NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (March 14, 2011) – Officials of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon have announced a major incentive for emerging American elite distance runners and a challenge to event directors of major U.S. distance races to help support the development of U.S. distance runners and to build upon the decade-plus resurgence.

“We want as many American men and women to participate in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston this January 14 and to that end, we will bonus any American $1000 cash for qualifying for the Trials at our race,” said Steve Nearman, event director of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon, scheduled for Oct. 2. “This means sub-1:05:00 for men and sub-1:15:00 for women.”

 Nearman also announced another initiative, based on an inspiring story brought back from the recent Running USA 2011 conference by American Running Association CEO Dave Watt.

 Watt recounted a moment at the conference when Team USA Arizona founder and coach Greg McMillan and his runners took the stage to receive a $25,000 grant from Running USA. McMillan and some of his runners in his emerging program broke into tears of joy at the significance of the grant. Many of the 500 attendees at the awards ceremony also got teary-eyed.

 This story so moved officials of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half that they committing $1 per entry to fund an elite training program for the Olympic year 2012. With an expected sellout of more than 6,000 entrants, race officials are hoping their sizable grant will inspire other races to do the same.

 “I challenge my friends and fellow event directors to follow suit,” stated Nearman, adding that the Wilson Bridge Half already awards American-only prize money. “If Carey Pinkowski of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon could donate $1 per runner, we’re talking $45,000-plus. Dave McGillvray at Boston, another $25,000-plus. Mary Wittenberg at New York City, another $50,000-plus. Rick Nealis at Marine Corps, another $30,000-plus. Same with Jim Vandak at the Army Ten-Miler, another $30,000 or so. That’s nearly $200,000 right there to support American runners.”  


 We salute Mr. Nearman for both his vision and his challenge.  The idea of  race directors self-taxing at $1.00 per entry to help fund U.S. distance running camps is both a welcome move, and an old idea. 

It is one of the original funding mechanisms utilized by Running USA to help support Team USA California in Mammoth Lakes eleven years ago.  New York Road Runners President Alan Steinfeld contributed $1.00 per U.S. entry from the New York City Marathon, and other funds were raised by 30-40 other contributors at $5,000 per.

However, the concept of a $1.00 per entry contribution to support U.S. running never gained widespread traction, though it would have spread the funding over the widest base, the entire racing community.  The thinking always came down to, “Developing the sport isn’t my responsibility. That’s what USATF is supposed to do.”

True enough, part of USATF’s mandate is to develop talent.  And at one time every runner registering for the New York City, Boston, and Columbus Marathons were required to secure a TAC (precursor to USATF) membership card in order to compete.  Today, this mechanism is utilized by USA Triathlon.  Every competitor must join, at least for that one race day.

However, after years of returning nothing to the road community for the dollars raised, USATF was stripped of the membership requirement by the three major marathons. 

As I wrote in my previous post SKATING OVER DIMES, the idea of  $1.00 check-off box on every road race entry form – similar to the presidential election check-off box – had been considered years before.  However, the road community’s thinking was best reflected in the words of then Atlanta Track Club president and USATF Women’s Long Distance Running Committe head Julia Emmons, director of the Peachtree Road Race.

“If people are looking for big races to contribute $1.00 per entry for fund-raising, we won’t do it.  It’s easy mathematics, but very naïve.  We won’t raise our entry fee from $15 to $16.  How do I go to my board and say, ‘Okay, we use dollars from around the community, and send it to some national organization?’  It’s not how we work, or how we sell our event. We’d be glad to give $5000, but not $50,000. We are not taking dollars out of high school athletics for something vague just because we are stronger than ever.”

That each-to-his-own mentality is what helped build road race participation to the grand heights we see today.  But it was also a major factor in the slow demise of American athletes  as they were forced to compete in a totally unregulated market against athletes to whom $5000 represented  a buying power of 380,000 Kenyan shillings.  This incentive imbalance led Americans to over race, which lessened their competiveness even further until we witnessed just one American man and one woman qualifying for the 2000 Olympic Marathons.

Running USA was born out of that sad circumstance, and began funding Team USA California in Mammoth Lakes.  Over the last two years, however, the organization has morphed into a trade organization, and pulled their support for the Mammoth Track Club in 2009.

It will be interesting to see if any of the major events rise to Mr. Nearman’s challenge.  Or, indeed, if his race will see fit to maintain its funding for more than just one year.  As anyone who trains knows, it takes an extended time to reach one’s full potential. 



  1. Pingback: World Spinner
  2. Kudos to the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, which has been supporting emerging US elites through its $10,000 contribution to the wonderful Roads Scholars program of RRCA for at least the past 10 years and including American prize money to its world-class race in April. It is this type of leadership in the industry we need to see from more races.

    If your race already is doing this, reply to this string and be recognized. If not, it’s time to support our country’s athletes through your event.

    1. The first time I read this I got goose bumps. Tagg Running Events in Vail, Arizona puts on ” boutique ” running events. We will take the challenge and give a $1.00 from every entry in our own races beginning with the 4th Annual Al Lindstrom Colossal Cave 5k Road Race on June 11th. We challenge all other race directors in Southern Arizona to do the same. Who’s next???

      Steve Taggart
      Tagg Running Events

  3. Great news!…And that’s coming from a high school cross country meet…One by one…building a Coalition of the Willing from the ground up…Stop waiting for USATF, RRCA, RUSA to do the right thing…They have another set of agenda items…USATF is a self-weakening organism…So many equal committees trying to serve disparate constituencies…The organization swallows ideas…Then pits constituencies against one another…each protecting turf…rather than looking ahead…Doesn’t allow for a strong executive…Has institutional levers in place to thwart that…Like a Frankenstein…Dismembered parts stitched together…Pro track…LDR…Masters…Youth….Mountain…Trail…What’s the use? With us as the blind villager…”Want a smoke?”…”MMmmm!”…”Smoke goooood.”

  4. So, which Event Directors out there will join the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon in building the next generation of U.S. World Champions and Olympic medalists? All you small and mid-size races can make a major difference, too, if we all come together. The time is now – our athletes need you. Stop making our aspiring elite runners work on the feet 8-hour days at local running stores selling running shoes to 8-hour marathoners.

    BIG kudos to American Running Association Executive Director Dave Watt. Dave is also the race director of the Battle of the Potomac Cross Country Meet for high schoolers in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.

    Said Dave today: “We will up our registration fees and tell all the high school athletes that they are supporting America’s distance runners who are seeking to compete with the World’s Best.” Dave estimates $500 from his 500-runner field.

    Who’s next? Is this a no-brainer?

  5. Amen to Anne’s comment. I started running in 1981, inspired to train for a marathon when I went to watch a friend compete in what was then called the Detroit Free Press Marathon. I remember to this day the chills I got watching Greg Meyer off in the distance, running all alone as he rounded Belle Isle and headed for the finish line. Back in those long ago days, runners used to gather for parties to watch big marathons on TV (NYC, Boston, Chicago) I remember sitting in a restaurant in Raleigh with fellow members of the North Carolina Road Runners, thrilling to the sight of a 40-year old (Priscilla Welch) winning the women’s division of the NYC Marathon. Back in those days, even the non-competitive, supposedly “non-serious” runners knew who all the top runners were, everyone read Runner’s World (wow, how their focus has changed over the years) like it was the Bible, track meets were well-attended, it was a glorious time for everyone: we all fed off the energy from each other. What happened? I suggest that it’s because of an attitude that has developed over the past three decades that, unfortunately, exists throughout our society today: that “everyone’s a winner” view, which sadly isn’t followed up with the idea that in order to be a winner, you have to sweat, you have to put a little muscle into it. It’s the dumbing-down of the populace, in more ways than one. And despite the fact that I’m all for charitable giving (I mean, who isn’t?) I also believe that the emphasis on events being charity fundraisers has diluted whatever excitement we might have had for the joy of watching great athletes doing what they do best.

  6. 1982 Road Racer of the Year, New Zealand’s Anne Audain commented on your post.

    “A regular comment I am making this year NO USA road racer can have the career I had after coming to the USA 30 years ago. The 80’s were great and we have gone downhill from there! But Toni and I are still battling! He did the first interview with me at the Crescent City Classic in New Orleans 10K – 1981! We are both on the board of RUSA and fighting for the young ones, our history, and future – no easy road there!”

  7. Steve Nearman has followd the sport of running for 30 years, writing for both the Washington Post and Washington Times…A recent trip to Kenya led him to his decision to take a pro-active role in helping support U.S. distance runners through his Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half-Marathon.

    “Races need to make a statment,” says Steve. “That we support our national runners through you (the average participant) and your entry fees. It connects the back of the pack to the front, which is now totally disconnected. IF we can’t get our own runners to help support our sport, who will?”

  8. This is a big deal, lets hope that more races follow Steve’s lead. Congrats to my old buddy, although his idea isn’t an original one, it’s time that it was re-animated. It will be interesting to see how other rd’s respond. It’s such a simple, and logical, concept, what a shame that it has been abandoned by the very organizations (USATF and RUSA, I’m talking to you) that should have supported and implemented it over the last few decades. Lets move forward, you go, Steve! and lets hope that others follow your lead.

  9. Yes!! I am so stoked about this! I’m a filmmaker producing a documentary about sub-elite women attempting to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials, and this is exactly the sort of support they so desperately need. Hats off to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon!

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