2012 U.S. Olympic Women's Marathon Team
In the past week since CGI’s announcement about the discontinuation of their support for elite running (and competitive?) at their Rock n' Roll race series, there are have been multiple great articles and blogs on the subject from many people such as: Toni Reavis, Camille Herron, and Josh Cox analyzing the situation and giving their take on some of the problems in the sport of elite road racing and some ideas for solving them.
I wanted to weigh in on the subject as well, and share some thoughts from what I have seen and experienced.
As a coach of many emerging elite and a several elites Americans road racers, I have seen firsthand the struggles and sacrifices these athletes go through to pursue the sport in earnest. They dedicate significant time and energy, and arrange their lives around their pursuit of the sport of running. While they do this freely and openly without promise of reward or support, the lack of support in some cases can cause many of them (including ones with great potential) to have to give up this pursuit. But it doesn't have to be this way. As my part in helping these emerging American runners, I started the 2016 U.S. Marathon Trials Project to help many of these athletes get the coaching they need to develop in the sport, and to help market themselves in the hopes of securing sponsor support.
My premise behind the Project is simple: The more people the United States has seriously training to run a high level marathon, the stronger, deeper and more competitive we become as a marathoning nation and the more the sport will grow. For many serious runners, the goal and dream of competing in and doing well at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials keeps them training and competing at a high level, and motivates them to continue to improve. The 2016 U.S. Marathon Trials Project has been established to help deepen our country as a marathoning nation, and to help serious runners chase and accomplish their goals and dreams.
While I seek to help these emerging American athletes from a coaching perspective, I am calling for more race directors, organizers and sponsors to do so as well.
While I love competition and support it at every level, but I believe it should be tiered to help develop emerging talent. So while it is wonderful to have the World Marathon Majors and other major international level races and fields (and I hope these continue to get better organized and grow), I think that domestically, more of the local, regional and “B level” national races need to support U.S. athletes to help them develop to that international level. This means having American only prize money and support (comp. entry and travel assistance) and I believe it is in the best interest of these races to do so.
Here is why I think this makes sense for these local/regional/national “b level” races and what I think should be required from the athletes.
Races: Having American athletes be the top athletes at your event enhances the interest of your sponsors and the media, because these athletes are most closely matched to their target demographics. To the participants of the events (and their family and friends) the American athletes are the easiest to relate to and be inspired by, as are likely to have most in common with them. The American athletes can also usually engage the fans and media and their fellow participants more easily in conversations and interviews and provide more closely related encouragement. The American athletes also have social media followers and fans that are local and regionally based and that more closely overlap your event and sponsor demographics. As such these athletes can be very helpful in promoting and drawing attention to your event. An additional benefit would be the opportunity to have a patriotic association to your race as an event that supports and promotes the development of U.S. talent. And at a more macro-level, the increased support to emerging American athletes will make it more likely that more of them will be able develop and eventually compete favorably at the highest level in international competitions. This will help the sport of competitive running grow in the U.S. in terms of interest and participation, which in turn helps your race's participation levels and the benefits to your sponsors. I also encourage races to require some things (such as meet & greats, autograph session, media interviews, attendance of the awards, school/group visits) from the U.S. athletes in exchange for, and at appropriate levels for, the support/opportunities you are providing.
American athletes: if you wish to receive this support and opportunities, and continue to receive it, you need to do more than just come, run and leave. Your participation and what you receive has to be worth it to the races and their sponsors. If it is not we will see more of what CGI has done and the support will go away. You need to be engaging to the fans, participants and media. You need to be thankful and show appreciation to the sponsors and race directors. Be respectful of the events and not withdraw from the event on short notice unless absolutely necessary. You are an ambassador for elite running in the U.S. You have the opportunity to inspire the next generation and inspire people to improve their health and well-being. Many of you have significant social media followings, use it help these races and sponsors promote their events. Support is a two way street, make sure both lanes are open and free flowing.
Like most American runners and sponsors, I want to see more U.S. athletes at the front of the lead packs and in the top finishing places of major road races and championships. I believe a major step towards making that happen is providing them with more opportunities for support on their way up to that level, and believe it can be in the best interest of local, regional and national races to help them in this fashion as well.
To the races who already have adopted this stance of supporting American athletes. Thank you! Please know that I and all the members of the 2016 U.S. Marathon Trials Project appreciate your support.
Happy Running (and racing)
Coach Mark Hadley