THE MOST PRESSING QUESTION
A CHAT WITH
TED METELLUS BACK TO BUSINESS: THRIVING POST-COVID THE
SURVIVAL SPRING 2021 RUNNINGUSA.ORG
OF VIRTUAL EVENTS
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A NOTE FROM THE CEO
BY THE NUMBERS
RACE DIRECTOR Q & A
A CHAT WITH TED METELLUS
BACK TO BUSINESS
APPROACHES TO VOLUNTEERS
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL GENE
IN THIS ISSUE SPRING 2021
Get back to business on the right foot How you handle your next event matters — but don’t worry, Race Roster has your back. Why not organize your next event on a platform with people who truly care and understand the industry?
Ready to chat? Let’s talk about how we can help you get back to business safely with your best foot forward.
Request a demo https://raceroster.com/go/covid-secure-event-tools
Publisher & Editor In Chief Dawna Stone Managing Editor Leah Etling VP Partnerships & Sponsorships Christine Bowen Graphic Designer Sarah Page Contributors/Interviewees Eli Asch, Tanner Bell, Mike Bone, Jim Chaney, Jessica Collins, Ryan Griessmeyer, Susan Harmeling, Brandon Hough, Jon Hughes, Robin Jumper, Muffy King, Geneva Lamm, Steve Lastoe, Dave McGillivray, Jeff Matlow, Ted Metellus, Wade Morehead, John Mortimer, Alivia Nelson, Mike Nishi, Katelyn Presti, Jared Rohatinsky, Jack Staph, Ralph Staph, Heidi Swartz, Doug Thurston, Shanna Ward, Matt West Cover Ted Metellus
(Photo Credit: NYRR/Da Ping Luo)
RUNNING USA BOARD OF DIRECTORS Virginia Brophy Achman Tanner Bell Alex Bennett Donna Grogan Stevie Jones
Bryan Lively Jeff Matlow Kyle McLaughlin Meghan Najera Troy Schooley Max Siegel
Lonnie Somers Dawna Stone Heidi Swartz Matt West Tony Yamanaka
PARTNERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES Contact Christine Bowen +1-858-952-3269 | firstname.lastname@example.org Race Director Magazine is published quarterly by Running USA Copyright 2021 All rights reserved. The entire content of Race Director Magazine is copyright protected and may not be reproduced without the express written consent of the publisher. Running USA assumes no liability for products or services promoted herein.
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A NOTE FROM THE CEO
elcome to the inaugural issue of Race Director Magazine.
During the first few months in my new role as CEO of Running USA, I had the pleasure of talking with a large group of our members. Many of you stated that although you enjoy reading the weekly RUSA newsletters, you wanted more. Well, we listened and Race Director Magazine (RDM) was born.
This magazine was developed with your content desires in mind. Although the team at RUSA worked tirelessly to put together articles and stories that we think you will enjoy, this is YOUR magazine and we want to hear from you!
What do you think of the inaugural issue? What would you like to see in future issues?
Send us your feedback at Content@RunningUSA.org
DAWNA STONE CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE
COVID-19 made a significant impact on
the racing industry in 2020, but will 2021 be the same? Here's how runners are feeling about this year's events.
ABOUT THE RESPONDENTS
24 percent won’t return to racing until they feel personally safe, even after being vaccinated.
86% WHITE 7% HISPANIC 7% BLACK 4% ASIAN
68 percent are unlikely to do virtual events after live events are back..
1% AMERICAN INDIAN OR ALASKAN NATIVE
Nearly 9 of 10 participants expect that events they had planned to run in 2021 will be cancelled. redne G
...But Also Much Optimism
44 percent will return to live events as soon as one is offered in their area.
50 percent prefer live events to virtual ones.
Source: 2020 Running USA Global Runner Survey, North America edition
61 percent think they will participate in more events in 2021 than in 2020.
e m o c nI dl o h e s u o H
20 percent think they will seek out more races postpandemic.
NOMADIC | 24 RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE
#1 Hydration Brand in the Global Runner Survey. Now that's what we call a PR.
RACE DIRECTORS R
MOST PRESSING QUESTION WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVENTS CAN DO TO HELP THE INDUSTRY GET “BACK TO BUSINESS?”
For our inaugural issue of Race Director Magazine, we asked race directors: What is the most imortant thing events can do to help the industry get “back to business?” Several clear threads run through these responses from around the U.S. They include the need to be proactive, work in tandem with government, communicate clearly to participants and share information and strategy with other event producers. Just past the one-year anniversary of COVID-prompted event cancellations in the U.S., the good news is that the path to resuming in-person races is becoming clear in most places. The 12 race directors who answered this important question are all working diligently to make sure the industry stays on course for a full comeback.
Here’s what they said, in their own words:
The best thing [we] can do... is work together for the common cause.
The most important thing events can do to get back to business is to act like a true, good faith partner with all stakeholders. Don’t be adversarial with municipalities and permitting agencies—understand their concerns, and help them understand what your events can do to meet those concerns. When you reopen registration, ask your runners to be a partner with you—acknowledge that there’s a risk in registering for a race, and ask them to share it with you, but also be willing to share it with them in the ways appropriate for your organization. Check in with your race committee, sponsors, and beneficiaries, and see if there are ways your organization can support them during this time—there may be a win-win there, in a service you can provide them that they’ve never needed before, like wellness programming, equipment rentals, or check-in procedures. The only way we’re going to successfully get running reopened is the same way we put on our events—by working together, as partners.
Eli Asch Race Director, Twin Cities in Motion Minneapolis, Minnesota
Do an event as soon as is safely and legally possible. The more events that happen the more data points health officials will have and the more likely they will be to allow more and larger events to occur. Ski resorts are a great example, I have been skiing a lot this year and when I see how many people are safely skiing while socially distanced, it makes me think that we could be closer to putting on events than we think. The ski resorts did a great job of three things: 1. Developing and executing COVID protocols. 2. Making the customer feel safe by educating them about those COVID protocols (recognize that COVID safety is going to be a significant part of the value proposition for any customer in 2021). 3. Enforcing COVID protocols in real time. When one ski resort opened and proved they could do it safely, others were able to follow suit. It will be the same with events. If events can happen safely in Texas, Florida, and Utah, New York, California and Washington won’t be far behind. But only if we do it safely Tanner Bell
CEO, Ragnar Events Salt Lake City, Utah.
The question should be - “what can the INDUSTRY do to help events get back to business?” The endurance industry needs to work together on setting mitigations, new procedures that are/can be implemented across sports and regions of a state. Then we as an industry need to recognize the chaos of the 2021 schedule and know that we need to work together to get through the craziness of this fall. The industry is not back until events - large, small, runs, walks are all happening again with regularity. If my small run can happen but your large run cannot, this does not help us as an industry.
Mike Bone President/CEO of Spectrum Sports Management Claremont, Calif.
At this difficult time and knowing most events are in the same situation, the best thing events can do to help the industry get back to business is work together for the common cause. That includes looking carefully at planning event dates. There is still enough uncertainty (with the virus) in the U.S. that I think we’ll see a lot of events pushing to fall this year but then scheduling again for six months later in spring 2022. From our perspective as a company that puts on our own events but also works on client events, we want to help as many races as possible move forward. But we can’t help them all at the same time. Locally and regionally, look at what other options runners might have on a given weekend before scheduling. That will be beneficial for all. And think carefully about runner fatigue when considering the time lapse between event iterations. If we can pause and think through these things carefully, events and the industry will mutually benefit.
Ryan Griessmeyer President, Race Day Events Fitchburg, Wisconsin
For organizations that produce running events, getting back to business is a necessity. However, we must not move too quickly and must be mindful of the uncertainty of where we are. With the 2021 Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic (PGDC) Race Weekend Events, we’ve experienced twists and turns that have led to three pivots. With each, we made decisions in the best interest of our participants, corporate partners, volunteers, staff, and supporting personnel. In the end, after creating a thorough and approved mitigation plan for hosting an in-person race weekend in February and, after postponing to May, we found ourselves converting to a 100% virtual event. Until this year, if we committed to something, without fail, it was done. With each pivot, the Gasparilla Distance Classic Association lost a few of its followers’ trust. Though the majority appreciated and understood our efforts, losing the faith of even one was too many. As we move forward, we must remember who we are and then remind our stakeholders of the same. In Gasparilla’s case, for 44 years, we’ve produced a successful race weekend with an event for every member of the family and fitness level, a race weekend where hundreds of thousands of goals were met and even more memories were made. And last, a race weekend that over 44 years has resulted in $5.9 million in donations to local youth charitable organizations. Our sport has never encountered a COVID-19 before. The pandemic’s impact will forever be a part of who we are and what we do. It’s time for one more pivot: consider all we’ve learned over the last 12 months and then move forward individually in a responsible manner that will benefit all events collectively.
Susan Hamerling Executive Director, Gasparilla Distance Classic Association Tampa, Florida
RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE | 15
Here in Florida, we’ve had the opportunity since early December to successfully produce six in-person events. We have shared our learnings on many platforms throughout the industry. The following is the most important thing our team believes events can do to help the industry get back to business. Ultimately, producing successful in-person events will help our running industry get back to business but first we must create and implement protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This will ensure the safety of our participants, our staff and volunteers. A safe environment will encourage our runners to participate and financially support our industry once again. Lastly, we must continue to share best practices and the ever-changing protocols with our industry peers.
Jon Hughes Co Owner, Track Shack Orlando, Florida
As the endurance industry began to react to the pandemic, the huge disparity in our business types and models really stood out. As an industry we have much in common: the desire to create great events, inspire health and performance, and to do something positive through our efforts every day. However, this industry is incredibly diverse. There is no one-size- fits-all solution when it comes to the return of events — and this is our greatest challenge. That said, we can learn from the industry at large. NYCRUNS DASH plan, the plan developed by the Colorado Running & Walking Event Alliance, and others made publicly available are invaluable resources that can help events return safely. The key is diving deep and adapting these templates for your own needs. NYCRUNS iterated more event plans for our first relatively small pandemic-era event than we did for our largest events in 2019. When we went to the City of New York, we wanted something bulletproof; we wanted to demonstrate how thoroughly we were thinking through all the new factors. While we have developed a great working relationship with permitting authorities throughout the years, we realized this was a completely different set of
circumstances and as such, our event plans had to withstand scrutiny from everyone at any level of government. As the NYCRUNS Lousy T-Shirt Race would be one of the first significant events of any kind in NYC, on event day, there would be press and public attention. I’m happy to say we nailed it. Ultimately it comes down to research and development. We all did this when we were starting out, and we can all do it again.
Steve Lastoe CEO, NYCRuns New York, NY
The most important thing we can do to get back to business is work together. This is going to be transition year for our events, our participants, our workforce and our industry. While we’re all facing unique challenges in our individual markets, we can’t lose sight of the power we have when we work together. Over the last year our organization has led in-depth conversations with industry leaders through our Race Management Program. These conversations are an opportunity to share best practices and challenge each other to find creative solutions that will benefit our events and the industry as a whole. All that said, working together reaches beyond event organizers and industry leaders, it’s also continued engagement with our participants, volunteers, event staff and community leaders. As we work to bring our events back online, we can’t lose sight of the unique perspectives represented by our participants and workforce and how we can work together to make our events more inclusive. The road ahead of us is long and it’s going to take patience and participation from all of us to return our races to roadways across the country and around the world.
Michael Nishi Chief Operating Officer, Chicago Event Management Chicago, Illinois
RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE | 16
Once you accept what you can and cannot control in such a challenging time, especially not having approval to host in-person events, race directors should focus on why runners participate in our events. The better we understand their emotional connection, the more successfully we can develop unique ways to advocate for our destination races and to stand for something more than just a registration sale. It’s important to continuously listen to and understand our participants’ point of view, needs, values, and personal goals. We need to continue to demonstrate that we’re here for them and we’re working to meet them where they are for (hopefully) in-person or, if needed, virtual events. Race directors are always trying to think of ways to improve our events. But when most, if not all, social aspects of an event are temporarily off the table, it forces us to focus on better understanding why our participants want to cross our finish lines. And, as always, it’s important that we continue to share with and learn from other race directors and the running community. Moving forward, plans to safely organize people and get them from start to finish may look a lot different than what we’re all used to, but if that’s what we need to do to get back on the course, then that’s what we will do.
Katelyn Presti Sports Event Manager, Savannah Sports Council Race Director, Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run and Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon & 5K Savannah, Georgia
I think the most important thing that events can do in order to help our industry get back to business is to work together. We need events to all try to follow similar protocols at their events, especially, events that take place in the same city or metropolitan area. It would make it much easier for a runner to register and follow the rules if the races in a certain demographic area all had similar policies. We need to all be consistent with our messaging and follow Covid protocols. It would only take one event to hurt others from taking place, if COVID-19 protocols aren’t adhered to. As an example, if all races required masks to be worn at the start line and finish line, runners would adjust to this and be prepared for it. Another example is how a start line works, no corrals but rolling starts that take into consideration social distancing protocols. The bottom line is work together to make our events happen again and communicate with your participants, so they are fully aware of race protocols prior to arriving to a race. If we communicate with other events in our area and send a clear message to the running community, we can get back to the business of putting on runs but we must work together in order for this to happen.
Heidi Swartz Executive Director, The Cowtown Fort Worth, Texas
Do an event as soon as is safely and legally possible.
Something events AND Running USA can do to help events get back to business is to make it as easy as possible to share and access information about successful events. Maybe someone with good tech skills at RUSA or a member could create a database for members to upload data about successful events. This real-life, real-time data can help others both plan for successful races and possibly show local permitting authorities how events are being held safely around the country. Here are examples of things I would want to know from successful events: • How many entrants compared to pre-pandemic? Were entries limited due to COVID-19 or was the entry number simply all those who chose to enter? • Did you change your entry fee due to COVID safety expenses? • How were your volunteer numbers? Up? Down? Any issues? • Did you ask entrants and/or volunteers if they had been vaccinated? How did you keep track of this information? • What were your COVID-19 considerations: Masks required before and after the race? Packet pick-up? Mailed bibs? Post-race food? Finish medals? Awards? Transportation/busing? Start wave program? • Did you take the temperature of participants and volunteers when they checked in? • Are you aware of any COVID infections from your event? • Did you send out additional instructions for participants that detailed your COVID-19 protocols? • What did you learn from your event that will help you with your future events? • What is your advice to event directors looking to organize their first event since the pandemic?
The most important thing events can do to help the industry get back to business is demonstrate true partnership with our stakeholders. We need to collectively agree to work with our permitting entities, host communities, venues, and contractors rather than against them as we emerge from the dark days. There is still much disagreement regarding the proper approach and timeline to open back up, and our actions in the coming months will reverberate for many years to come. Although we are all past the point of desperation and are eager to return to “normal” operations, we cannot afford to push our stakeholders to move faster than they are willing to move. Butting heads with permit issuers will only cause them to dig their heals in deeper. Arguing with them about data, numbers, and restrictions will only damage the already-fragile relationships we fight so hard to maintain. I get nauseous these days whenever I hear someone use the cliché phrase “We’re all in this together,” but this really is a situation that merits its use. The poor actions of one event producer can spoil the opportunities of hundreds of others as we all try to get back on our feet. Let’s resolve to move forward patiently and in tandem with our stakeholders with the ultimate goal of maintaining the relationships that allow us all to operate.
Jared Rohatinsky CEO, Brooksee Pleasant Grove, Utah
Doug Thurston Executive Director/Race Director, Big Sur International Marathon Monterey, Calif.
RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE | 18
C H AT
W I T H
TED METELLUS BY DAWNA S TO N E
New race director of the TCS NYC Marathon talks with Running USA CEO and RDM Publisher Dawna Stone For New York City native Ted Metellus, recently being named race director of the TCS New York City Marathon has been not just a career milestone, but the closing of a loop. Many may not know that Ted’s first official job in the running industry was also with the New York Road Runners, back in 2001. For this issue of RDM, I had the chance to sit down with Ted and ask both personal and professional questions about his journey to this important role leading one of the world’s most renowned races. We had a wonderful conversation, touching on ev-
erything from how Ted – along with the rest of our industry – can’t wait to get “cooking” again. I know we’re all on board with a delicious recipe for a fast and furious comeback. Throughout our conversation, Ted’s outgoing personality, industry knowledge, and kind humanity were on full display. With 20 years of operations and management experience in road races, he has worked on thousands of events nationwide and attended nearly every Running USA Industry Conference. Like so many in our industry,
Ted is the type of event professional who is always willing to share his knowledge with others. That’s one of the things that makes him a true asset to our sport and such a fun interview. Thank you, Ted, for chatting with me and sharing your perspective on so many topics important to our industry right now. Running USA members, as a special members-only content bonus, you can find the full video recording of my conversation with Ted online at RunningUSA.org. Find out what races are on his bucket list (hint, there’s a bunch!) and where he loves to run in NYC, only online. (Editor’s note: conversation transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.) Dawna Stone: Ted, thank you for joining us today. I am so excited to talk with you. What are you most excited about in your new role?
IT’S ABOUT ENGAGING WITH COMMUNITIES, IT IS ABOUT DEMYSTIFYING RUNNING.
Ted Metellus: It’s ultimately to get back cooking again, to get back to producing events. The hardest task is to get things going again. We’ve been producing some small events in our “Return to Racing” series, with very safe operations to prove out the science, math, tech and operations of producing live events. Growing that to scale is the goal. It’s no different than our colleagues in the service industry that own restaurants and bars, and just want to get back in the kitchen and start cooking again. That’s exactly what we want to do for everybody in the running industry family. Dawna: Let’s get cooking! That’s what I want to say, too. As I’m talking to you today, it’s late February. There’s got to be some questions that are top of mind that will enable you to produce the marathon live in November. What are they? Ted: That is an easy answer to provide. It’s not a question of can we produce the marathon? Or can we produce our events? It’s not even a question of how we’re going to do that. Because we’ve been
Photo Credit: NYRR/Da Ping Luo (Opposite)
working collaboratively as an industry and internally on what we can execute. It’s about how (and what) the event would look like. That’s the question. That’s something that we, as event producers, including me, don’t have the answers to right now. Everything changes daily. It’s not a question of, can we produce our events, we can absolutely execute on that. It’s what that event will look like, how big will it be? What are the elements that are going to be there? What are the timelines that we must work with? What are the parameters from local and regional government that we can take and say, ‘Great, we now have a known that’s executable.’ That’s what we’re waiting for. Dawna: Is your team sitting in a room now thinking about the ifs? Such as, it’ll look like option A if this happens, it’ll look like option B if this happens, and putting those plans in place?
Ted: It’s no different than planning a family function, like a birthday party or retirement party. You should have a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C. If it’s outdoors and it rains, where do we go? If this or that factor changes, how do we adjust? We have a list of assumptions that we look at. And my team hears me say this a lot – it’s all about the knowns versus the unknowns. You plan for the knowns and you prepare for the unknowns. Dawna: If you had a crystal ball, where do you think our industry will be come fall? Ted: Optimistically speaking, in a good spot. And this is only looking at what’s happening with the trends and data, not only locally in the New York metro area. Across the state and globally, right now, numbers are looking good. I’m not an MD, I’m not Dr. Fauci, so I’m going to let the pros do their thing. If you think about where we were 364 days ago, there was all this talk of COVID, and where it was, and we didn’t fully understand it. There were all these questions that were out there. We know much more now
RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE | 21
than we did 364 days ago. We even know more now than we knew a month ago. If that continues to be the trend, it will be positive for us come fall with the production and execution of live events.
Ted: Perspective. That for me is the big thing. I mean, think about the ‘P word’ from 2020. Everybody was pivoting to the right, pivoting to the left, pivoting everywhere. But moving forward, it’s all about perspective. Everything that we knew was quickly taken away. You can’t take things for granted. So, looking at things from a sense of perspective, trying to see things from a longer lens or a longer runway. Really thinking virtually, not in the sense of running events, but putting yourself in that hypothetical space. Where are we going to be? How are we going to be? Thinking strategically with your organization, your offerings, your platform. I think that is the biggest takeaway.
Dawna: I love your answer. As I keep saying, I’m ‘hopefully optimistic.’ In those last 364 days, I know that NYRR worked diligently to provide virtual options in lieu of a live event. What were some of the takeaways of that effort?
Dawna: 2020 also was the year that the industry talked about diversity, equity and inclusion more than it has ever before. What do you see as the industry’s role in creating awareness and safe spaces for all within our industry?
Ted: It was a success, and we had tremendous learnings from providing a variety of offerings to so many people. The global impact was huge and we were able to see that impact, thanks to our partnership with Strava. The reach of our virtual events was tremendous. Those were all positive takeaways. Virtual is an equivalent that parallels my earlier example of restaurants. It’s like your traditional brick and mortar restaurant where you’re able to serve X many people at a time. But do you have a delivery option? Do you have an online place where I can order delivery? Can you have a pop-up type scenario, like a food truck? That’s where our industry has evolved. It’s not just the in-person offerings, but there’s a virtual offering, as well as the pop-up option of being able to have small scale gatherings that are safe within parks or controlled spaces. Engaging people with challenges, like 100K challenges, has been amazing. Those were just some of the benefits of the virtual platform that we’ve seen. As far as the future of virtual, I think that virtual events should run in parallel with in-person events.
Ted: COVID-19 was the great equalizer because it affected everybody, no matter who you are, where you are, what your class is. Whatever the scenario was, it affected you in some capacity. And I think the social and racial awakenings of our country and the world was the great revealer that there is a demographic of people out there that aren’t being serviced and taken care of. Yes, there is a racial divide in this nation and in the world. To answer the question specifically about our industry, it’s about engaging with communities, it is about demystifying running and what that is. A lot of organizations, events and groups are saying, well, we have an open-door policy, we welcome anyone to come in and come join. But if you don’t feel comfortable enough, then that’s not an option. But what you can do though, is engage with local communities and engage with running clubs and engage with road races that are happening in your area whether as a participant. Or maybe say, ‘Hey, listen, I’d like to offer my services, I’d like to help you in some way shape, or form,’ or just communicate with them. Offer some of the services and platforms that you have as a professional in the industry or a knowledgeable provider in the industry and provide that to a different, diverse community. So I think that’s the first step.
Dawna: If you had to say the number one lesson or memory that you will carry forward post pandemic, what would that be?
Photo Credit: NYRR (Above and Right)
RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE | 22
One of the big things too is education. Taking time out individually to learn and understand and have a better process. Ask the questions. Take the time to not just say, “You know, I’m sorry for what’s going on, what can we do?’ but more along the lines of, ‘I’m sorry for what’s going on, help me understand, Talk to me. Share with me what your journey is. Share with me what you’ve gone through.’ I think those are some of the takeaways and learnings that we could apply individually as to the world but also in our industry. Dawna: I love the way you’re talking about it because it’s about action, rather than just talk. Can you pick one or two major moments in your career that really took you from where you were to this new role? Ted: There’s so many. I have friends from all over the country working on different events. When I told them about this position shift, they were like: ‘Remember when you were picking up tipped over toilets off the side of a road? Remember when you were jumping up and down in the dumpster to make room for more trash? Remember when you were having to talk to a city agency that really did not want to work with you and explain to them what you were trying to do?’ One that was big for me was in August 2001, getting a phone call from my friend Jessica Wolf, who was an event manager for New York Road Runners and she said, ‘Hey, listen, we need some help with the marathon and some other planning. We need another operations person.’ Jess and I had worked together prior at a company called Pallotta TeamWorks. I was like, ‘It’s New York City Marathon. Everybody knows New York. I’m from New York. It’s an iconic event. Let’s see what this running thing is all about.’ I close out my work with the company I was with, that wrapped up on September 10, 2001 and I’m flying back to NYC from Portland, Maine. I get home and I’m super excited because I’ve been on the road for weeks. I’m missing family and friends and everybody. It’s crazy, I so vividly remember this. Because I was traveling so much, I was staying back in the Bronx at my Mom’s place where I grew up. I go to bed, wake up early the next morning, and I’m
listening to the news and the weather, and it’s going to be a beautiful day. Fantastic. I hit the snooze button, go back to sleep, and wake up and the world is completely different. Then fast forward to November of that year, the actual NYC Marathon race day, being in Central Park, just two months after 9/11. And seeing everything that was happening there. If you told me on that day 20 years ago, that two decades later I’d be the race director of the NYC marathon, marking my 20th anniversary working the event, I would just be like, ‘What are you talking about? That is not going to be me.’ And yet that is where I am right now. That 20 plus years of learning, doing, sharing, hearing, applying, good times, bad times, hard times, successful times. All of that culminates to where I’m at right now. Dawna: I just got chills as you’re talking about it. I think we all remember exactly where we were on 9/11. You mentioned jumping in trash cans and I feel like as race directors, we still do those things. No matter what event you’re directing or how big or iconic it is. I’m sure I will still see you out there one day picking up a banana peel or something. I think that’s part of what I love so much about this community, is that people are just willing to do anything and everything to make the event a success. Ted, the Running USA team and community wish you the best of luck in this exciting new role.
BACK TO BUSINESS: Lessons to Carry Forward What has the running industry learned from the struggles of 2020-2021?
By Leah Etling
We all learned something over the last year. It may
That was great, but Lamm quickly discovered her
have been how to Zoom, order grocery delivery or
usual style of personal support and congratulations
work from home. For those of us in the running
had been effectively stifled by COVID precautions.
industry, it was likely all of the above with some serious business-related education mixed in.
“Not hugging people when they come across the finish line – that is very difficult for me not to do,”
Some of these lessons were tough. Like how to
discovered Lamm, a race director of more than two
lay employees off. Or how to tell your runners they
decades who also works and volunteers at events
wouldn’t be running together in person. Perhaps
across the Southeastern U.S. “The only thing I will
how to explain why you couldn’t issue a full
not do again when this is over is be hands off. That
refund. They were lessons that nobody would have
is what I have learned. I have to be hands on, and I
chosen to learn, had there been a choice. The
have to see people’s smiles and their eyes,” she
pandemic forced the running industry to change,
and change is hard. In this article, we talk to race directors about
Read on for more important lessons our industry gained over the last year.
the things they have learned over the last year, and what they’ll do differently in the future. One of our favorite lessons came from Geneva Lamm of the Little Rock Marathon. In late fall 2020, Little Rock was able to host several small inperson events, their first races since March 2020.
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Lesson 1: We need to tell our industry’s story 2020 will certainly be remembered as the year it became painfully apparent that the job of a race director is often misunderstood. Many of the race directors we spoke with while interviewing for this issue expressed concern that when races shut down and their businesses were imperiled, the perception of their work as a “hobby job” or “weekend gig” worked against them, especially in conversations with government officials. “As an industry, we’ve done a poor job of educating people about our industry because we’ve never had to before. It’s important we be clear that we are professionals doing this,” said Mike Bone, President/CEO of Spectrum Sports in California. Along with other endurance companies in the state, Bone spearheaded the California Coalition of Endurance Sports, an advocacy effort that worked to raise awareness about the business realities of producing a mass participation event. “We’re not a restaurant that can reopen with 72 hours’ notice. We have six to nine-month lead times. That was something that had to be explained to anybody in government,” Bone said. “Once you explain that to them, they kind of start getting what
we’re up against.” The Coalition is engaged in an active education campaign to reach city officials and resume events wherever possible, but as this article goes to press, no major events have been granted permits in the state of California since March of 2020. Across the country, the Cleveland Marathon staff is also feeling a lack of understanding as they work to figure out their plans for 2021. “I think we’ve learned that we don’t have the respect in the community that we should have,” said Ralph Staph, race director for the Union Home Mortgage Cleveland Marathon. “The NFL Draft will be having events here in Cleveland on the first weekend in May. That’s permitted. So why can’t we have a running event?” Despite its estimated $15 million economic impact to the city on race weekend, and calling the city permitting office weekly for updates, the Cleveland team struggled to get the answers and information needed. In early March, they pushed their event to a fall date, as yet unannounced, in hopes of being able to run in person. “I hope we can get back to normal. I don’t think the ‘new normal’ is going to be beneficial to events at all,” Staph said. Air Force Marathon Photo credit: Air Force Marathon
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Lesson 2: Always be innovating Leaving the Running USA Industry Conference held in Puerto Rico in February 2019, Air Force Marathon (AFM) race director Brandon Hough had virtual events on the brain. His Dayton, Ohio race had never offered a virtual component before. But an eye-opening Idea Lab at the conference with industry disruptor JT Service had jumpstarted his thinking. “After talking with JT, I knew that this was definitely where the industry was going to go. But there were a lot of people fighting it, and I had to convince a few on our team. Despite that, we decided to start offering a virtual event that year, which just ended up being so fortuitous,” Hough recalled. When the AFM had to cancel its September 2020 event, moving participants to virtual participation was already an option in their registration system and not a big deal. What was a big deal was the runner reaction. AFM had 11,700 participants run virtually in its marathon or half in 2020, a phenomenal 93 percent of the registration total they’d recorded in 2019. “Now we realize that virtual is here to stay, and I view it as a big positive for our industry. It’s a safe way for people to try the competitive side of the sport with a low barrier to entry,” Hough said. “It certainly worked for us, and we will offer it long into the future.” Virtual races also played a role in Hough’s desire to expand AFM beyond a “one weekend a year” event. For 2021, AFM is offering a virtual race series that features a historic Air Force plane celebrated at each event and featured on each race medal. “It’s gotten an overwhelming response,” Hough shared. “We set a goal of 2,000 registrations for the year. It’s now February, and we’re already at 2,200. But what’s even better is that over 40 percent of our virtual runners are brand new participants to us. They’ve never done AFM before.” That creates a natural future marketing pool of
potential in-person AFM runners willing to journey to Dayton, perhaps as soon as this fall for the race’s 25th anniversary celebration on Sept. 18. The event is expected to be held in person, and registrations are currently just slightly below 2019 numbers. Innovation for AFM turned into a win-win, both for surviving the pandemic and beyond.
Lesson 3: “We’ve always done it this way” will no longer cut it In Louisville, Ky., Shanna Ward oversees a lineup of 70 Kentucky Derby Festival (KDF) events traditionally held in late April. One of the largest is the KDF Marathon and Mini Marathon, which typically attract about 15,000 runners and will mark their 48th year running later this month. KDF had to cancel its 2020 event, but will hold a four-day, socially distanced marathon and half from April 22-25, run on a set course with timing, self-serve water stations and no post-run event. Runners will start in groups of 25 at a time from 6:3011:30 a.m. each day. When we chatted with Ward in late February, the marathon (offered only on April 24) was already sold out, but half marathon spots were still available. A total of around 6,500 runners were expected to participate. “One of the things we’ve realized is that there’s not only one way of doing something, even though we may have gotten used to doing it that way,” Ward said. “We have to be open to those wild hair ideas. From now on, I think we’ll always be willing to look at things through different lenses.” Though the adapted KDF race will take place at roughly the same time on the calendar as events in the past, Ward doesn’t see that as something that must be set in stone. “For years we lived and died by our traditional calendar. And now we realize that the event can be held at any time. It doesn’t always have to be done that one same way. And we will never look at what we provide on the course for runners the same way again.”
IT BECAME PAINFULLY APPARENT THAT THE JOB OF A RACE DIRECTOR IS OFTEN MISUNDERSTOOD.
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Kentucky Derby Festival race circa 1979
Kentucky Derby Festival race start Images courtesy of Kentucky Derby Festival.
One thing that she knows will never be the same is post-event food distribution. “How much contact do you want between the people handing out drinks and food and the runners? Those were things we just took for granted before.” Anyone who has ever sliced bananas for finishers or grabbed a post-race donut can relate. Most events taking place in 2020 and 2021, where possible, are opting for pre-packaged food options or no food at all. KDF will offer participants sponsored prewrapped items picked up with their bibs and timing chips, which they are welcome to bring along on race day.
Lesson 4: There is a running industry kryptonite Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray is one of the running industry’s Supermen. But in 2020, along with the rest of the industry, he and the DMSE Sports team discovered that road races did in fact have a superpower antidote. “I thought that we were bulletproof and there was no kryptonite in this industry of ours,” McGillivray told attendees of a January 2021 Running USA webinar. “And that held true, for 40 plus years, until 2020. Then the pandemic comes
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along, and it proved me wrong. There was something so devastating that it could effectively wipe out our entire business.” McGillivray described the process that he and his nephew, DMSE Sports CEO Matt West, went through as comparable to the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief. First denial, then anger, followed by bargaining, depression and ultimately acceptance. “We’ve all had to accept what’s going on. But as we accepted it, Matt and I looked at each other and said: ‘What are our skill sets? We are not giving up,’” he recalled. That spirit of determination carried them through multiple pivot attempts, including working drive-in movies and outdoor graduations, renting out race day equipment to restaurants for outdoor dining, a virtual cross country run and more. Despite everything, DMSE still had to lay off half of its team in 2020. Things began looking up in late December when DMSE got a call from CIC Health in Boston. They needed logistical experts to help them open mass vaccination sites at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park. Who better to ask than a company that had already produced multiple events there and knew the venues, as well as the best way to move people quickly through a set course? They were also nimble and fast, and had conveniently open calendars. “The thing that brought us to our knees is the very thing that is allowing us to get back. A lot of people have heard me say that the comeback is stronger than the setback, and that is very true here,” said McGillivray. The DMSE Sports team worked on an extremely condensed time frame of just weeks to get both vaccine sites open and running as cleanly as a Boston Marathon start. As of Feb. 15, just one of the sites had already administered over 50,000 vaccines. “Not only are we helping to keep people healthy and alive, but we’re effectively helping our own industry get back to business,” McGillivray said. “We’re going to be working for the next six to eight months vaccinating people. And the day that ends is the day everybody’s vaccinated. And I would like to think that the very next day we can get back to what we love to do, which is putting on live events.” Everyone in the running industry is definitely looking forward to that.
Geneva Lamm greets runners at the Little Rock Marathon Images credit: Little Rock Marathon staff photographers
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VARYING APPROACHES TO VOLUNTEERS
Races proceed cautiously with return of community support. By Leah Etling
Events are taking a variety of approaches to volunteer assistance for the 2021 racing year. Some will dial back or forgo volunteer involvement to avoid health risks, while others have developed unique approaches for the uncharted territory of 2021. With most events operating at a reduced participant capacity and seeking to limit person-to-person contact wherever possible, there are dual challenges in retaining volunteers – many are often local retirees – and keeping them safe and healthy during a mass participation event. “It’s going to be important (for our industry) to reach out to our workforce to better understand what their concerns are as we continue to develop our mitigation and production plans for our events. We want to work with them to gain people’s confidence that we will have the proper resources and plans to create a safe and secure event for our constituents,” said Michael Nishi, Chief Operating Officer of Chicago Event Management (CEM). Nishi expects that CEM
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will have no issue filling volunteer spots this year, but final numbers and plans for the October Chicago Marathon are not yet complete. “We know that this year will be a challenge when it comes to recruiting volunteers, and we need to be creative when it comes to identifying different groups. We will need to rely on volunteers, we just need to find new resources, such as non-profits, sports clubs, community groups, and others to fill the ranks,” Nishi said. Events are taking a variety of approaches to volunteer assistance for the 2021 racing year. Some will dial back or forgo volunteer involvement to avoid health risks, while others have developed unique approaches for the uncharted territory of 2021. With most events operating at a reduced participant capacity and seeking to limit person-to-person contact wherever possible, there are dual challenges in retaining volunteers – many are often local retirees – and keeping them safe and healthy during a mass participation event.
Grandma’s Marathon, 2019 Photo Credit: Brian Rauvola
Here are two upcoming events that are closer to race day and have adjusted their typical plans for community volunteers.
Cutting Back in Canton
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon in Canton, Ohio is taking a limited approach to volunteer labor for its 2021 live event of around 5,000 participants. In a normal year, the race would have 600 volunteers. This year, they will make do with 176 on race weekend, set for April 30 to May 2 with a 5K, half marathon, marathon and relay event. “I’ve reduced my sources of volunteers to what I consider to be known sources,” said Jim Chaney, Race Director. “We’ve gone from reaching out to the general public to very specifically known groups of people who already
know each other and are likely already in contact, like businesses or ski clubs.” Such groups will be assigned together to volunteer stations. Without an expo or an in-person post-race party at this year’s event, many volunteer roles were able to be eliminated. Chaney is also purchasing more signage, rather than usinghumans as directional beacons, and water stations will be bottles of water rather than cups, which drastically cuts down on volunteer needs. HOF volunteers will be asked to wear masks while completing their tasks, but no temperature checks or COVID tests will be required. “All volunteers have to sign an online health waiver 48 hours before the event,” Chaney noted, just like the participating runners.
Leaning on Longevity at Grandma’s
But many races, long dependent on volunteer
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Grandma’s Marathon, 2019 Photo Credit: Brian Rauvola
labor for registration, aid stations, security, course monitoring, swag distribution, food and more, simply can’t move forward without them, no matter how many runners are present. Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn., expects to bring in up to 3,000 volunteers for its half capacity race weekend in June. That’s half of its typical volunteer total of around 6,000 helping hands. They’ll be supporting 4,000 runners at the sold-out 45th edition event. “I know that some major metro marathons are turning away volunteers this year, but we will rely on our longtime volunteer leaders and team to get us through this year’s event with key positions filled,” said Alivia Nelson, Project Manager for Grandma’s Marathon. The pointto-point race is set for Saturday, June 19. When we spoke for this article, Nelson wasn’t sure exactly how many volunteers she would need on race day. The state of Minnesota was still revising its guidelines around live events, so plans for traditionally volunteer-heavy spots like water stations were still in flux. Whether they’d use water bottles or cups for runner hydration, requiring varying people power, was not yet determined. Other roles, like security,
will require the same number of boots on the ground as always, even with fewer runners. With a reliable crew of volunteer leaders and returnees who come back year after year, most of those anticipated 3,000 volunteer spots will likely be filled by helpers who are familiar with the event. Returning volunteers include on-course entertainment for the first 18 miles of the marathon, which are rural, and a girls’ soccer team that combs all 26.2 miles of the course afterwards to pick up discarded trash. “We were nervous about whether people would be comfortable coming back to volunteer this year, but people are telling us that they missed it last year and are looking forward to having that sense of normalcy,” Nelson said. Those who have volunteered at the event for more than 20 of its 45 years seem more than likely to come back, and it helps that most volunteers over age 65 have already had the chance to be vaccinated. But that won’t stop Nelson from recruiting new faces. “Sometimes we talk about other races that don’t have to recruit, they just go through an application process. But here in Duluth, if I meet you in line at the grocery store, I will recruit you to volunteer for the marathon,” she said. There will be more of those in-aisle appeals heading into the 46th Grandma’s Marathon in 2022. Although processes may look different in 2021 volunteers will continue to be vital to almost every race. Just like regaining runner confidence, bringing back volunteers will require careful planning, adjusted protocols and the allure of being part of a very special event.
Is your event drastically changing its volunteer strategy post-pandemic? We’d love for you to share your best practices with Race Director Magazine. Please email us at email@example.com
The Running Industry Diversity Coalition was formed to create a more equitable and inclusive running industry where race, religion, gender identity, sexuality, immigration status, socioeconomic status, and ability do not serve as barriers for full enjoyment. We exist to increase representation and access to employment, leadership and power for those who have historically been excluded from the running industry. We will work with all aspects of the run community, including but not limited to retailers, brands, national organizations, events, clubs, non-profits, and local businesses to improve until we can all truly say, running is for everybody.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. RIDC - Run with Us You matter to our movement. The strength of a coalition, and this one in particular, is the inclusion of diverse voices while working together to positively impact our world. You may have been working on DEI issues for years or you may be just stepping forward to learn how you can start. We accept you and your organization wherever you are on this journey.
Find us at runningdiversity.com and @runningdiversity on Instagram.
VIRTUAL RACING MUST EVOLVE T O SURVIVE By Leah Etling
The runners are clear: when there is no other option than to race alone, against a clock or an app or a dot on a map, they will do that. But it is never going to be their first choice. Virtual races were one of few silver linings for the running industry in 2020. They provided a way for events and event producers to stay visible and viable, and they gave runners an outlet. But they weren’t for everyone. “A money grab,” one race producer called them. “The best con job we’ve ever been involved in. But don’t print that.” Most runners, according to the Running USA Global Runner Survey, would disagree. On average, dedicated runners participated in at least 4 virtual events during 2020, paying about $38 for an entry fee that usually included a t-shirt and a medal, but sometimes just a medal. Then the running was up to them. Whether they completed the race was completely on the honor system, even with a tracking app available. Not many events held runners to a completion standard in order to receive their swag. But 63 percent of runners were grateful for something, anything, to validate their time spent training and exercise their competitive juices. The other 37 percent said they had simply no interest in virtual events. And 45 percent said they’re very unlikely to do virtual events again once live events are fully back in business. That means there’s a clear opening for virtual events to continue to be successful if they’re executed well. To report this story, we talked to race directors and technology providers about the next generation of virtual events and what niche
they’ll fill in the industry long term. It became clear that virtual racing is going to be with us for the foreseeable future. And if it’s done well, it may even stick around for good. Here are three examples of what that might look like.
In Kauai, No Other Option
The Hawaiian Islands have enforced the most stringent lockdowns of any U.S. state during the pandemic. And rather than enact a blanket statewide travel policy, Hawaii allowed the mayors of individual islands to make their own choices about visitor protocols. For Kauai, the island with the strictest quarantine policy in place, that meant minimal visitor arrivals. And therefore, absolutely no chance of holding The Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon as a live event in 2020. “For us there were two options, either go dormant for a couple of years and then hope to gain momentum when we could be live again. Or do what we chose to do, which was to come up with creative ideas to launch and execute our first ever virtual event,” said Robin Jumper, Kauai Marathon race organizer. For The Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon, a virtual event was not a moneymaker, but a way to stay visible while participants were unable to travel to Kauai. Thanks to ongoing sponsor support, the virtual event moved forward with an intent to create sponsor visibility and generate economic returns for local businesses wherever possible. In 2020, The Virtual Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon attracted about 1000 participants, far more than expected and with global reach. Runners from countries like Ghana, Israel
Photo Credit: Jo Evans, Barry Lewandowski (Opposite)
Runner waits for his turn at the starting line. New customers joining the running ranks. Photo Credit: Barry Lewandowski
and Scotland all participated, broadening the event’s reach from its usual Pacific Rim scope. Fifty-five percent of virtual participants were from the U.S. mainland or other countries. Just 51 percent had run the race in-person before, meaning that nearly half could be considered possible future participants, a strong marketing pool. To encourage engagement, Jumper came up with pre-race virtual chats with celebrity runners like Bart Yasso, JT Service and Tyler McCandless, and a Virtual Finish Line Contest. Virtual runners submitted videos of their finish lines at home and voting determined the costume winner, creating great social media content. Winner Alanna Huber had friends in turtle and shark costumes join her in her Iowa driveway, where she took a virtual plunge into a garage-size photo rendering of Poipu Beach. “Thank you so much for the opportunity to run the race in Iowa and participate in the contest! I’m so thankful,” Huber commented on Facebook after she was announced the winner. That type of positive vibe is exactly what The Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon hopes to keep generating in its second virtual event, which is underway now. Rather than a standalone event, runners will participate in a 100mile challenge in which they virtually run from the sands of Polihale to the “end of the road” at Kee Beach. RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE | 36
Jumper said that the hope for the 2021 event was to keep the event top of mind for future participants, but not repeat the same experience they had in 2020. The 100-Mile Challenge will employ technology from the event’s registration provider, Race Entry, so that each runner has their own personal interactive map of Kauai where miles are logged. The maps will heighten the competition as participants check to see who has logged the most miles so far. As they gain distance “around” the island, they’ll receive updates about some of the places they’ve visited virtually, heightening education and excitement about a visit in person. There will also be a contest in March where runners can enter a short essay about their favorite island run, along with a five-song playlist, and submissions will be voted by a panel of judges. The winners will be featured on social media and the event website. “We want to stay relevant and engaged with people just like we did last year. And hopefully by the time we open registration for 2022, The Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon will be at the forefront of people’s minds and they’ll be able to come run with us in person,” Jumper said. (Editor’s note: at the time this article went to press, it was unclear whether island regulations would make it possible for The Kauai Mar-
athon and Half Marathon to host any live event in Fall 2021.)
mal life stuff. “I think we will always have virtual going forward, because we can engage our consumer No Shows? Now, No Problem better by offering that as an option,” Mortimer Millennium Running in New Hampshire said. doesn’t see virtual events as a stopgap for the The ability to pick up race day items at a length of the pandemic. Instead, owner John physical location takes care of one of the chalMortimer sees them as a permanent solution to lenges race directors mention most when it an age-old industry running event participant comes to virtual events: shipping. Cost, logiscategory: the no shows. Unlike many productics, staffing and even package weight can cretion companies, Millennium Running was able ate hefty bills for an envelope with just a medal to continue putting on events throughout 2020 and a t-shirt. In some cities, outsourcing opafter establishing a strong relationship with tions are easy to come by. But many an event government officials and helping to write stateteam spent at least several days of 2020 stuffwide event safety protocols and procedures. ing envelopes, slapping on labels and carting “One of the key takeaways for us is that we packages to local post offices, where they were used to not care about the no show. That 10 to greeted by less-than-overjoyed postal staff. 14 percent of participants who didn’t show up The shipping situation is one reason that on race day for any given reason? In years past, some race directors are ready to jump away pre-COVID, that meant no from virtual races as soon as swag, no medal, basically they possibly can. Runners WITH THE PIVOT TO A you wasted your money,” complained often about long said Mortimer, who founded delivery windows for 2020 VIRTUAL EVENT, THOSE the hybrid retail store/runevent swag, not necessarily PEOPLE ARE FAR MORE ning event/timing company tied to submitting their finin 1999. As soon as Millenniishing times or a target date LIKELY TO SHOW um Running began offering for the event, but simply at UP AGAIN FOR virtual options for its events, the convenience of the race participants who didn’t come organizer and post office. ANOTHER EVENT to the live event were Companies who keep virtual automatically moved to the events as an option will need virtual one. If they didn’t show on race day, to set clear expectations for fulfillment and instead they received an email informing stick to them for long term success. them that their t-shirt and medal for the event In Houston, a Colossal and were available to pick-up for 30 days at the Successful Pivot company’s retail running store in Bedford. One large race organization that pulled off a “With the pivot to a virtual event, those major effort in self-shipping for its January 2021 people are far more likely to show up again for virtual event was the Chevron Houston Maraanother event if you deliver on their participathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon, both tion. That 10-14 percent no show rate is now produced by the Houston Marathon Committee an opportunity for us to reengage with them,” (HMC). Extremely fortunate to be able to hold Mortimer notes. Looking forward, he sees virtheir race in January 2020 pre-pandemic, the tual options as a way for runners to guarantee HMC event team had nearly a full year to pretheir races even when life intervenes. Instead pare scenarios for 2021 and ultimately produce of a COVID-exposure, the reason might be a an all-virtual event for 10,000 participants. child’s soccer game, an unexpected work trip or “It afforded us the opportunity to have time bad weather on race day. In other words: nor-
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to evaluate options and collaborate with our colleagues worldwide. We are very fortunate to have those industry relationships,” said Wade Morehead, Executive Director of the HMC. The Houston team worked closely with its corporate sponsors and community partners to pivot runner engagement and sponsor visibility in unique ways and met regularly but virtually with sponsor representatives to make sure they were an active part of the planning process. Even with a virtual event, runners still raised $681,210 for 62 Houston charities. “To us it is very important to show our runners that our sponsor partners are invested in them as well as the event,” said Muffy King, Director of Marketing, Media and Brand for the HMC. “Chevron provided us with five digital billboards around Houston, and runners could submit their photo online. If you were driving past, you might see yourself up on that billboard. That was just one creative way our partners came through and really innovated alongside us this year.” Sponsors also facilitated content like celebrity runner videos from U.S. distance stars Des Linden and Sara Hall, who spoke directly to athletes with good vibes, virtual high fives and pro advice for race day. And on the day of the virtual event, a sponsor-supported live broadcast got runners excited, featuring 10 inspirational Houston runner stories as well as encouragement and congratulations, all from a safe distance. To engage runners further, HMC planned not just one mailing to its virtual participants, but two. Runners received both a pre-race party box with finisher tape, fuel belts, a mask and energy gels, as well as a second package postevent that included their event medal and finisher shirt. Runners had to submit their race time to receive the second mailing. Cost for both mailings was factored into the registration price, with an exception for international participants. Combined, those two sends made for 17,000 packages, including 7,000 requiring shirt size matching with a recipient label. The HMC team
Photo Credit: Barry Lewandowski
sought professional advice on labeling and shipping from UPS, but did all the packing and legwork themselves in their event warehouse. It was no small feat. “It definitely came with challenges, but it was a great opportunity for our team to connect and have a sense of camaraderie during a difficult time,” said King, who found her own box-packing skills wanting. A team of 10 employees was divided into two teams of five and exercised COVID-19 safety protocols throughout the process, which they completed over five eight-hour days for each round of packages. “The pivot we had to make to work out of the warehouse, ship out those 17,000 packages over six weeks, was impressive,” said Morehead. Houston is now gearing up for its January 2022 event, which will be the 50th race anniversary and will hopefully be the first HMC live event post-pandemic. But Morehead still anticipates a virtual option being offered long into the future, no matter what’s going on in the world. “A live event is still more difficult (than virtual). You have to have everything in place and ready to go for that 48 to 72-hour window, and there’s really no time to react, correct or fix it if you mess up,” said Morehead. “To me, that is more difficult. But over the last year, our team met the unprecedented challenges we faced. I’m so proud of our team.” Many companies in the running industry would surely say the same.
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How Technology Has Stepped Up Races weren’t the only ones scrambling to adjust to an environment without live events last year. While most registration platforms already offered support for virtual participants, there was much to be done to make the virtual event experience easier on both organizer and participants. Technology vendors stepped up to innovate and make virtual runs more fun. At Race Roster, virtual events were buoyed by the company’s late 2019 acquisition by running brand ASICS. “Our technology allows event organizers to connect their events with the ASICS Runkeeper™ app. Using the app, events can deliver an outstanding virtual event experience and feel more confident in the app’s verified results, automatically posted on the event’s leaderboard on Race Roster,” explained Jessica Collins, Manager of Customer Success at Race Roster. Apps like Runkeeper kept participants engaged and offered a competitive aspect to the virtual experience. Race Roster also offered participants downloadable custom bibs to wear while racing at home, online stores to sell limited branded race edition merchandise, and photo galleries where running memories were gathered digitally. Communication with runners was easy with the platform’s SMS texts or emails. Other platforms endeavored to put the excitement of a live race into a virtual experience. Real-Time Remote Racing™ from RTRT provides a set window for runners to compete. A live map view in the app allows the runner to
see both their personal progress and a projection of others who would be running near you, should they be running down the same street. “It’s something about the competitive feeling of going out and doing THE RACE, on the time and day of the race, that’s very inspiring to people,” said RTRT Founder and CEO Jeremy Dill. “Leading up to the start of the event, there’s a countdown clock, and you can’t actually start until the race starts. There’s then a window of opportunity in which you can start, until the start is closed. We’re emulating what it would be like to be in a real race. You should get the jitters and think ‘I’ve got to go out there and run,’ because now there are other people running with me.” The RunGo app also tackled the live virtual concept, but added in customized virtual courses so that runners could experience a completely different street view from anywhere in the world. They also added audio cues for encouragement and mental stimulation along the way. Co-Founder Noah Bloom observed that technology adoption for running was a great way to document new runners joining the sport. “Consumer downloads, as well as daily and monthly usage, is skyrocketing and I think that’s common across the running app world right now. Route creation is also through the roof for us,” Bloom said. Races across the country have reported new acquisition of runners thanks to virtual events and are eagerly awaiting the chance to welcome them in person.
ENTREPRENEURIAL GENE By Jeff Matlow
I don’t know how I became the way I am. I’ve thought about it incessantly for decades. Maybe it’s my parent’s fault, maybe it’s genetics. I can go down a rabbit hole of nature vs. nurture until I end up in the loony bin, but all it will lead to is the fact that I have the entrepreneurial gene and no matter what I do, it’s here to stay. This is the thing about the entrepreneurial gene, it thrives on solving problems. In fact, without problems and a strong desire to fix them, entrepreneurialism would die. It simply can’t survive without challenges to solve. As Lily Tomlin somewhat famously once said, “the road to success is
always under construction.” Though not known for her philosophical banter, in this case Lily spoke a profound truth. The road of entrepreneurialism is not a straight and easy ride. There are twists and turns, potholes to swerve around, and detours that take you off-course. Entrepreneurialism is not the easy way out when it comes to career paths. It takes strength and stamina to survive. There are few challenges too big for an entrepreneur. In fact, there are few challenges at all to an entrepreneur, as they are mostly viewed as opportunities. Which brings me to the running
industry and this global pandemic. Our entire industry was decimated by COVID-19. Within a matter of days, the entire business shut down and revenue generation was ground to a halt. It got really ugly, really fast. It is easy, in those situations, to just give up. It’s the natural thing to do, the easy thing to do. But nobody ever said we like the easy way out. I mean, we are talking about a group of people who will go run 26.2 miles “because it’s fun.” One thing I’ve learned is that we, as an industry and as a people, are incredibly resilient. We don’t back down until we get to the finish line - and there is no finish line. Over the past 14 months I’ve talked with hundreds of event organizers and their suppliers. I have yet to hear anybody complain that the times are too challenging to continue. I haven’t talked to an event organizer who even considered shutting down as a realistic option during the pandemic (aside from a few who considered shutting their doors prior to the pandemic). It is because we are an industry of entrepreneurs. We all have the gene. We are people that won’t quit. The conversations I’ve had with event organizers have been filled with cautious optimism. They were conversations about the future, about what needs to be done to prepare for the return of endurance events. They were conversations about how to turn the current challenges into beneficial opportunities - because that’s the way your mind thinks when you’ve got the entrepreneurial gene. Steve Jobs, one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time, once said that “innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.” And those are better words than I can ever say to explain our industry’s attitude over the past 14 months. Now I’m no scientist and I’ve never claimed to be a fortune teller, but I know for a fact that the endurance industry will continue to flourish. I know this for one simple reason: I am an entrepreneur immersed in an industry built by thousands of other entrepreneurs just like me. We are all the same. We share the same gene. It’s a gene marked by optimism, innova-
tion, progress and a deep-down determination to continue moving forward with whatever we have, doing whatever it takes. We are companies that can pivot. We are leaders who can evolve. We are an industry that can innovate. We can rebuild. We can create new experiences. Better experiences. Individually, we are driven by this gene that powers us relentlessly forward and this is why,
IT IS BECAUSE WE ARE AN INDUSTRY OF ENTREPRENEURS. WE ALL HAVE THE GENE. WE ARE PEOPLE THAT WON’T QUIT. collectively, we will prevail over any challenges. I feel lucky and grateful to be amongst you all in our journey into the next phase of our endurance industry; an industry that is larger, stronger and more powerful than ever before. Jeff Matlow is a runner, dad, entrepreneur and creator of different things. You can reach him at jeffruns@imATHLETE.com. Subscribe to his newsletter here: bit.ly/IAmJeff
RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE | 41
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WHAT SIZE WILL YOUR EVENT BE THIS YEAR? 1-1000 1000-2500 2500-5000 5000 or more
ARE YOU HOSTING AN IN-PERSON EXPO?
ARE PEOPLE WAITING LONGER TO REGISTER FOR AN IN-PERSON RACE?
ARE YOU HOSTING A POSTRACE PARTICIPANT CELEBRATION?
Yes No HOW DOES YOUR PRICING FOR AN IN PERSON EVENT ALIGN WITH PAST YEARS’ LIVE EVENTS?
Yes No WHERE HAVE YOU MADE THE GREATEST CUTBACKS TO YOUR BUDGET?
Charging more Charging less Charging the same ARE YOU OFFERING A VIRTUAL OR HYBRID EVENT AS WELL AS AN IN-PERSON ONE? Yes No
HOW ARE YOU HANDLING WATER STOPS? Providing individual bottles Asking participants to bring their own hydration Providing self serve fluid stations Something else
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