This is part one of a two part article by DtB contributor Jim Ferstle on the recent RunPro camp held in the Twin Cities for US distance runners who are considering pursuing a career in the sport.
In the middle of July, when the heat and humidity began to descend in earnest on the Twin Cities, 21 aspiring professional distance runners and designated experts from various segments of the road racing community gathered at the Hilton Hotel in Bloomington for two days of sharing.
"I thought the camp represented a giant leap forward in the renaissance of American distance running after the low point in 2000 when the US only qualified one male or female in the Olympic marathon," said Phil Stewart, who wears many "hats" the running community as one of the race directors part of the PRRO Circuit, the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile, a selector on the RRCA's Roads Scholars committee, and publisher of Road Race Management, an information source for the road racing community.
"It provided important -- and realistic -- information about becoming a professional runner. Prior to now, talented runners coming out of highly-structured college programs had no clue how to pursue their passion for the sport -- now there is guidance. These recent college graduates will no longer be like deer in the headlights. They have a road map."
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on the event HERE. Jim Estes, one of the speakers and Associate Director of Marketing and LDR Programs for USATF said: "I really have to give a lot of credit to Pat (Goodwin, founder of Team USA Minnesota) and Dennis (Barker, Team USA Minnesota coach) for putting this together. I really think that one of the things that our sport struggles with is the lack of perception that it is a professional sport. This comes just as much from the inside as it does from the outside. Pulling a group of people together to give a new generation of athletes some insight in to what they’re pursuing is definitely one step to professionalizing the sport and our approach to it."
"What we learned is that there is a great need for this type of camp or conference, as one athlete suggested we call it, because most of them were searching all over the place for the type of information we provided for them," said Goodwin. "I have the evaluations for all the athletes who attended and everyone of them gave it the highest possible rating."
"What I took away from the weekend is that there is a real need for seminars like the RunPro Camp," said Meghan Peyton, a member of Team USA Minnesota who helped organize and run the conference. "What surprised me most is how much I also learned, even though I have been running post-collegiality for three years.
"Our sport, for whatever reason is not very transparent, but having these speakers here and giving out the information that they are experts on really helped to open my eyes and the 'campers' eyes. So many of them sent us letters thanking us and commented how much they learned."
"Despite my best efforts to search around the Internet, I was pretty clueless before this," said Amy Van Alstine, one of the "campers," a graduate of the University of Richmond and NCAA Qualifier in the 1500 (4:19), 3K (9:29), and 5K (16:09). "The camp was very helpful! It was really great to be surrounded by runners in the same situation as me and listening to the already pro runners. The different speakers also made me realize I have a lot of room for improvement in myself, not only when it comes to running but how I am perceived by others.
"Another big thing for me was understanding the finances of a runner’s life which was always a question in my mind. It was extremely helpful in understanding how it all works!"
"I learned so much from the camp," said David Oliver, a University of Pennsylvania graduate and NCAA Qualifier in the 800 (1:48) and 1500 (3:53). "I really liked the article written in the Star Tribune. It summed up the camp well, and a lot of the thoughts we all had. It felt good to know that there were at least twenty other people with similar ideas. Looking forward to keeping in touch and seeing us all progress each year!"
"I tried to make the connection between the athletes and the events," said Virginia Brophy Achman, current president of Running USA (a road race industry trade group), and head of Twin Cities in Motion, the company that puts on the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, Medtronic TC 1 Mile, and other events, and Women's LDR chair for USATF who spoke at the conference. "We are in this together to bring the sport forward in the best possible light. Their interaction with the media is really important and can help or hurt a race.
"I talked about the business side of the sport, events hosting championships, how the business side of the sport gets together to discuss best practices at Running USA each year, which impacts the athletes because the better the events, the better the opportunities for them to earn prize money.
"The athletes that made comments right before we broke for lunch really seemed to get the interconnectedness of the sport. They were connecting dots on how to present themselves/handle themselves when in the spot light. They all seemed genuinely appreciative of the opportunity."
"The goal of the RunPro Camp, as well as the website (www.runPro.com), is to encourage, support and provide the tools for more of our top collegiate runners to stay in the sport and pursue a professional running career," said Barker. "By having more top runners continuing to train at a high level, the profile of professional running in the US may be raised, which would help create more opportunities, visibility and sponsorship dollars for those runners and the sport. It would also have a positive impact on continuing to improve US distance running performances in international competition."
A second story on the RunPro camp will appear later this week.