionally sanitized and reused between races. And today I have the great pleasure of talking to the person at the forefront of that movement, Hiccup owner Kristina Smithe.

Kristina started Hiccup in 2019 through her frustration with the rate at which water cups were being consumed in races, and has since had her Hiccup silicon cups used in such great events as Grandma’s Marathon, Rocket City Marathon and Around the Crown 10K. And she’ll be telling us today how the Hiccup service works, from delivery to collection, and how you could potentially bring Hiccup’s reusable water cups to your race next year.

In this episode:

  • How Hiccup's reusable cup service works
  • What races Hiccup is best (and less well) suited for
  • Setting up Hiccup on race day
  • Runner's reviews of using Hiccups
  • Recovering, sanitizing and reusing Hiccup's silicon cups
  • Compostable vs reusable cups
  • The cost of bringing Hiccup to your race

Thanks to RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 28,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit

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Episode transcript

Panos  2:09  
Kristina, welcome to the podcast!

Kristina  2:11  
Thank you, Panos. Thank you for having me.

Panos  2:13  
Great to have you on. And thank you very much for making the time. So you're based in Florida. Is that right?

Kristina  2:20  
Yes, we are based in Tampa, Florida. We also have a hub in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

Panos  2:25  
Awesome. And Tampa is sort of, like, Central Florida, isn't it? Or is it south?

Kristina  2:30  
Yeah, it is southwest.

Panos  2:33  
Oh, southwest.

Kristina  2:34  
USF is here - University of South Florida - but it's not very south. So yeah, you're right.

Panos  2:40  
Okay, great. And how's the weather over there these days? I mean, we're recording at the end of January. I'm guessing it's quite warm still.

Kristina  2:47  
Yes, it is warm. I was able to walk my dogs this morning in flip-flops. It's about 70 degrees and the humidity is minimal, thankfully.

Panos  2:58  
7Awesome. No alligators while walking the dog?

Kristina  3:02  
We do have an alligator in our ponds, but we're keeping a close eye on him. That is a real thing in Florida. 

Panos  3:10  
No one's feeding him?

Kristina  3:12  
I hope not. We're not. I hope our neighbours are.

Panos  3:16  
Cool. So you are the owner and the driving force behind Hiccup, which is a pretty amazing reusable cup service that we're going to be going into in a little while in great detail. Before we go into that, I thought our listeners may want to know a little bit more about yourself and the kinds of stuff you've done before Hiccup entered your life. So do you mind giving us, like, a quick summary of Kristina up until the Hiccup light bulb went off in your head?

Kristina  3:48  
Yeah, absolutely. So I grew up in Marne, Michigan, which is West Michigan. After I graduated high school, I joined the United States Coast Guard. So that began my career in the marine industry. After I got out of the Coast Guard after serving six years, I was able to acquire both my captain's licence as well as my engineering licence. I've done both of those jobs in the civilian world and my career-- I mean, I made good money and I rose the ranks and everything. But I really had a hard time being able to run while I worked on a boat. So the schedule for the last job I had in the marine industry was seven days on seven days off - so six months a year. I wasn't able to run on, like, a schedule. I was able to run if maybe the boat was tied up. So that was very inconsistent. So I kind of wanted to create a job where I could be on land. The credentials and licences I had wasn't a very lateral transfer to anything in the civilian world that would pay me what I was getting paid, so I created Hiccup in February of 2020, I believe, which is hilarious. And I left my career in January of 2021. So we've been doing that ever since.

Panos  5:21  
Hilarious is one way of putting it. I'm sure it wasn't a big laugh when you decided to start this off. And then COVID hit. How was that? 

Kristina  5:31  
I was in Florida, so we had a little bit more freedom to do things. I use that time when everything was shut down to be able to perfect what I wanted my product to be and talk to race directors while they weren't having races. I had some people on the hook for executing my idea. But really, I was kind of going into no man's land. Like, I didn't know where to begin, but I think it'd be time to brainstorm where to start.

Panos  5:59  
So what is Hiccup? Just briefly tell our audience what the product is about and more than the product because, I guess, some people would just look at this and see a cup. I think it's also quite important. Quite a lot of the value added is in the whole service that you provide. So do you mind just giving people, like, a quick summary of what Hiccup is and what you're trying to do with that product for our industry?

Kristina  6:24  
Yes. So Hiccup is a reusable cup service. What we do is we provide eight-ounce silicone cups for aid stations at running events. What is unique about our reusable service is that we create the same experience that disposable cups would. Say, you have 1000 runners. We're going to drop off 1000 cups at each aid station rather than-- there are some different races that will be, "Yeah, we're reusable. But the runners have to carry their own cups." So we wanted to really stay with, "Hey, if you're trying to get a PR, you can drink it, drop it and forget about it." So our service includes travelling to the race, dropping off the cups to each aid station, and then we pick up the cups as soon as the aid station closes.

Panos  7:16  
So from the race directors' point of view - just to summarise because I think it's a really, really clever product and convenient service that you're offering for race directors - basically, say, a race that might be using compostable cups or something like that or even just throw-away cups would go out, they have to bring their own cups to the aid stations, lay them out, fill them with water, people take them, they drink, they throw them down, and then someone goes around and cleans the cups. What you do is you bring your silicone cups to the race - like, silicone-based cups - and the basic difference there is that-- from a runner's point of view - I guess we'll go more into that - they pick it up, they drink it, they can throw it away on the floor or something, right? Then, you just collect all of those and then you take them through a process. You wash them, etc, and then they can be reused. Right? 

Kristina  8:08  

Panos  8:09  
And part of the service that I think is really appealing to race directors compared to some other solutions is that you actually go out of your way to deliver these things to aid stations, then collect them and take them off, which I guess takes a lot of hassle of people's hands.

Kristina  8:26  
Correct. Yes, we usually follow the race setup crew that's already putting out the tables, the water jugs, and the nutrition gels. So we usually follow the course setup, but we do the heavy lifting on our end. We're also able to eliminate trash pickup, which a lot of races are required to provide trash pickup on the day of the race in order to get permitting. So we have been able to eliminate that because cups were the biggest part of the waste, and that is a huge price point compromise because our service is cheaper with that. Then, some cities have been known to price gouge on race day to get the trash because, obviously, race events are on weekends, and if they know you want to have the event, they can kind of name their own price.

Panos  9:19  
Yeah, and it's a big cost actually. We were discussing this in an episode about reducing waste. The whole waste management side of things is getting more and more expensive and more and more complicated, to be honest, particularly if you want to do it right. Segregating all the different types of waste like your cups from other kinds of waste can get quite complicated. So I think that the services should be very valuable to race directors. Taking a step back, how did you decide to launch this? You said you were looking for something to do within the running industry, but what made this the thing that you chose to do?

Kristina  9:56  
When I worked on a tugboat, I watched a lot of Shark Tank. I think it's Devil's Den in some other countries - I'm not sure what it would be in Greece. I watched a lot of Shark Tank and my husband and I always went back and forth with million-dollar ideas and, usually, they were not the greatest ideas. But I ran California International Marathon in Sacramento, California and we took a red-eye flight home after that race. I believe, the flight took off at maybe 11:30pm. I can't sleep on a plane, so I got coffee and water every time the beverage cart came through. When I got off the plane, I had a stack of six cups and I threw them away. And I was like, "These aren't getting recycled." Then, I did some quick math on how many passengers can fit on a Boeing 737. I believe it's 180 - don't quote me on that one. And I was like, "Even if everybody just uses one cup, that's 180 cups going to the landfill forever." And then it got me thinking about the marathon I just ran that had 9,000 runners and, I believe, 17 aid stations. The math I came up with on that was 150,000 cups roughly and that was only for six hours of time. I believe the cut-off was six hours for the marathon. But I was like, "Wow." So I started Googling. I was like, "There has to be a reusable cup service." There has to be a way, like, wedding industries will rent out glassware or they'll rent out dishes or tables, and there wasn't. So I came up with the idea and I reached out to a local race director where I lived at the time, which was 30 miles west or south of where we are, and he was all about the idea, and then COVID hit. But it was good to hear that somebody besides my husband and I thought this was a good idea, and that gave me the green light to kind of just take the first step forward.

Panos  11:59  
So it sounds like, from the way you thought while you were on the plane and the approach you took, you take an interest in sustainability more generally. Is that the case? Is that something sort of, like, that you see as a problem - something that bugs you and you want to fix? 

Kristina  12:14  
Yeah, I think sustainability is something we ignore. I hear all the time, "Oh, it's just one bottle. Oh, in my lifetime, it's not going to matter." Stuff like that. And that's simply not the truth. I mean, there are 7 billion people saying, "Oh, it's just one coffee cup" every single morning. In America, we are such huge consumers - like, the newest, greatest, biggest. Every Christmas, people are buying a new TV. I've had the same TV for 10 years. Like, what does it matter? Like, I don't need 5D. So yeah, I've always been interested in that and I've always been interested in the lack of ownership people take for maintaining Earth or the planet for my kids. 

Panos  13:06  
Yeah, indeed. And sounds like you've done your fair share of races. In racing, it's not the kind of thing that springs to mind for people outside the industry when you think of waste and waste footprint and stuff like that, but we do actually contribute our fair share. It's great that there are people like you thinking through this kind of thing, so we can hopefully become more responsible citizens in the global world and reduce the waste that we contribute. I have to say, actually - I should have said that earlier - how I came across Hiccup was through Brian Mister who I interviewed on another podcast - the first of our spotlight podcasts with his amazing Around the Crown 10K race. Everything Brian has done with that event is, like, just simply amazing, so I thought if Hiccup-- if he chose that, it must be something that works and it must be something that really contributes. So I'm really glad I came to discover it through that kind of route. Currently, how many races do you guys serve? Or like, how many did you serve over the past year - just to give people an idea of how large the operation is?

Kristina  14:21  
So I'm not positive about the last year, but I did recently count how many races Hiccup has been at and this past weekend was race number 73 that Hiccup has brought our cups to. So of the last year, I would say probably 30 or 40 because it did really grow in 2022. But yeah, Brian's event, Around the Crown is a great experience and I think he really hones on the runner experience, which is what keeps an event growing. And yeah, he's great.

Panos  14:58  
And what regions is a Hiccup as a service available in?

Kristina  15:02  
So we have the hub in Tampa, Florida and Grand Rapids, Michigan. We've gone as far as Duluth, Minnesota. So we've been on kind of the eastern side of the United States. We are willing to travel all throughout the United States. However, a lot of races aren't keen on paying the travel fee, which isn't crazy. Like, we're not asking for hotels, but we do ask for the cover of fuel. 

Panos  15:31  
Yeah. Because, I guess, the thing here - again, thinking back to how the service works - is that someone in your team actually loads up a truck with his reusable cups and actually drives it out to the race, right? So having a local race is really important. You can't just-- with two hubs in Michigan where-- I guess you you keep your inventory between Michigan and Tampa, right? 

Kristina  15:55  

Panos  15:56  
And how many cups do you have in total right now in terms of how many races you can serve and your total inventory of cups?

Kristina  16:05  
Our total inventory right now is 42,000 cups.

Panos  16:09  
Excellent. How many cups would, let's say, like, Brian's race, Around the Crown 10K-- I don't know the participation numbers exactly, but how many cups would a 10K like that require, for instance?

Kristina  16:22  
Yeah. So he has a kind of bigger 10K. I believe, last year, we provided 8,000 cups for his race and it was actually really hot. So we might be ordering a little bit more. But usually our races, the sweet spot seems to be 10,000 cups to 15,000 cups that normally covers-- those numbers are the most popular numbers, if that makes sense.

Panos  16:49  
But I guess because of the fact that you're actually stocking individual aid stations, longer races with the same number of people will need more cups because there will be more aid stations, right?

Kristina  17:03  
Correct. And a lot of marathons will also have a half marathon. So we will provide a tonne of cups for, like, the first six aid stations and then when it trickles off to the marathon, we'll provide enough cups for those aid stations. But yes, the numbers do get very high when it's the longer events, and those are long days for both our crew and the race crew. Usually, like, for 7-8 hours, you're on the course, trying to clean up everything.

Panos  17:33  
Where does the name come from, by the way?

Kristina  17:35  
The name comes from-- so we were trying to come up with a name that was something that was recurring but didn't have an S at the end. We didn't want to be plural. Originally, it was Zipsip but that's actually already a company. We were trying to think of something that kind of had, like, the cup or drinking involved in it, so we came up with Hiccup and that had cup in it. And when you get the hiccups, that happens often. But it also is used in kind of a bad way when people are like, "Oh, we had some hiccups at this event." That's not usually a good thing, but it's really taken off. And then, people have kind of coined it. They're like, "Oh, yeah, they brought the Hiccups to the race." So it did kind of become a plural anyway.

Panos  18:25  
I had to ask. It's a pretty interesting name. So what I was about to ask is, do you find that there's a type of event, say, between road races, trail races, multisport events that Hiccup is better suited for in terms of the operations of that type of event or the way you work with races and there's maybe perhaps other types of events where it may not be that well suited for?

Kristina  18:52  
Yes, absolutely. So our very first race we did was a trail event and it was in Florida. We had to tote these huge bins of cups out, like, a mile and a half into the woods with a dolly and there were branches. It was quite the excursion. And what we found out was trail runners normally provide their own hydration anyway. They're out in the woods. They'll carry their own stuff. So that's not really our market. However, they are the most sustainable runners I've met - not saying that road runners are but they're more-- I mean, they're in the woods all the time. So road races are definitely where we market to. The races that are trying to create an experience that are involving the runners on social media that are involving the runners in, like, different challenges and engaging with them throughout the year-- the race companies that have a race every single weekend, like, that's how people make a living. They usually aren't too interested in Hiccup just because of, I guess, the amount of-- like, they would have to pay me every single weekend and they would rather either buy the cups from me or do their own thing. 

Panos  20:16  
And in terms of the people who have used the service, from your customers like Brian and others, what's been the feedback you guys have received so far?

Kristina  20:25  
Anybody that we have worked with has used us a second year, except for the race companies that-- say, we had six races with them, they choose not to make that investment the next year. We do have a lot of repeat customers. And I do go into every conversation with a race as though they'll be my customer annually for the next 30 years. So we really try to create, like, a great user experience for them.

Panos  20:55  
Of the people who you may have approached and didn't decide to get on the service or the people who tried for a year and then maybe they don't come back for another year, do you see, like, any common themes in their scepticism or their objections about the product? Is there common things that come up about why it may not work for them?

Kristina  21:19  
Yes. So when people are using disposable cups, they'll go to a bookstore and they'll buy 2,000-4,000 cups for a very small amount of money and, then, if we bring our cups-- so the cups that they use don't get counted. We do count our cups and we'll tell them, "Hey, we ran out of cups. You'll need to order more next year." So we'll get that a lot because you do have to dial in the numbers and be specific, and a lot of people just don't have the time to do that maybe, or they would rather spend their money elsewhere. If they're not on board already doing something sustainable, they usually aren't interested in my product. But if they've already tried something sustainable, we are the more affordable option.

Panos  22:14  
So are you saying that, for some people, it's a matter of cost?

Kristina  22:18  
Yeah, matter of cost. And for races that already use disposable cups and are worried about it, of course, they're gonna go with the Dixie cups that cost-- you get five cups for two cents. But the people that have tried sustainable options such as bamboo cups-- those are really pricey. Or they'll use cellulose, the ones that kind of dissolve. Those are more expensive. There are different companies that have tried different things. So we are the only people that do this service.

Panos  22:49  
The convenience aspect is not a big selling point for the service? I would have thought that delivering the cups there, taking them back, cleaning up, and all of that stuff should provide, I guess, a pretty big incentive for people, right?

Kristina  23:01  
Yes. And a lot of races really do appreciate it. They'll use us just for the fact that they don't have to do trash pickup afterward. They just have to pick up what they brought, which are the tables and the water jugs. And a lot of races already have, like, maybe Culligen Water Service where they'll pick up the jugs for you. So really, they get to be hands-off on race day and they don't have to pay or find volunteers for the manpower for that. So that is a huge factor. And it might not even be sustainability based, which is fine by us.

Panos  23:35  
Yeah, absolutely. Because as I said, sustainability aside, the fact that you show up and you do all of that stuff is a really attractive proposition. Let's talk about the cup a little bit. Did you design the cup?

Kristina  23:48  
Yes, I did. I had a friend of mine. He created a CAD drawing of it and I sent it to different manufacturers. What you have to do to create your own cup is you have to pay for the mould and then you have to pay per cup. So that took a little bit of research on my end.

Panos  24:11  
What is, like, roughly the dimensions, how the cup looks like, and why you chose it to look like that? Like, what's the thinking behind all that?

Kristina  24:20  
Yes, so I created it. It's eight ounces and it curves up that flares. It is very similar to Tupperware Bell tumblers, the sippy cups that most of us-- I don't know if they grew up with them in Greece but, in America, we grew up with them. My mom still has them in the cupboard. So I based it off of that. I wanted it to flare up and I also wanted runners to be able to squeeze the cup. A lot of times, when they're running, they'll squeeze it so that they have a smaller sip and it doesn't go all over your neck. And it's thick enough that people can trample them and I can still pick come up and use them at another race after washing them. 

Panos  25:02  
What has been the feedback from runners, now that you mentioned it? I mean, race directors is one thing, but our ultimate customer is the runner - the participant. Do you have direct or indirect feedback from those guys on how they feel about using this cup, which I guess feels a little bit different to your traditional paper cup or the bottle that people may be used to?

Kristina  25:27  
Yes. So runners largely have really, really liked the product. The only complaint we've really heard ever was, sometimes, it tastes like silicone or it has kind of, like, a scent to it. I mean, when we store them, they are stored in stacks of 10. So there is silicone inside of it no matter how much we wash it. So we've heard that. Then, most of the runners have been appreciative that there is a sustainable option because that's something that a runner isn't in control of on race day. And runners have really kind of kept us going because they'll tell race directors-- if a race director's on the fence about the cost or something and then the runners are saying, "Hy, I really liked that," that's keeping us back the next year because they kind of bring that along.

Panos  26:23  
Yeah, that's the most important thing. Having advocates in runners I think can really incentivize people to get you back in there. The silicone that you mentioned - I don't know, I guess - are there different grades of it? Is it a special type of silicone? Is it something that you can recycle? What kind of material are we talking about?

Kristina  26:42  
So I'm not a chemist. I'm not positive about what kind it is. I do know that it is FDA-approved and BPA-approved because I needed to do that in order to purchase them. And then silicone-- what I do know is once you make it, it cannot be created into anything else. Like, I wouldn't be able to melt it and make other cups or anything like that. So what we have done with our cups is beyond repair. If they get run over by a car on the course or something and they're stained, we donated them. There are actually two companies in Florida. People make playground mulch out of them - like little silicone wood chips. So we'll do it with that. But you're not able to dye it again or change any of the properties. It's kind of one of those funky chemicals.

Panos  27:35  
Right. So was there any choice in terms of what you would make this or was it pretty much the only choice - silicone - in terms of what you were trying to do?

Kristina  27:45  
I knew that I definitely wanted silicone and I needed to make sure-- we had a bunch of different prototypes that we were trying and some of them were really cool, but I needed it to have pretty much one surface so that, when we were cleaning thousands and thousands, I didn't have to get in the nooks of all of these. You still have to get into the bottom of the cup to clean it out. There was this one company. They make reusable, basically, Ziploc bags, and we really wanted to use those, but we couldn't figure out a way to stack them. So then, I had to create my own cups.

Panos  28:21  
Right. Yeah, because I mean, there are so many things to think about. It looks like a simple product. Like, let's create a cup that you can rewash but there are so many things you need to do. You have to have the inventory. You have to stack it. You have a good way of cleaning it, but it still needs to be strong enough for people to trample over and survive. So it sounds pretty simple, but I'm sure there would have been lots of decisions taken along the way. Tell us a little bit about the delivery service and the pickup service. So how does that work? Once you have agreed on how many cups a race needs, come race day or maybe before race day, how do you come into all of this and what do you do exactly? 

Kristina  29:02  
Yeah, so when we travel on race day, we'll pull up to each aid station. Say, they need 1,700 cups, the bins we have the cups in are 17-gallon bins. They're pretty popular over here. A lot of people use them to move and each of them holds 350 cups. So we'll drop off the appropriate amount of bins. We also drop off trash cans for the runners to throw the cups into and also the bins that are transported in once they're empty of the cups and they're all out on the tables. We'll place those down the course for runners to drop those into as well. We have signs that tell runners to drop their cups as they'll be washed and used in another race. It's such a new product that educating people on the premise of Hiccup is still something we're working on. And we also drop off directions to volunteers just because volunteers will open the bin and be like, "What's this?" And yeah, so that's what our race day is. And we asked them to save the bags that the cups come in because we could reuse those. Like, sustainability is the name of the game. So far, it's been working. The directions definitely helped with the volunteers. The only thing that's kind of an issue is the weights. We did make them sturdy, but each of the bins is 58 pounds. So if I could do it again, we would do it a lot lighter.

Panos  30:31  
You mean you'll just group the same cups, but you'll just bunch them up in smaller sort of containers, basically, so that they don't weigh as much?

Kristina  30:38  
That, or create a thinner cup, maybe. It's hard to tell because these have worked so well that I don't want to change it. But the weight definitely is a huge factor in travel and fuel mileage.

Panos  30:54  
Yeah, absolutely. Is the idea that you show up, say, on race day, is that sort of early enough? Or do you aim to travel to the race even the day before?

Kristina  31:05  
Usually, we get there the night before. Or if there's an expo, if the race directors would like us to stand there and educate the runners, that's good PR for us and it also reduces attrition. We have an issue with people taking the cups off the course. So, if they would like us at the expo to educate, we use that as an opportunity. But yeah, we'll show up on race day morning, if it's a local race, or we'll arrive pretty late at night and then just be out there in the morning for them.

Panos  31:39  
Are people taking the cups, knowingly, thinking, "Oh, I want to keep this or something"? Or do they just forget to put it in the bin? What do you think is happening there?

Kristina  31:53  
Usually, the people that take our cups are the walkers of races. They're like, "This is a cool cup," and they'll hang on to it for a longer period of time than a runner that's, like, cruising through and just trying to keep running. So we have that. We asked all of the races that we do work with to make an announcement on-- social media usually does the trick. People can read short excerpts. A lot of people don't read the athlete guides in their emails. Yeah, we had to establish some bouncers at races near the finish line to ask them to give the cups back. People with strollers-- there was a lady that was pushing her cat at a 5K in a stroller and she had 60 cups in the bottom of her stroller and we asked for them back. She gave them back, but she's like, "I just really liked them." And she was cleaning up the course. I was like, "I really appreciate you cleaning the course but we need those."

Panos  32:50  
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Ok, now, let’s get back to the episode… 

So what happens with those cups that runners take or even the ones that are destroyed? In terms of the cost of the service, is that something that you pass on to the race - something that the race director would have to pay for? How do you manage that?

Kristina  34:37  
Yeah. When we sign with the race, if they choose to use our services, we send them over a contract. We asked them very benign things such as "Don't put hot liquids in this cup" and stuff to make sure we don't get sued. And we ask that if there's more than 3% attrition that we get $1.50 per cup that is last. But we also agreed to come to terms arbitrarily. My mission is to be their vendor for the next 30 years. So after a race, I would rather work with them to figure out how we can fix it because I don't want to hit them with a bill after race day when they've already had to pay so many other vendors, and I want to be at their race of the next year,

Panos  35:22  
In terms of the cups that get damaged or destroyed-- like, people trampling on them. I know you mentioned that they're pretty sturdy but, I guess, any material-- if 1000 people walk over it-- like, how many of those are unrecoverable at the end of an event?

Kristina  35:40  
So honestly, I would say we have 42,000 cups in inventory. We have had three cups that have been worn through, so they do hold up really, really well. And there were probably, like, two or three holes in them where the silicone just got really thin. And then, if cups get ran over by a vehicle, I don't know if y'all have trucks with-- there are two wheels on the back, they're called dualies here. Cups will get stuck in between those tires and that's usually what makes them unrecoverable. But other than that, they hold up to a car running them over, but they do get stained. But as far as everything else, they've only been worn through - a few of them.

Panos  36:26  
That's a pretty high bar. I mean, I would have expected many, many more as a percentage, at least, to get destroyed. I've seen those vehicles because I was in the US also recently and you cannot not notice those things. I think they're practically like tanks or something. Like, those things going over a silicone cup and surviving is pretty unlikely. So three or even a handful out of 42,000 is pretty impressive.

Kristina  36:56  
Yes, we're happy about that. 

Panos  36:58  
Tell me a little bit about the recovery process, which I guess is the tougher of the two - right? Dropping them off and then having to collect everything. You must have come up with some good ways of doing that because it sounds like a bit of an exercise.

Kristina  37:14  
It is very labour-intensive. So they're packed very neatly in these bins, then they all get taken out, and then they're thrown everywhere. So, it's like playing 52 card pickup every day. Our issue with that which we're still kind of perfecting - we'll always be perfecting something - is they don't go back into the bins the same way they came because they're not stacked. So we'll pick them up either in the totes that they come in, which are rectangles, or the trash cans. And honestly, most of the volunteers we've worked with have picked them up off the course and thrown them back into the bins that we use. They've been super helpful. We do try to spend as much face time as we can out at the aid stations. Like, we want to get in front of the runners. We want to get in front of volunteers like our employees. But yeah, that's when the heavy lifting comes in because it's not just 58 pounds anymore. It's, like, 80 pounds when you're stacking all those cups in there every which way. The looser, the better for transport because they're lighter and that's the way that they're going to go into our dishwashers. But yeah, that is the hardest part of what we do. 

Panos  38:33  
Because I've also seen you in pictures at events-- so you show up, I'm guessing. If it's a race served out of Michigan, maybe one of your colleagues up there, how many people in total from Hiccup turn up to a race - say, something like Around the Crown - to actually help with all of that kind of stuff?

Kristina  38:50  
So we just have two people that show up just because of the drop-off and pick up. Because we're travelling, it's kind of hard to find people to be all in on that when you're not part of the operation. So right now, it's my husband and I, and then it's our two sons. And so, they don't really have a choice, but they help us.

Panos  39:15  
Indeed. I mean, nothing better than family labour, right? It's cheap. It's effective. It's committed, loyal. So you can't go wrong with all that.

Kristina  39:25  
I think it's a great bonding experience, and they don't agree. But yes, I'm with you on that.

Panos  39:31  
I hope they'll be looking back at that through a different lens 10 years down the line. I think they'll probably appreciate it in ways you can't expect right now. Are they teenagers - your sons?

Kristina  39:41  
Yeah. One is 18 and one is 24. So they get kind of voluntold into doing things.

Panos  39:50  
Voluntold, yes. That's a word I have recently - voluntold. And it's great. Great age. They're just coming into their prime in terms of lifting cups and stuff. So very helpful workers there.

Kristina  40:01  
Yes. Stronger than me. 

Panos  40:03  
Yes, absolutely. So then the cups-- you take them back home. Talk us through a little bit what happens then. You have a facility where you wash them. You get them all prepared for the next event. How does that work?

Kristina  40:17  
Yeah, so what we do when we get back is we have a few different pools that we throw the cups into. They will be bleached in soap or disinfectant. And so they'll be in there. We have to unstack all the cups and spread them out. So that's their primary soak. And then, we have two commercial dishwashers. We could probably use a few more commercial dishwashers to get the volume through. We wash 300 cups at a time. We stack them in stacks of four and put them through. And then, the longest part we have is we have to stack them in order to dry them. So they're in, like, kind of bigger pyramids. And then we have fans blowing on them. And after that, we'll stack the cup in stacks of 10. And then, we put 5 stacks of 10 inside a bag. And then, there are seven of those bags in each bin. So, that part, even if it's 1000 cups, the drying for it takes probably a day and a half just because, if we stack them, with just one drop of water, when they're all together, they can mould.

Panos  41:31  
Yeah, I can see that. None of that existed, right? The equipment or the processes that you've put in place to do all of that washing, drying, stocking up - is that something that you borrowed from another industry or something you had to adapt from something that was already there?

Kristina  41:50  
So there's this company in Ohio. They worked with their government up there in this one city and all of the to-go containers are, I believe, silicone. There are some products that are reusable. And they have a dishwasher that washes 1000 of their pieces at one time and I was like, "Oh, cool. I'll just get that." It's $117,000. So I was like, "Okay, that's not happening." So my husband and I recreated-- we bought these-- they're kind of bigger pools. And then, we bought an air pump - like an aerator pump. So it's kind of, like, what you'd have in a Jacuzzi or something, so that swirls the cups around and everything. And what we have to do is we have to fish the cups out with, like, a big fishing net, and that's how we stack them onto it. But ideally, I mean, as we grow, I would like to just create essentially, like, a cup carwash to just put 1000 cups at a time. At the rate we're going, we can wash 2,500 cups a day, but that is, like, all-in, everybody's on deck, and there just has to be a more efficient way. So I'm excited to learn, but it's, like, everything you try just take so long to figure out if it's working effectively. 

Panos  43:15  
Yeah, I guess, if you want to scale this up significantly from where it is today - and it sounds like it's going quite well and you're getting there - you're gonna need some better ways of doing this. The machine that you checked out at 110 grand or whatever may seem expensive to you now but, down the line, it might be the solution to taking you from the way you're currently doing things to maybe doing it in a slightly more efficient way. I want to talk a little bit about the economics of the whole thing. I've held back a little bit because I wanted to have all the economics questions in one place. Talk us through the cost. From a race director's point of view, how much does it cost to bring Hiccup to a race?

Kristina  44:01  
So we charge $150 per 1000 cups and then we charge-- it's a floating rate right now of mileage. We charge per 200 miles. Fuel prices always change, so we always change those numbers. We discount the rate depending on how many cups they want and how many events they use. But there is a discounted rate eventually of $100 per 1000 cups. So it goes from 15 cents a cup to 10 cents a cup. However, I'm very leery of giving those numbers out as inflation is happening here and things always change. I've lost money on some races. I've paid my own money to be at some races. So we're in the very novice parts of it right now.

Panos  44:51  
And the 15 cents, as you said, that, for larger volumes, drops down to 10 cents. How does that compare to whatever alternatives race directors have for road races like normal cups, reusable, compostable cups, whatever? Like, what options are there that compete with you? And what's the price point for those?

Kristina  45:13  
So a lot of races have already tried going sustainable and doing their own thing. There's a company where they'll brand these silicone cups that you can hook on to your race vest or your race belt, and you have to stop and fill those up. Those are $5 per cup. And I'm sure they can wrap that into maybe the registration cost or whatever they do. That's not very runner-friendly, so I haven't seen that take off too much in the road racing industry. There are completely, I believe, compostable cups, and those are 13 cents a cup. However, there are some issues with those cups as, if water sits in them long enough, there's no film on them, so they'll completely melts. And then, of course, Gatorade or Powerade or some sponsors will provide the smaller cups for free if use their products. And then, obviously, I can't compete for your sponsorships that will provide those. And then there's this one race that did bamboo cups. Those were $1 apiece. I don't know how that works. And there are also cellulose cups. Those were 85 cents apiece. So we're far below things that do work and then we're just a little bit above what other people have used, besides the unsustainable options.

Panos  46:43  
What is the cost of the unsustainable options - just to have that point on the map as well?

Kristina  46:47  
Yeah. So, when I did this research, it was kind of before inflation hit. But I know that at Sam's Club or Costco, people were able to get 2,000 cups for $75. I don't know what that math comes out to, but I know it's a lot cheaper than what we have.

Panos  47:07  
Yeah, I think it's something like four cents or something like that.

Kristina  47:09  
And then of course, if you go to the store, and you're buying disposable cups, that's going to be cheaper, but not by much - just like a regular retail store. 

Panos  47:19  
Yeah, but it sounds to me that for the crowd - which I guess is your target audience that uses the compostable cups, the people who are already thinking through sustainability and improving that side of things - 13 cents versus 15 cents. I mean, it's almost like a non-cost, to be honest, right? I mean, it ends up being, like, $50 for a really large event in difference in total. So that's not really a cost that someone would consider because these compostable cups-- they're not reusable like yours. Are they fully recyclable, at least? Like, can you get all of those compostable cups? I mean, they're not even recyclable, right? They're just compostable, right? You can compose them fully, I guess?

Kristina  48:11  
Yes. However, commercial composting is extremely costly. It's very expensive to do at such a large scale. So there's the compostable cups and then there's the paper cups, and those are the ones that melt, I believe. A lot of them will say that they're recyclable or that they're this great thing until they get used, like, until there's liquids in them like how you can't recycle a pizza box. So there's a lot of misinformation in some of the marketing. So I would say our option is, like, the most tangible way to see something being reused.

Panos  48:52  
And you also mentioned the sponsors. You said, "I can't compete with free cups from sponsors," which is one aspect of all this and, definitely, 0 cents to 15 cents is a larger gap to bridge there. But I think there is a role that sponsors can play in all this. And with all of these new products and technologies, they're always one sponsor away for the economics making sense for everyone - the race director and you guys and everything. Is there an option for the cups? Maybe if an event wanted to brand the cups with a sponsor logo and then they can reuse their own cups from one year to the next. Is that an option? Is that something you've come across?

Kristina  49:37  
I have come across that probably two times now. And yes, it's an option. They would have to buy those cups though because I can't use those in my inventory the rest of the year. I can do the service for them but it would also add the travel to bring it back to them to wherever they have their storage for it.

Panos  49:58  
Right. So basically, you would store that stuff for them but, then, you won't be able to use it for any other race. 

Kristina  50:05  

Panos  50:06  
And instead of hiring the cups, do you ever come across race directors who may be willing or wanting to purchase them outright? So they sort of have their own inventory of cups rather than having to hire them year in, year out?

Kristina  50:26  
Yeah. We've had a few inquiries for that and these races that are using 12,000 cups every year. I've had the question, "How many years am I going to buy this from you before I just buy them myself and do it myself?" And I've always countered with, "Do you want to be washing 12,000 cups in your own dishwasher at home? Or do you want me to do it?" So the labour part of it is really our biggest part. It's not necessarily the cups that they're buying.

Panos  50:59  
So I think that's all great. I think, if you ask me, this is a very valuable service. I was really excited to bring this to people, And hopefully they have a few more answers since I spoke to Brian about it. It sounds to me like there's a few things to still improve and iron out in the service, which is of only to be expected since you're only, like, a couple of years into it and half of that time was spent in with COVID hanging over our heads. So, it's pretty early days. But there's always been this question about how do you make road race cup waste more sustainable. Because as you say, for trail events, you have your "bring your own cup", you have cupless racing, you have all of that stuff. Small numbers. People are used to carrying their own water in bladders and all that kind of stuff. So that's sort of, like, out of the question but, for road races, there's been a big question about removing that very big aspect of waste, which relates to water. And I had another company on the podcast a couple of years ago - the product is called Ooho. The company is called Notpla of the UK who produced this little edible sachets of stuff. We have you guys bringing this kind of technology out and I think it's it's really promising. I have to say this looks like something that could become practically feasible for road races. So I really wish you all the success in continuing to improve it. What's the plans for the future? Do you think you're going to be bringing out any more products or any different sizes of cups or anything like that? What's your roadmap for the next two or three years?

Kristina  52:49  
So our goal is to definitely build our inventory. A lot of the bigger races that we do contact that do have the money to spend on our products, they'll need 50,000 cups to 100,000 cups. That's all fine and dandy, but now we're running into the issue of we need the equipment to haul it. So we've already had to upgrade our vehicle to get more towing capacity. So we've done that. So yes, we would like to expand across the United States. And our pipeline goal is to be on airlines where the idea originated because I read some statistics or some research that an airline within 6 hours uses 2 million cups. So they have the same issue going on with their industry and I'm sure somebody has to come up with an idea for those. I mean, it could be us. And a lot of airlines-- we have some greenwashing in the United States and everybody's supposed to be totally sustainable by 2030. So in my head, I'm like, "I have six years to make this blow up to be big enough to do all of that." So yeah, definitely grow. And then, the races I've reached out to internationally and kind of the bigger ones to put my feelers out-- I believe the Berlin Marathon, they're doing the same exact thing I'm doing. Like, they're providing and they're going to wash their own cups, but I reached out to them. There's obviously a language barrier there. It seems like a lot of other countries are already more progressive than we are with sustainability. So they're like, "Yeah, that's a no brainer" or "Yeah, we already don't have cups." So I think that where I am is a good place to grow it. If I could just get more people on board or-- it just takes time to build it up. Once I was at Grandma's Marathon, all of a sudden, people start already answering my emails. Once I was at this marathon, all of a sudden, the email I was ignored three months earlier is now getting a response and now lots Hiccups. So it's hard to grow from nothing when you're not spending money on marketing.

Panos  55:16  
Absolutely. So you guys are in Grandma's marathon as well? 

Kristina  55:20  
Yes, we are. 

Panos  55:21  
Awesome. I mean, that's a great thing. They say that's how it works. You have these early adopters that are the people that are really passionate and really sort of visionary and ahead of everyone else in picking up these kinds of technologies, even when they're not 100% perfect in every detail, and then everyone else comes along slowly, which is I guess what we'll be seeing with you guys in a couple of years. Because, obviously, the geography is a little bit of a limiting factor being only in Tampa and Michigan with your inventory, have you considered maybe expanding westwards through partnerships or getting more people or franchisees or others sort of, like, business partners to help you bring the service to more races further west?

Kristina  56:13  
Absolutely. And a lot of races in the West banned single-use - and a lot of different cities out west. So it's just kind of a manner of manpower and figuring out where to grow, where to establish that hub over there because, I believe, Hiccup would certainly be very busy with all of those races. It's so new that there have been people that have reached out to me for franchising pickup, and I need to let it grow my own way and figure out all the details before I have somebody else doing things the wrong way.

Panos  56:53  
That's perfectly understandable. So how can people learn more about Hiccup, the service, the cup, and what you guys offer? Where can they find you?

Kristina  57:03  
Yeah, so we are on both Facebook and Instagram. We actually just made our Facebook - that took forever. And we have a website. It's And then, both our Instagram and Facebook is Hiccup Earth.

Panos  57:26  
Okay, so I hope as many of the people listening in particularly the ones that you can also service - East Coast US and around that kind of region - although you said you go all the way out to Minnesota. So if you think that this is a product that you guys want to try out, please reach out to Kristina. Please go visit Sounds like a great idea to me. And it will take a lot of load of your shoulders with bringing cups to races, picking them up, and you're doing a great thing for the planet. So check that out. In the meantime, Kristina, I want to thank you very, very much for taking the time to speak with me today. I really appreciate it.

Kristina  58:03  
Thank you Panos. Thank you for having me. 

Panos  58:05  
And thank you to everyone listening in. And we'll see you all on our next podcast.

Panos  58:15  
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode on Hiccup, the reusable water cup service for races, with Hiccup owner, Kristina Smithe.

You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website You can also share your thoughts about sustainability, reducing race waste or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

Many thanks again to our awesome podcast sponsor RunSignup for sponsoring today’s episode. And if you enjoyed this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite player, and check out our podcast back-catalog for more great content like this. 

Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.

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