The 2008 Running USA National Conference was recently held in San Diego. Running USA is the trade association for the running industry that was established in 1999. This year over 350 attendees, including representatives of the Big Sur International Marathon (BSIM), gathered to discuss issues affecting the sport and business of running.
All major road races were represented, along with many other businesses that depend on races or runners for buying their products: makers of shoes, training software, medals and awards, sports drinks, clothing companies, media and magazines, photography, heat sheets, and nearly anything else you can think of related to running.
Each year at the conference there is Hall of Champions banquet where individuals are inducted into the Hall. This is one of the highest honors in the sport - like being selected for football or baseball’s Hall of Fame - and the list of Champions reads like a who’s who of the running community. This year, the BSIM’s race director, Wally Kastner, was selected for induction.
Wally was praised for “taking the wonderful Big Sur Marathon and making it the crown jewel of American marathons”. The BSIM was called “the greatest running experience on the planet.” He was also instrumental in being one of the founding partners of Running USA in 1999.
The Big Sur Marathon’s JUST RUN youth program, with Susan Love as administrator, was in the limelight in three separate conference sessions on youth running. JUST RUN is considered the premier national model for other youth programs. JUST RUN, which started just 2 years ago in Monterey County, now has over 5,000 children involved, and groups in 15 California counties, 12 states, and 2 foreign countries.
The conference theme this year was “20 in 10”, which is a challenge that was presented in the keynote speech by Basil Honikman, outgoing CEO of Running USA. The industry was challenged to increase the number of race finishers in United States races to 20 million within 10 years.
The goal is ambitious as there were less than 9 million race finishers in 2007. These 9 million finishers represent approximately 4 million unique runners, as some finish multiple races. Doubling the number of race finishers would have simultaneous benefits: increasing the health and well being of the U.S. population, while significantly improving the businesses of the races and companies in the industry.
There are 12 million runners in the United States that run at least twice a week but only 4 million of those enter races. The most popular race distance in 2007 was the 5K with about 3.5 million finishers, followed by the 10K with 1 million, and the marathon with 520,000.
In the two days of the conference many ideas were presented to reach this goal; more events for the first timer and the reticent, more national promotion and TV and media coverage, more fun in events, creation of tounaments and running leagues, reaching out to minority members (only 2% of race finishers are people of color), and more youth programs and races. Many speakers said the sport needs recognizable heroes and stars.
One interesting group of statistics was presented by Andy Hersam, the publisher of Runner’s World magazine; with 650,000 subscribers it has the largest subscriber base of any Running publication. Runner’s World surveys indicate that 28 million people in the U.S say they at least run occasionally. Of these, 19 million are married but 14 million of their spouses don’t share the habit – they DON’T run. Also there are 35 million family members that don’t run.
Therefore, the easiest route to making “20 in 10” actually happen lies in each runner’s home, and in finding a way to get spouses and children out running and entering races. There should be more races for kids. More races like the Together With Love Run in Pacific Grove that have couples competitions, or family divisions. Not only is this fun and healthy, but it promotes family time. As Wally Kastner said in his induction speech, “I am convinced runners can save the world.”
Another speaker indicated that although the Professional Golf Tour advertises on every telecast that the PGA tour raises 150 million dollars for charity each year, the running industry does little to publicize the fact that races raise almost $1 billion per year for charity – in other words, six times as much as golf.
Dave McGillivary the Boston Marathon race director says that when people ask him what he does for a living he says, “I raise the self esteem and self confidence of thousands of people each April.”
The Saucony shoe company corporate saying is now, “A good day is when you get to run. A Great day is when you inspire others to run.”
So the message we’re delivering from the Running USA conference to all our running friends is to share the gift you already have. Give it to your spouse and family and friends as well. Help in the drive for “20 in 10”.