Race Director Magazine - Winter 2021

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COVER: Photo credit Ben Garvin LEFT: Photo credit Boston Athletic Association

Publisher & Editor In Chief Dawna Stone Managing Editor Leah Etling

VP Partnerships & Sponsorships Christine Bowen

Membership Development Director Nicole Sparrow

Graphic Designer Sarah Page

Contributors/Interviewees Virginia Brophy Achman, Eli Asch, Jen Brill, Dr. George Chiampas, Ryan Dawkins, Ben Garvin, Eric Marenburg, Charlie Mahler, Jeff Matlow, Carey Pinkowski, Lauren Proshan, Sarah Ratzlaff, Alex Sawyer, Kris Swarthout, Kimmi van der Veen, Matt West, Kyler Wilson

Cover Jonathon Heide of Minneapolis completed the 2021 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Photo by Ben Garvin

Published By

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 | christine@runningusa.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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t’s hard to believe that 2021 is almost over. This is already our fourth edition of Race Director Magazine, and this month I will conclude my first year at the helm of Running USA. It’s been an amazing experience meeting so many of you this year, both in person and virtually, and I cannot wait to meet many more of you this next year and especially at our industry conference in February. If you haven’t registered yet, be sure to do so soon. We have an amazing lineup of educational sessions and networking experience in store. In this issue of the magazine, we have focused intensely on how some of our nation’s well-known events came back to life this fall. We have short profiles on the Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Twin Cities marathons that dig into the specific experience of each production team. We also meet a talented photographer who was at the finish lines of Boston and Twin Cities and hear directly from him about what he saw. I’m also excited to share with you the news of Running USA’s first ever Week of Giving fundraising campaign, which begins Dec. 8. To broaden inclusion in our industry, funds raised will be used to fully support the attendance of a minority business enterprise (MBE) at the 2022 Running USA Industry Conference in Orlando. Learn more on the adjacent page and donate through Dec. 15. Thank you in advance for your participation. Thank you to everyone who was part of our first four issues of Race Director Magazine. We will be back in your inboxes soon with a special 2022 Conference Issue. Have a happy holiday season and a wonderful new year! I hope to see you all soon.




DECEMBER 8-15, 2021

We connect. We support. We educate. We bring together an entire community. Week of Giving donations will help support inclusion and representation within our sport. Funds raised will help Running USA award scholarships to the leaders of a minority business enterprise (MBE) to attend the 2022 Running USA Industry Conference in Orlando February 20-22, 2022.

Donate Now! The scholarships will include registration, airfare and hotel for the 2022 conference.

W W W . R U N N I N G U S A . O R G



NUMBERS Approximately how many years have you been working in the running industry? 5 to >10 years


3 to >5 years

6% 3% 74%

Under $50,000



6% 11% 6%



Trail Race

$500,000 to under $1M



21% 4%


Half Marathon Road Race

How were your 2021 live events impacted by the pandemic? Was not able to hold live events

Other - Write In $500,000 to under $100,000 $100,000 to under $250,000

Operated as normal



11% 30% 19%

$250,000 to under $500,000

10K Road Race


Marathon Road Race

19% 11%

5K Road Race

Other Running Event


< 1 year

23% $1M to under $3M

What type of event is your primary event?

1 to >3 years

What is your company's annual revenue?

$3M to under $5M

You can purchase the study’s findings in their entirety on RunningUSA.org


10 years or more

$5M or more

The following statistical takeaways on race directors and events are part of the findings from the 2021 Running USA Event Management Study. Thanks to all who participated this fall and provided invaluable benchmarking information as the industry returns from the pandemic.

Held some live events but not a full schedule


Still have live events to come in Fall 2021

Held live events but at limited capacity

Q3 RaceTrends

in the Endurance Industry

Tens of millions of people participate in endurance events in the United States each year. What can we learn from them about how COVID-19 shifted expectations and disrupted traditional events?



Running is a hybrid sport. In-person events are very much back, but virtual options are here to stay.

Runners aren’t procrastinating as much as you think they are. Despite concerns over participant hesitancy, runners are ready to get racing again.

Race Event Type Challenge


When Runners Register In-Person



Q1- Q3 2021








0% 2019





Just 28.7% of 2021 participants through Q3 were under 30. That’s an improvement compared to Q1 and Q2, but a 5.4% decrease from 2019. Participants by Age 70+


8-14 Days

15-30 Days

30-60 Days

60-90 Days

2021 (Q1- Q3)

Younger runners still lag.


Race Week



Male participants are returning with in-person events. While male participation in events has trailed for years, the gap was closing until the pandemic led to a drop-off in male registrations. By Q3 of 2021, we are seeing some reversion to the norm. Participants by Gender

Under 30

2021 data reported through Q3


Not Identified: 2.5% Up from 1.2% in 2020.

40% 30% 20%

Males: 40.6% Up from 38.6% in 2020.

10% 0% 2018



Females: 56.9% Down from 59.5% in 2020.

2021 (Q1-Q3)


Keep Up With the Latest Trends


COMEBACK By Leah Etling



nown throughout the events industry for dedication to operational excellence and preparedness, the 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon excelled on both fronts on Oct. 10, when it returned with the largest U.S. marathon field since the start of the pandemic.

Just over 26,000 runners participated in the event, under the 35,000 capacity cap announced by the race in June. The pre-pandemic Chicago field cap was set at 45,000 participants. To ensure the safety of all participants and anyone involved with the race, participants were asked to submit proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result to access marathon events and run on race day. Early communication to registrants set clear expectations. Ultimately, runners were so eager to get back to the start line that many showed up with both a vaccine card and a negative test result.


“We saw a lot of people coming in with their proof of vaccination AND a negative test. There was not a lot of push back (on those requirements) from our participants. Instead, we got thank yous,” said Carey Pinkowski, CEO and President of Chicago Event Management (CEM), which produces the marathon. But even with planning and approvals in place, the late-September postponement of the Tokyo Marathon, a fellow World Marathon Major, and 2021 Marine Corps Marathon meant that all eyes were on Chicago to see if the race would go forward. “When we went out and painted the blue line about five days earlier than we usually paint it, that was all people needed to see. People said well, they wouldn’t have painted the line if they weren’t going to have this race,” Pinkowski said. The blue dashed line runs the duration of the marathon course and marks the most direct route to the finish. Dr. George Chiampas, Medical Director for the marathon, said he believes that the enthusiastic reaction of runners to vaccination and testing requirements is a positive sign for events of all sizes. “Runners gravitate to those events that put their best interests and safety at the core of the event, and they want to be a part of those events,” Dr. Chiampas said. Chicago’s comprehensive verification system included dogs trained to detect the presence of the coronavirus in human sweat and identify candidates for additional screening were used on site as an added safety measure. The effort and preparation required to ensure COVID safety did not distract the CEM team from its continual mission of thorough preparation for potential contingencies. “One of the great things that Mike (Nishi, COO of CEM and operations lead for the marathon) did was say, we’re focusing on COVID, but let’s 14 | RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE

not lose sight of other things. Our security, emergency action and evacuation plans were all still at the forefront as we planned,” Pinkowski said. Proof of that was reinforced by an incident free day. Aside from less than ideal warm and humid weather, runners were happy. “I think we underestimated how excited we were going to be to be out there racing a race of this magnitude again,” said Mike Ko, a nonelite Chicago runner and vlogger who ran 3:14. In a post-race video, he notes that the 3:10 pace group is running with exuberance during the first 10K of the race as he attempts to keep up. With the reduced field size, Dr. Chiampas and his medical team were ably staffed to handle participants suffering from on-course medical issues. But one factor that he urges races to

The blue dashed line runs the duration of the marathon course and marks the most direct route to the finish.

consider as the pandemic wanes is bandwidth and burnout in the medical community.

safely. I feel really excited about the future of running,” Dr. Chiampas said.

“With COVID, you have to really understand what your health care volunteers are going through in the medical space. There’s a massive component of fatigue across all disciplines, and now you’re asking them to come out on their day off and provide their services,” Dr. Chiampas said. “Your private ambulances, city employees, police and fire personnel – they’re all being stretched. You really need to engage with those entities to make sure appropriate safety and security is in place.”

Pinkowski reflected on the dark days of winter 2020, before the availability of vaccines gave a glimmer of hope that races could resume.

The better news, as Dr. Chiampas sees it, is that the successful return of Chicago and fellow World Marathon Major events Berlin, Boston, London and New York City is excellent proof of the industry’s return to normalcy. “Running is back, and these major events have taken place

“It was a terrible time of indecision and not knowing the unknown, which is the most intimidating thing you can experience. But we stuck together. People in the industry collaborated, and talked, and picked each other up. We all had a goal of getting there in a safe and secure way. And we got it done.” //

All photos: Courtesy of Chicago Marathon


A LOCAL CELEBRATION Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon got creative to capture 2021 race day action By Leah Etling Without a top shelf professional elite field at the 2021 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, the focus was all local this fall. The pandemic-prompted change for the event, which typically draws top elite runner talent lured by an attractive professional prize purse, allowed Twin Cities in Motion (TCM) to experiment with creative concepts for documenting on-course action and producing a post-race recap. In a normal year, a lead vehicle with a commentator providing live updates on moves within the field would share the play-by-play for broadcast at the finish line. But this year, that aspect was absent. “In some ways this reminded me of races before there was prize money and before this wonderful sport of ours evolved into all the things it has become today,” said Charlie Mahler, senior media and communications manager for Twin Cities in Motion. “There was a different story this year. So, we asked ourselves: how do we tell it?” The answer was to adopt a bit of a DIY (do it yourself) approach. That started way before race day, when top runners for the seeded event were registering. To get to know their top local athletes, TCM asked them to answer questions on self-recorded video. “It’s an overused phrase, but it would mean the world,” said Charlie 16 | RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE

Lawrence, who finished second in the marathon. “I’m a Minnesota kid, grew up running for the Gophers, I’ve run thousands of miles on River Road and around the lakes, up Summit, as well as downtown Minneapolis.” He goes on to share his three Minnesota-themed tattoos. “I’m really excited to get back out there with this community that I love so much,” said Olympian Carrie Tollefson, a running legend in the state. “Minnesota has been home for me. And you have all stuck with me, and cheered for me, and given me such support. I love what the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon is all about.” The approach had a dual purpose: it helped

develop storylines for local media outlets, and it also provided B-roll for the post-race recap video, to be shown at the finish line festival. Another concept incorporated into that video was crowd-sourced video collected along the course as runners were completing their races. This turned out to be more challenging than anticipated. “In the end, we pulled back from having just anyone do that and reached out to some of our course marshals and sponsored fluid stations to have them record video and plug that into the show at different times,” Mahler said. “It’s certainly a way to contain costs, so you’re not


all kinds, he borrowed approaches from both the U.S. Open and Tour de France in his ongoing live report. There were a few challenges, though. “We had some people who were unseeded but ended up being very good. So, I was actively Googling to see who they were and what their past successes had been.” He also introduced the largely recreational audience to some terms they might not have known – like rabbits, drafting, and using tangents. “The key is to add flavor, be punchy, make it quick and always be excited,” noted Swarthout. “It was really fulfilling to be able to contribute to the event in a way that I hadn’t previously, and it added something to the broadcast that made it more well-rounded.”

Carrie Tollefson, second from right.

paying for a camera out there.” He plans to come back to the concept for the race’s 40th edition in 2022 in the hopes of fully nailing the execution. Meanwhile, back at the finish line, race announcer Kris Swarthout took the DIY concept to heart. After the runners had started their race, he ran home and turned on his desktop, where he used the same timer tracking technology friends and families were using to track their favorite runners to commentate real time on the action happening on course. But first, he made a quick stop at the restroom to start the broadcast – it was the only place he could find a crowd of people. “They were definitely wondering, who is this creepy guy holding up his phone and talking via Zoom,” Swarthout laughed. A professional endurance coach with a passion for sports of


He was also able to tell the stories of people like Carrie Tollefson. “She is Minnesota embodied in a human being,” he observed. “But you see when she’s out there on the course that she’s tapping back into her Olympic DNA. I talked about the challenges of being a runner and being a mom. That seemed to resonate with people more than just standard announcer copy.” Completing the local celebration were the crowds of spectators that came out to cheer for runners along the course. They’re a Twin Cities tradition and seemed more enthusiastic and omnipresent than ever this year. “What people say when they run our race for the first time is ‘this is a beautiful race, and there are just people everywhere,’” Mahler said. Even on relatively anonymous stretches of the course, people line up to cheer. He continued: “They come out of the neighborhoods, because after the course leaves downtown, it’s in the neighborhoods really the whole way. That’s going on a 40 year tradition for us, that was interrupted for a year. And that probably brought more people out.” //

All photos: Courtesy of Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon

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. We are now a 501c3 non profit and accepting donations.

Find us at runningdiversity.com and @runningdiversity on Instagram.




Ben Garvin was at the finish line of the Twin Cities and Boston Marathons this year. Here’s what he saw. By Leah Etling Crossing the finish line is perhaps the single most powerful moment in our sport. Capturing it in a split second is a real challenge. Minneapolis-based photographer Ben Garvin has been shooting the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon for years. This year, he traveled to the Boston Marathon to capture its historic finish line as well. “In truth, the Boston Marathon is a more difficult race to photograph. In part because it’s enormous and media is more cordoned off. But beyond that, runners are far more competitive,” Garvin shared.

“They often cross the finish line while looking at their smart watch to check their time, reacting not to finishing but to whether or not they beat their PB. This is not their first rodeo.” Nor is it Garvin’s. But this year’s events were special, he told us. “There was a tangible sense of relief and togetherness in the air, making it hard to snap a bad photo.” Read on to find out why race photography often moves him to tears and what he admires about every participant. RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE | 21

RDM: Runners get emotional. As a photographer, how do you most effectively capture that emotion in just seconds? Garvin: Most of the time I don't! Truly, I miss 95% percent of the photos I take. Please don't tell anyone! But if you keep at it something beautiful inevitably happens. Marathons are a nonstop cascade of fantastic human achievement, an unrelenting moment-driven playground for photographers. Sometimes I almost feel guilty, sitting there on my lazy bum all day complaining about soreness in a single finger. Boo hoo. RDM: This year was especially significant for our industry as races made a comeback. Did you see evidence of that? Garvin: This year‘s marathons felt especially celebratory after real-time events were canceled last year. There was a tangible sense of relief and togetherness in the air, making it 22 | RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE

hard to snap a bad photo. The variety of bodies and abilities streaming across the finish line often moves me to tears and this year was no different. I try to remain a neutral party but often end up cheering, high fiving, congratulating. It feels like a real honor to be there to witness thousands upon thousands of these moments within a few hours, and I do my best to capture a few and share it with the world. RDM: What was the first running race you ever photographed? Garvin: For years I've worked as a newspaper photographer and have shot the Twin Cities Marathon dozens of times. Shooting a marathon along the route is exhausting and stressful and I never felt all that great about the work. I remember taking a few finish line photos and having this realization that nothing can compare with that moment. Finishing running 26.2 miles is a truly epic achievement. People are putting everything out there and feeling

such pure and raw emotion. Sometimes it almost feels like cheating as a photographer. It's so simple, to sit calmly and shoot thousands of photos that are so full of emotion and true depth of feeling. It's great fun. RDM: Was there any one photo you took at these races that stood out to you? If so which one, and what made it significant? Garvin: I often cry when I shoot marathons. Just out of sheer joy and admiration for the pain and suffering and achievement I get to witness. During the Boston Marathon I remember seeing a woman who was clearly pregnant--what a feat! I remember laughing out loud as I snapped shots of her crossing the finish line, lost in her emotion and achievement. Wonderful. I’ve been contacted by so many random people telling me how deeply moved they are by these finish line photos. Somehow they strike a nerve that feels universal. Even people who don’t run are moved to tears. That’s as much as

any photographer could hope for. RDM: What’s your best advice for civilians attempting to take photos of their loved ones running? Garvin: If there's any advice I have for aspiring photographers it is to look for moments. You don’t need a fancy lens or even a fancy camera. Some of my best photos were taken with my smartphone. Just use your feet to get close, fill the frame with what inspires you and look for genuine moments. // Editor’s note: Ben Garvin is hoping to shoot more marathon finish lines around the U.S. next year and in the years to come. Reach out to him at bengarvin.com for the chance to have him at your next race.

All photos by Ben Garvin


The iconic American race returns, for the first time ever in the fall By Leah Etling


It was a Boston Marathon to remember. The first edition of the race to ever be held in the fall, the 125th Boston Marathon marked the race’s triumphant return after two missed April iterations due to the pandemic. We chatted with Lauren Proshan, director of operations for the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.), to get her perspective on how the race went and what’s in store for the 126th Boston Marathon, set for Monday, April 18, moving back to its traditional Patriots Day timeline. “I wish I had a better word than awesome, but just to see everyone's sheer excitement and relief to be back on the roads was truly awesome,”

said Proshan, still smiling at the memory. “The city as a whole felt completely alive. And not to mention, there was a Red Sox playoff game that evening. So, there was just this very cool feeling of excitement throughout the whole day.” Runners expressed it in droves. “We passed Wellesley (College) with the famous screaming tunnel which was super cool and they were all screaming with some very interesting signs they were holding,” said Harris Craycraft, a marathon finisher and YouTube blogger who made a video about his experience. “This was the point where they would normally kiss runners, but they couldn’t do that because of COVID, and that was OK.”


Runners’ acceptance of the changes necessary to adapt to pandemic-era racing conditions was an invaluable factor for every event, large or small, that went on this fall. And in Boston’s case, the change to a rolling start in Hopkinton was so popular that the race is now under pressure to keep it. Runners didn’t have to wait for long periods in their pre-assigned corrals, they simply got off the transport buses, made their way to the start line and were able to begin their race. Veteran running journalist Amby Burfoot put it this way: “No wait time in a chilly, uncomfortable Athletes’ Village? What’s not to like? In an online poll at Boston Buddies, a Facebook group, fully 90 percent of over 500 respondents said they’d like to see the rolling start become a fixture in future Boston Marathons.” (Read the article here.) We asked Proshan about the rolling start and runners’ affection for it. She noted: “What a lot of folks may not know is that we had to request an additional hour of time on the road to make this happen. We do run through eight city and town jurisdictions, and that means getting permission from eight cities and towns to have their roads closed for an hour longer.” But that being said “we're already talking about whether there is a hybrid model? Is there a different way to reduce that time in the Athletes’ Village or just waiting at the start area in general? Nothing's off the table, and we certainly heard loud and clear what people like.”

In addition to the innovative start, 2021 provided an opportunity for the B.A.A. to revamp its finish line setup and credentialing system. “With partner John Hancock’s blessing, we took that program in house and revamped what it meant to be wearing a credential at the event,” explained Proshan. “We simplified the system by simplifying our boundaries, and by default made the event much more simple and secure.” The change helped enhance social distancing in the finish line area. The finish line renovation, constructed from “the world's coolest building blocks and Lego-style construction system,” as described by Proshan, also involved removing the spectator bleachers that have long been a Boston fixture. In past years, more than 3,000 people would typically cram in to watch the emotion and elation as runners crossed one of the world’s most coveted finish lines. “It provided a much cleaner, spectator-friendly area. It’s one of those things we will be having long discussions about going forward. But because of the pandemic, we were able to see something in a different way that we had never done before. We will bring back a version of it, but it has forced us into reimagining what that will look like.” On Nov. 2, the BAA announced that the field size for the April 2022 Boston Marathon will be 30,000 and all accepted runners must be fully vaccinated to participate. With a timeline of less than six months to produce one of the most historic races on earth, Proshan and her team are already off and running. // All photos: Courtesy of the Boston Athletic Association


Conference Edition Coming February 2022! Sponsor a page in this special issue.

Showcase your brand or business to 10,000 readers across the industry. Half pages available for the first time — for this special issue only! Don’t miss the chance to be part of the conversation at the 2022 Industry Conference. Contact Christine Bowen at christine@runningusa.org

COMPANIES that made a


By Leah Etling

As the running industry recovers from nearly two years of disruption, this issue we caught up with two relatively new event production firms that shut their doors for parts of 2020 and 2021 – but are now back in business and racing again.

going for two months, and then Mascot isn't going to be around at all. Or I could lay you off, and you can get in the queue for unemployment. And then we can figure out where we're going to be each month,” Dawkins recalled.

It’s no surprise that both companies, Mascot Sports and San Diego Running Company, are based in California, which had some of the most stringent statewide event restrictions in place from March of 2020 to April of 2021.

He was prescient. It would be more than 16 months before the team returned to the office and Mascot Sports officially came back to life.

Each took a different approach to their shutdown and reopening, with lessons learned along the way that will resonate for any race director. Here are their stories.

Fast reaction, furious comeback at Mascot Sports

When events of all kinds began to be cancelled in California in March of 2020, Ryan Dawkins, CEO of Oakland-based Mascot Sports, didn’t waste any time before making a difficult business decision. Just days after the 2020 Livermore Marathon was cancelled on March 12, he called his team to let them know he planned to effectively shutter the company. Just six weeks earlier, in January 2020, the Oakland-based endurance and event production firm had recorded its best month ever in four years of operation. But after California Gov. Newsom effectively halted all events of any kind in the state, the dominos began to fall fast. After the Livermore cancellation, Dawkins heard from Warner Brothers that they would transition the Wonder Woman race series events to virtual. (Mascot worked on the California-based Wonder Woman live events.) And he had a sinking feeling about Mascot’s flagship race, the Bay Bridge Half Marathon, which was held for the first time in spring 2019 and quickly earned accolades as a must-run race. “That Tuesday, I called every single employee and I said, you know, we can either keep this

In the interim, Dawkins threw out his own lifelines. He singlehandedly innovated an ongoing 5K and 10K series branded around the East Bay area code, which is 510. Runners trained all week to race a 5K on the weekend, where they competed with friends. Every fourth week included a 10K. The price for each week was $5.10. Over the course of a year, 15,000 runners participated. And nearly half purchased branded merchandise like shirts, hats, masks, gaiters and water bottles from the Oakland Run Co. online store. In early summer 2021, Dawkins began mapping out Mascot’s comeback. He took a big risk and purchased a legacy event to add to the Mascot portfolio, the Marin County Half Marathon, 10K and 5K. Now rebranded as the Marin Endurance Festival, the October 30-31 event will also incorporate a triathlon.


“It was the biggest gamble, but it paid off,” Dawkins said of the acquisition. Registrations from the Marin Festival have paid team salaries while Mascot works toward a full scale return to business as usual this fall. Dawkins also worked with a business coach to


The first event back with SDRC staff and volunteers at the Craft Classic in San Diego map out the return of the company’s event portfolio as soon as California’s gathering restrictions were lifted. And he added new national partnerships as well. They include a nationwide 5K and 10K series hosted at MLB stadiums that Mascot is working on alongside Stack Sports (early races include the Big Tex Run and Denver Rocks Run). All in all, it’s going to be an absolutely jam-packed fall for the Mascot team. Even though his schedule right now barely allows him to come up for air, Dawkins and his staff are relishing being back in the hectic world of weekend events. “I feel really good because we're still here, and our employees are back except for one (Tim Cole, who moved on to another industry) and every single one of our weekend warrior folks 30 | RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE

are back. So we have our family back,” he said, stressing the importance of work life balance to his business. And would he handle the situation the same way again? Absolutely. “What I would do differently since Covid dropped a bomb on our industry and Mascot? Nothing. While it hurt deeply, I feel like I made the best decision for the company’s health and my employees by moving so quickly,” Dawkins reflected. “It is business as usual at Mascot, focused on culture, people and creating amazing experiences.”

Scaling back strategically at San Diego Running Company

All the way down I-5 at the San Diego Running

Company (SDRC), the shutdown was shorter. After producing two national holiday-themed virtual events in late 2020 in partnership with Mike Coleman of TimingHQ, SDRC co-founders Pete Hess and Eric Marenburg looked at their budgets, ongoing expenses and the calendar of empty race weekends that loomed. After seven years of following their professional passions and pursuing the sport they loved, it was time to pivot to traditional employment. They also needed to find a new renter for the office space they’d just leased in January 2020 and move their supplies and equipment into storage units. It felt inevitable, but still not easy, said Marenburg.


“We believed we'd be back at some point. But the emotional toll was in the fact that we didn't know at what capacity,” he recalled. COVID was surging nationwide, vaccines were newly available, and 2021 was a murky abyss of unknowns. For four months, both SDRC co-founders took jobs at a tech startup focused on freight shipping tracking and optimization. They were grateful to be employed, but it made them even more passionate about getting back to their own shop. Former SDRC employee Heather Pearl had taken a new job at J&A Racing in Virginia Beach, so they were back to where they’d started in 2013. Two friends, passionate about running, elated at the opportunity to produce great events and make a living at it. The winter hiatus prompted much reflection on how much they loved producing events, but also the innate pressures that come with choosing a non-traditional career. Maybe things like having a physical office space weren’t so important. But producing the best events possible absolutely was.

“When you tell someone you manage races for a living, they don't believe you that that's a real job,” Marenburg said. “Personally, I saw that my work ethic and performance was higher when I'm doing something I love then in a job that I wasn’t passionate about.” As they waited for Gov. Newsom to make his eventual reopening announcement, there was time to reflect on what would come next for SDRC. The answer was lean, but not mean. They’ll still have one of the most generous deferral policies around, now bolstered by virtual options for every single event. “We determined that we want to focus on the events that we love that we know we do exceptionally well. And let's be as lean as possible,” Marenburg said. “Then we can be selective about where we want to grow from there.” SDRC held its first events in July and August of 2021. Things went well, but both felt rusty and short-handed with a smaller team. Runners, though, were forgiving. “I feel like we could have forgotten the shirts, the medals and the start line trussing and they would have still said: ‘Thanks for being here!’” (Anyone who worked at a race this fall likely experienced that effusive goodwill from participants, who were largely elated to be back at events again.) This fall, SDRC will host the Thanksgiving Day Thank You Run and San Diego Santa Run in November and December. Though registrations are trending down about 15 percent for both events, they consider the “getting back to normal” activities most Californians are engaged in right now as major competition. “I expect it will take a full calendar year to get event schedules and registrations back to what you would expect,” Marenburg said. “But now, we can actually plan our entire 2022 calendar and start to line them up, submit permits, plan our marketing efforts. Because of that planning process, we feel pretty good.” That noise you just heard was the running industry breathing a collective sigh of relief. //


RIGHTEOUSLY REPRESENTING RAGNAR Ambassador program adapts, responds, and re-engages as live relays resume across the country By Leah Etling

If you’ve ever met a Ragnar Relay ambassador, you probably noticed their passion immediately. In the first couple of minutes of a conversation, Ragnar’s grassroots marketing manager Kimmi Vander Veen describes the current 150 Ragnar ambassadors as runners who “bleed orange,” “breathe Ragnar” and “keep the orange Ragnar fire alive.” Vander Veen would know – before she came to work at Ragnar, she was an enthusiastic ambassador for the relay and trail running brand herself. She has the tattoo and the race experience to prove it. Over the last year, she’s played an important role in guiding the Ragnar Ambassador program to a new, hybrid virtual/live event version. “I ran my first Ragnar in February of 2013, it was the Miami to the Keys event (Ragnar Relay Florida Keys, a 200 mile road relay). I was a stranger. My friends had invited me to join their team, but they didn’t tell me that they were all in the other van,” she recalled. Eight years later, the strangers in the van are now lifelong friends. The next year, Vander Veen and her vanmates reconvened for the first ever Ragnar Trail Florida, which marked the beginning of her ambassador journey and eventually joining the Ragnar staff. “Ragnar Trail is amazing. The camping, camaraderie, and opportunity to be together for the entirety of the event is just really cool. I was an ambassador for Ragnar Trail Florida for four years before coming on board as an employee.” While leading the ambassador program, she brings that same participant passion. Though Ragnar ambassadors were relaying only virtually for almost all of 2020, they still got exceptionally excited about the experience. One requirement was that the new ambassadors be social media savvy and able to engage online, both to promote the brand and participate in virtual events.

Kyler Wilson becoming "Immortal " in 2019.


“They really truly embody the excitement that Ragnar brings both in the event space and


they're just the most excited participants,” Vander Veen said of the ambassadors. “Some of them have not even participated in a Ragnar yet, they just feel that spirit, which is amazing to me.” Among their veteran participants is Kyler Wilson, a Ragnar “Immortal” ambassador who has run more than 12 Ragnar events in a single year and 36 live events to date. He spent his 2020 weekends participating in more than 20 virtual relay events. “We would do a run on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, splitting up the legs between runners all over the country. There wasn’t much else to do anyway, so we would run,” recalled Wilson, 42. He also sports the Ragnar logo permanently on his calf, a tattoo he got following his very first Florida Keys race in 2015. Wilson was very much looking forward to getting back to his first live event, Ragnar Trail Florida, which was held Dec. 3-4. In 2021, the Salt Lake City-based company was able to hold a partial schedule of 26 events in 19 states, with live events dependent on state and regional regulations. For Wilson, resuming live events was about the same thing that has made him so passionate about Ragnar in the first place: the people. “After you hang out and spend two straight days in a van or a campsite with them, you become good friends. It’s sort of like online dating. In that it increases your exposure to people tenfold if not hundredfold.” The graphic designer estimates that he’s met thousands of new running, camping and drinking buddies through Ragnar over the years. And it was seeing them again that made him most excited live events are back. He became an ambassador for much the same reason. “It was something I was doing anyway – talking up Ragnar all the time to whoever would listen,” he said. “If there’s something I enjoy and something that’s unique and brings joy to my life, I want to make sure that everyone knows


about it.” His pitch to first-time potential participants is this: “You’ve got to try it. It sounds silly, but it will actually change your life.” And may even make you immortal.


Kyler has run 12 Ragnar events in a single year.

Job title: Race Director Race or company name: Twin Cities in Motion Years in the industry: 12 What got you into the running industry? I was a runner throughout high school and college, with a passion for the sport that exceeded my talent. When I graduated college I went to grad school to get an MBA in Sports Business with the intent of working in endurance sports or Olympic sports. A capstone internship with Conley Sports (the then-owners and operators of the Austin Marathon) led to a part-time and then full-time job with them, and I’ve been in the endurance sports industry ever since.


RACE DIRECTOR During the pandemic, Eli Asch made a cross-country move from California to become the race director for Twin Cities in Motion. Little did he know that it would be another year before he’d lead the comeback of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in October 2021. With that race under his belt and a “big Minnesota beard” in progress on his smiling face, it’s safe to say that Eli has become one with the ways of the Minnesotans. Keep an eye on the Twin Cities to see what creative innovations this trendsetting race director introduces in the years to come!


Why do you love your job? I get to help tens of thousands of people, set, achieve, and best of all, celebrate their running goals. What could be better than that? What’s your favorite part of event production? I really like working in a team — being part of a group with a broad array of talents, seeing those talents brought to bear around a vision, and then seeing that vision become a reality. Also, if I weren’t in event production, I never would’ve learned how to operate a forklift, which is something everyone should know how to do. And conversely, what you dread the most about “day of” the event? I really hate having to pull people from the course or asking them to move to the sidewalk when they fall behind pace. But my biggest personal worry is sleeping through my alarm. I always set at least four combined alarms between two devices on race day (much to my wife’s chagrin).

Your go-to fuel up snack or meal on race day? Whatever is nearby. I’m a vegetarian except on race sites.

group of volunteers as dedicated and talented as the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. We’re very lucky.

The 3 most essential items in your backpack or event kit? Snips, work gloves, sunscreen.

What’s the next race you hope to run yourself? Our start operations lead, Charlie Wasley, puts on the Moustache Run, a 5K, 10K, and half marathon the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I’m in no shape to race competitively, but I’ve been growing a big Minnesota beard for the big Minnesota race we just held, so I figure with a little bit of product I might have a chance to place in the moustache contest.

Do you have a lucky charm or outfit you wear? Maybe a quote you keep in mind? I wear a Boston Red Sox hat every day. Even if I’m wearing an event-branded hat on race day, I always have my Red Sox hat in my bag, just in case it’s needed. If you weren’t doing this work, what would you be doing instead? In my ideal reality, playing centerfield and hitting leadoff for the Boston Red Sox. But in a more realistic alternate reality, teaching high school English, coaching cross country, and working on a collection of essays that would most likely never be published. What was your top takeaway from your first Medtronic TC Marathon in 2021? The power of our volunteers! We ask our Association Members (our 400 key year-round volunteers) to do so much, and they always meet and frequently exceed our expectations. I doubt there’s another road race in America that has a

Anything else you'd like to add? If you’re reading this magazine, you'll also enjoy “Early Call Time,” the podcast I co-host with Running USA board member Tony Yamanaka which focuses on issues and news in the road race industry, including interviews with some of the people who keep the industry running. We’ve been on hiatus in the build-up to MTCM weekend, but by the time you’re reading this, we will be back! Do you know a race director you’d like to introduce to the rest of the industry? Nominate them for a future feature in Race Director Magazine by emailing content@runningusa.org RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE | 37

WE'RE LISTENING Expectations for 2022 How are you feeling about the 2022 event season?

What’s in your race day backpack? Snips and zip ties


A spare radio battery


All the caffeinated Gus I can grab


A sleeping bag and 10,000 safety pins

What are your expectations for 2022 event participation?

How long do you think you’ll continue to work in the event industry?

It will be up

Plan to retire in next 1-3 years

It will be down

At least 5-10 years

An improvement over 2021, but still

As long as I can work

down from 2019 and prior years.

Are you still offering virtual events? Yes No Yes but alongside live events

Would you use a Running USA Slack channel to ask other race directors questions?

Have you personally completed a marathon? Yes No

What is your favorite race distance to produce?





Not Sure

Half Marathon

I don't know what Slack is

Full Marathon

What’s your race day breakfast? Cereal Eggs and protein Fruit What's breakfast?


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s the end of 2021 draws near, I can’t help but take a moment to look back at another unprecedented year and reflect for a few moments. In 2020, the world bore witness to an international shut down of epic proportions. We stayed home and hunkered down. We lacked information (and toilet paper), treatments and any indication of when the pandemic would end. Surely this would be over in 1 month, 3 months, 6 months? But in 2020, we were all in this together. All races, events, schools and activities were shut down. So we rallied and determined that our races, our finish lines, would continue on. We leveraged technology, created virtual finish lines and built online communities that had not existed before. We adapted. We adjusted. We re-invented what life could look like.




REINVENTION By Sarah Ratzlaff

As we moved into 2021, however, things looked a little different. We weren’t all still in it together in the same way. Some believed that vaccines were effective while others did not. Some states and cities opened up while others remained closed. Spring events cancelled or postponed while fall races bravely soldiered on. We began to plan 3 then 6 then 12 months ahead but also were prepared to make major adjustments the week of an event. We adapted. We adjusted. We re-invented what life could look like. As the pandemic has progressed, businesses have started asking more questions, opened up to new possibilities and are having different dialogues with their partners and customers.


to continually reinvent, grow and adapt. Before we know it, the “norm” will settle back in. This will become “how we’ve always done it” and we might not remember the two years that irreversibly changed us.

Delivery and online shopping apps have permanently changed our expectations for how we consume and receive goods. Prior to the pandemic, it was a luxury to expect curbside delivery from your favorite restaurant or grocery store. Now, most restaurants have a thriving delivery and curbside business and Uber Eats will deliver to my door within 30 minutes. I drove past my local Target the other day and couldn’t help but think that their curbside pick up area looked like the start of a race. There were feather banners, branded tents and painted parking spots taking up half the lot. Even Target and Wal-Mart and every other supermarket chain has figured out a way to operationalize their teams and leverage technology to create a new way to engage with their brand. Gone are the norms of assuming that tomorrow looks like yesterday. Now, companies are nimbler and more prepared to change and adjust plans quickly. Rather than saying “no, that’s not how it’s done”, the new answer is now “let’s see if we can figure it out.” Even the Boston Marathon, a race so deeply rooted in tradition that there is a holiday dedicated to it, found a way to carry on the mighty spirit of the marathon in September, rather than April, and facilitate incredibly powerful (yet virtual) finish lines across the world. As we enter into 2022 and a world that appears to be fully open again, we have a unique opportunity - an opportunity to challenge ourselves

But what if “now” was always a good time for change? What if we embraced change and sought it out as a way to continually improve our products and events? As we stand perched on the edge of a return to normal, I urge you to ask the question of how you can continually prepare yourself and your business for change. How can you embrace change and constantly evolve even when circumstances don’t force it?


Each of us leaves this pandemic as changed people, a changed industry. But whatever 2022 will bring, and I’m sure it will bring a few surprises, I am certain of one thing in our industry. That we will adjust. We will adapt. And we will continue to reinvent what life could look like.//

About the author: Sarah Ratzlaff is the Owner + Chief Inspiration Officer of Skirt Sports, ZOOMA Women’s Race Series and Momentum Jewelry. RACE DIRECTOR MAGAZINE | 41







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DECEMBER 8-15, 2021

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