No more Rock n’ Roll. No problem.
A few weeks ago, the Competitor Group (CGI) announced that it would be, with immediate effect, eliminating any and all elite fields in North American events. What does this mean exactly? In a nutshell, CGI, which is responsible for putting on all of the Rock n’ Roll races across the country, will no longer be investing its money into the professional side of road racing. The decision stunned many in the running community, especially those who view this as a profession. I’ll share some of my thoughts on CGI’s decision, and what it all means, later in this post, but the more immediate concern for me was deciding whether or not to run this Sunday’s previously scheduled Rock n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.
When I committed to running the Chicago Marathon, it was my intention from day 1 of this training cycle to run in Philly. It’s one of the most competitive half marathons in the US and it comes exactly one month before Chicago; perfect timing for one last hard tune-up. Because of what has transpired over the past few weeks, I have chosen to pull the plug on racing at Philly this weekend and will consequently take a financial hit in the process. However, I believe that it is more important for me to stand alongside many of my fellow competitors and boycott any CGI events going forward.
When you are six weeks out from a marathon, I can tell you the last thing you want to worry about is reconfiguring your already-thought-out-and-well-planned training schedule. But alas, that’s what I have been doing. I’ve spent too much time (because in my mind, even spending one minute is too much) over the last week figuring out how to change my plane ticket, finding a substitute tune-up race, and working with coach Ian to re-write my training schedule. If you know me, then you might be able to imagine how frustrating this process has been, as I hate amending schedules and plans.
Despite the emergency audibles of the past week, I am happy with how things are working themselves out. The most important issue – finding a tune-up race before Chicago – was resolved earlier in the week with help from the folks at the Rouge Run Half Marathon in Medford, Oregon. Not only were they able to get me registered for their race after the deadline had passed, they have generously upped their commitment to elite runners by increasing their overall prize purse. In theory I’ve solved two problems in one: finding a substitute tune-up race, while hopefully recouping some of the lost revenue of not going to Philadelphia. And with the help of Ian, I now have a revised schedule that I believe in for these last 4 weeks of training. So…crisis averted! Time to spend the next month focusing on the tangible tasks that will help me run fast in Chicago.
Now, let me turn my attention to CGI and its decision to discontinue supporting elite runners. At the end of the day, this is a business. As such, they are entitled to run their business how they want. Keeping this in mind, I hope they fail…miserably. And here is why.
I have never been a fan of the Rock n’ Roll races, which is why I avoided running their events until last year. In my opinion, they charge participants a small fortune to enter and give them very little in return. Sure, they throw a few local back-alley-bar-weekday-cover-bands out on the course and give you some C-list headliner as a post-race concert, but these “luxuries” simply masquerade the event’s deficiencies. In my experience, the Rock n’ Roll races have been unorganized and do very little to give back to the communities that graciously host its events. More specifically, CGI has all but ruined Philadelphia’s once proud race.
The success of the Rock n’ Roll series is due in large part to fantastic marketing (something that our sport, and those who run it, could take note of). But you can only play the spin game for so long, which is why in addition to dropping its support for elite athletes, CGI also announced last week that it would be discontinuing 2 of its races that were under-performing (a.k.a not enough feet crossing the finish line). People in the running community are starting to figure out that maybe they don’t prefer the “corporate” race over their local events. After all, the majority of runners don’t necessarily want or need all the bells and whistles. The LetsRun.com folks released an editorial this morning saying just that.
Despite my distaste for CGI, I do think the discussion amongst the running community in the aftermath of its decision has been extremely productive. After the initial fiery ball of internet anger was unleashed at CGI, people eventually began to talk productively about how to prevent these things from happening in the future. The dialogue changed from CGI-bashing to appropriately examining the responsibilities required of elite runners in adding value to an event – read Toni Reavis’ blog post. Whether a race is providing prize money and/or appearance fees, that money should not be considered a charity. The days of showing up, running fast, and leaving are long gone.
One of the most unique aspects of our sport is that elite runners compete alongside everyone else. That “town meets gown” atmosphere is what makes our sport so awesome. The responsibility of connecting the competitive with the recreational falls on both elite runners and race organizers. Elites need to make themselves available for expos, appearances, media requests, meet and greets, and post-race awards. It disgusts me when I see runners show up to races, lock themselves in their rooms, and express very little gratitude to those who make doing what we do possible. At the same time, race organizers need to continually find ways to bridge the gap and build connections between elites, race sponsors, and the masses. As we learned last week, a race isn’t required to fund elite athletes. Although, I will contend a race that doesn’t present awards to its top finishers isn’t really a race at all; it’s an organized run, as there is very little emphasis competition. But I digress.
Another talking point that surfaced from last week’s dialogue centered around athlete marketability. There were some really great observations made about how, ultimately, athletes in our sport are responsible for building their own brand – read Josh Cox’s blog post. There are plenty of successful examples out there of which to model from, but ultimately the effort needs to be uniquely you – or in this case, me! I’m fortunate enough to have some prior background knowledge and experience in this area, so I understand how to create, build, and use this platform. I also worked as a member of the media growing up, so I am keenly aware of the value media exposure can provide elite runners. Additionally, the internet and social media has made it easier than ever to keep people clued in, but making a haphazard attempt at doing so will only result in failure. There has to be plan!
Lastly, understand that professional running does not need CGI, or its Rock n’ Roll events, to survive. The sport was fine prior to its existence and it will be just fine going forward. Sure, am I upset to see opportunities for elite runners to make money racing disappear? Of course. But many of us were not relying on these races for support in the first place. In the three Rock n’ Roll races I competed in last year – Dallas, Portland, Philadelphia – I made a grand total of $750. Only 1 of those 3 races actually provided me with a hotel room or travel assistance. I guess what I am trying to say is that CGI put very little into its elite program to begin with – confirming Ben Bruce’s assumption. If this was the kind of support every race provided, then I wouldn’t waste my time chasing my dreams because I’d be B-R-O-K-E!
The reality is that there are plenty of events, race organizers, sponsors, and runners around the US and world who see value in the competitive aspect of the sport. So to those in that group, thank you! And to those of you in the industry who I have had the privilege to work with and get to know, a million thank yous! I get to live out my dreams because of you.
I’d like to end by publicly thanking a few of the races and race directors/elite coordinators that I have worked with over the past couple of years. Thank you for giving me such wonderful opportunities!
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