Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How RunPro Came Together, Hopes for Sequel

Here is the second installment of the RunPro camp story by Jim Ferstle.

The idea of launching a website and having a “camp” for up and coming distance runners contemplating a career as a pro didn’t materialize out of thin air. A lot of thought went into why something like this was needed and what could help bridge the gap as graduating US middle and distance runners attempt to decide whether or not to make the leap from elite collegiate competition in the US to the world stage as a professional athlete.

13.1 Mpls

"The camp was set up to bring together, in one place, some of those top athletes and some of the people who are already major players in US professional running," said Dennis Barker, coach of Team USA Minnesota and one of the organizers of the camp. "The list of speakers that came, and the quality of their presentations, exceeded my expectations.

"Each of the speakers went into the nuances of what they do and how they do it and how it affects the sport and the athletes, so it created a very full and useful picture of the current state of professional running. The athletes, and the speakers who stayed for other presentations, were really into it and there was good interaction, questions and discussion throughout the entire weekend."

When asked if the speakers were selected to match the athletes selected, Barker replied: "The speakers were selected because of their expertise in a particular area that I thought should be covered. I didn't know (the specific athletes) who would be attending at the time I asked (the speakers). But having dealt with quite a few athletes just coming out of college, I knew what information would probably be most useful.

"I think the same speakers could come back and present because they are top professionals in the field. If changes needed to be made in their presentations due to changing circumstances or environment, I'm sure those would be reflected. I suppose a speaker could give the same presentation, if nothing in their area had changed. But, from year to year, the market for getting a shoe contract changes, USADA might add something to their list of banned drugs, there may be new or revised programs from USATF focused on distance runners, a new professional running group might pop up or one might stop operating, health care and tax issues change all the time. So I think the presentations would be fresh every year.

"We originally wanted to hold the camp between the athlete's junior and senior of college so that they would have more time to plan for a professional career. But in talking with the NCAA we found that there wasn't a way to do that without endangering the athletes eligibility. So we had to wait until they had completed their eligibility, which from the outside, is very hard to determine. The camp and website ( are geared toward assisting promising collegiate runners make the transition to professional running. It isn't for those who have already turned pro.

"Athletes could only attend if they had completed their NCAA eligibility and were US citizens...Of the top 50 2010 NCAA men's cross country finishers, there were just four athletes that fit this criteria. None of them were top ten finishers, one of them attended the camp. Of the top 50 2010 NCAA women's cross country finishers, eight athletes met the criteria. Just one of them was a top ten finisher and she turned pro after the cross country season ended.

"Of the top ten finishers in the 2011 NCAA track & field championships in the men's and women's 800, 1500, steeplechase, 5,000 and 10,000, just 16 athletes (out of a potential 100) met the criteria. Only three of the sixteen were top three finishers.

"It is also possible that some of the athletes we think met the criteria will be back for another cross country, indoor or outdoor season. With redshirts, medical redshirts, fifth and sixth year seniors, it is sometimes difficult to know the status of their eligibility.

"All of the RunPro Camp attendees had qualified for the NCAA championships in their event. Ten of them were All-Americans. Six of them appear on the 2011 US rankings in their event. E-mails were sent to the coaches of all US athletes listed as juniors who were in the top 50 on the 2010 TFRRS list in the 800, 1500, steeplechase, 5,000 and 10,000, a total of 109 e-mails. The e-mail asked to have the information passed on to that specific athlete. I'm guessing some of those e-mails were passed on and the athlete wasn't interested, some were passed on and the athlete either inquired or applied to the camp, and some were not passed on."

"I cannot thank you enough for creating and hosting the RunPro Camp this past weekend," said Matt Llano, a graduate of the University of Richmond, NCAA Qualifier and All-American, 3K (8:11), 5K (14:00), 10K (28:43). "What a phenomenal resource for anyone looking to run professionally! I am certain that I will make very good use of all of the information that was presented. The friendships and support network that we formed are invaluable as well. Thank you so much for everything!"

"I guess the biggest message of the weekend was that professional running, unless you are a superstar, is not the place to get rich," said Meghan Peyton, a Team USA Minnesota runner who helped with the camp. "That the athletes in the sport do it because they love it, not because they are chasing dollar signs. At the same time, we let them know where and how they could make money, because that is absolutely essential too."

Some of the questions she got from the campers, Peyton added, were: "How do you make money/get a shoe contract? Do I need an agent? How do I do my taxes?"

"I thought that we had some very talented athletes that attended the camp, but I wished that we had been able to attract the attention of more athletes that had finished in the top 15 at the NCAA Championships. Regardless, almost all of the athletes were at least NCAA qualifiers."

"Most don't know that they will be self-employed and will have to file taxes quarterly," said Barker. "That at some point someone from USADA may show up at their house unannounced and ask for a urine or blood sample, and if they don't comply, it will count as a positive test. That there are more international competitions to represent the US in than the Olympics and World Championships. That they can get a Roads Scholar grant. What is the criteria for getting a shoe company sponsorship, what are the levels of sponsorship? Do they need an agent? What can agent do for them.

"My task this week is to write a report for USATF about the RunPro Camp, which by all accounts was truly a success," said Pat Goodwin, Team USA Minnesota president and founder. "The athletes certainly left the camp very energized and determined to try to make it as professional runners, which is certainly one of the things we wanted to accomplish. We have been receiving thank you e-mails and notes and one of the athletes posted a blog as well."

"I really hope that is something that we can continue to do," said Jim Estes, USATF Associate Director of Marketing and LDR Programs.

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