Flotrack Editor's Note: We've been trying to take a firm stance on Competitor's Decision to cut support for elites. To be frank - and we know this is an incredibly unpopular opinion - we're upset, but we're not that broken up about it. It's disappointing, but was Competitor really offering much to elites to begin with? We're not thinking of it as a step back - we're thinking of it as a wake-up call. Since the influx of editorial pieces on the subject, we started to draft something and offer our two cents on the matter. Then we found Ben Bruce's post on stephandbruce.com, which explained exactly how we felt. We asked him if we could host his blog, which is below.
If you want to try and understand how the decision affects elite running, then read this. With that being said, we also recommend Josh Cox's blog as well.
Bolder Boulder: Not an NFL game but a road race where close to 50,000 stayed to watch the professional race!
I have read all of Toni Reavis's blogs about the recent decision of Competitor Group to drop all elite athlete funding. He has made some very good points that look at the issue using his experience in the sport. Lately he wrote a blog entitled Silence of the Lambs, which in short talked about the fact that very few elites have said anything publicly about the issue. I plan to respond to Toni's recent blog and give my side of the story. I know Toni on a personal level (heck his wife is a Picky Club Member) and respect his opinion. I write this response only to give one (well kind of two if you include my wife Steph) athlete's view on the matter.
I want to first answer the question Toni asked about why haven't many professionals spoke out about Competitor Groups decision? My two cents is that there are many other races and groups that are offering way more than Competitor has ever offered. Aside from the appearance fees and contracts struck with the biggest name athletes like Ryan Hall, Meb, Mo Farah, and Kara Goucher Competitor hasn't offered a lot to elites. Before they announced the Grand Prix series most RNR half marathons offered $1000, $500, and $250. For a race of that magnitude it is a drop in the bucket. Maybe the reason many Pros haven't weighed in on the issue is because they never received any support from Competitor to begin with. Now, if NYRR made an announcement to cut elite support, then you would have a lot of pros depressed and worrying about the future. The NYRR's
Steph at 2013 NY Mini with her groupies
dedication to supporting elite distance running is wonderful. With events like NYC Half, Healthy Kidney 10k, Mini 10k, 5th ave mile, dash 5k, and of course NYC Marathon they support pros of all distances. Each one of these events have elite budgets topping 6 figures and I have had the privilege to be at many of their events. I will say first hand that they understand the sport. They use all the athletes they bring in for media events, kids events, and more and they pay the runners well as a thanks. It helps NYRR out and it helps the athlete gain exposure. One of my favorite weekends of this year was representing adidas at the BAA Marathon presented by John Hancock. Sat. I got to help at all the kids races, talked to them after and signed about 300 autograph cards.Sunday I ran the BAA invitational mile, then Mon was out supporting Steph run the marathon along with thousands of others. So, maybe a lot of the pros aren't responding to Competitor because they were never really affected by them in the first place? If Competitor slowly removed elite support this would have never been as big of an issue as it has become. It is easy to get upset at the decision of Competitor because it is never good to hear about funding being cut, but lets use it as a wake up call.
It it easy to point fingers when something like this happens, but for every decision there has to be a reason. For starters I will point the finger at us professional runners. We need to stop thinking that fast times are enough to make the sport grow. We have to connect with the public and do so on a professional level. Josh Cox weighed in his thoughts and we share his sentiments. What isn't helping are the runners out there that criticize runners for trying to make a living off running. I know the money in running doesn't compare to major American sports NFL, MBL, NBA, etc. but if a die hard runner who loves to run and race chastises it's own, we can never move forward into making the sport professional. Yes the elite and masses share a love for running and that bond is what we have in common. However I would encourage the masses to realize there is a small percent of runners who compete to make World and Olympic Teams, win national titles and make a living through running. Steph and I are thankful to adidas for allowing us to make our passion our profession. Every race that I go to I try to make a connection with as many people as I can and that connection can vary tremendously. Recently in New Haven at the USA 20k Champs I had a short talk with a guy in the hotel lobby (a non runner). He saw me in running clothes about to head out for a run and asked if I was running the "marathon" tomorrow? I politely responded the races being held on Monday are a 5k and 20k, a marathon refers to a specific distance of 26.2 miles. He was a bit taken back and said, "oh I didn't know that." Follow up question was "are you going to carbo load tonight?" Again with a smile I responded that carbo loading is kind of a myth that gets blown out of proportion. I always stick to eating what I am used to before races. He responded with "a myth, uh… …eat what what you normally eat… …makes sense." This was just one interaction I had over the weekend and very similar interactions happen at just about every race I go to. My thought is educate one person at a time about the real life of a professional runner.
GNC Liberty Mile created big heads for all their elites that crowd could hold up!
But that isn't going far enough. I often times wonder why races don't require more of the elites that they fly in, cover hotel, etc. Races need to use the elites to help market their own race, as well as market the elites themselves. Use us, market us, one example is GNC liberty mile printing big heads of everyone in the professional race. Many professional runners want to show up, sit in a hotel room, run the race, collect their money, and go home. But what does the race get from this? Not much, the general public will have no idea this athlete ran the race. Many articles/blogs have been posted online with possible solutions and many of them are great. But at the root of it all is the elites making themselves more available and connecting with fans and participants. My wife Stephanie has showed me this first hand. She has food allergies to gluten, soy, milk, and eggs and because of this has connected
Steph meets a woman at Boston Marathon who has helped inspire her because of food allergies.
with so many of the mass runners because they relate to her due to their own food allergies. Because of her connection we have established countless connections to the everyday runner. We receive emails through our website daily with nutrition questions, coaching inquiries, autograph requests etc. Not because we are the fastest runners out there, but because we care and can relate to our audience. Pros have to find something that connects them to the general public. Care about them first and you will find they care about you. For Steph and I there are many reason we can relate to others. Dietary needs, injury struggles, we offer coaching online, we are a married professional running couple (I guess people find this Cute!), and on top of that we will respond to questions people send us through our website.
Although Competitor may feel the elite presence is not that important, we feel it is always better to focus on the countless races and people who do. So I'll end with this email sent to us 2 months after Boston:
I just wanted to thank you so much for the words of encouragement and awesome advice you gave me while signing your autograph for me at Boston this year. You were a godsend! I was not feeling my best prior to the race and thought I might just jog it. If I followed that plan I would have been amongst the explosions. Instead, I followed your advice on how to work the course and was able to qualify for next years Boston! Running fast that day may have saved my life and you played a big part of that. A gigantic hug to you from my husband, 3 kids and myself.
Thank you again.