Hope is a fragile commodity, best supported by unwavering preparation and clench-jawed determination, qualities familiar to any who call themselves distance runners, regardless of the speed they may achieve. There is reason, then, to be hopeful in this spring of 2011 that the U.S. distance running momentum that peaked with Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor’s Olympic Marathon medals in Athens 2004 can be regained, and even surpassed.
Today, with modest support for U.S. distance running training camps coming from the USATF Foundation’s U.S. Distance Project and Running USA’s annual conference auction, joined by the more robust contributions coming from New York Road Runners Circle of Champions initiative, and Nike’s Oregon Project, the overall support for U.S. distance running is multi-dimensional, though still modest compared to the Japanese corporate model which pours millions into their professional camps. We also have RRCA’s Roads Scholars program which contributes grants to individual runners rather than training camps. But with each new U.S. effort, the overall support gains added weight.
Joining these programs is a nascent race directors-led movement that aims to support U.S. distance training camps through a $1.00 per entry pledge, hoping to tap the largest base of potential support available, America’s 10 million road racers. Long time running reporter and now event manager, Steve Nearman of Alexandria, Virginia began this movement in early March. Today, he is continuing his outreach to fellow race directors, knowing that such a grass roots movement can easily stall out. Here, then, his sales pitch:
“There is a huge cultural divide. Kenyan athletes don’t work in Kenya while they train, but Americans on Team USA Arizona will work max 20 hours per week, and then are subsidized by the training grants. Pacers hires athletes, in the past from George Buckheit’s group and many from their own current group, to stand on their feet for 8 hour days selling shoes to 8-hr marathoners. Thus these “regional” elites are not moving on to the national/world scene.
“This is why we need to raise money from within the sport and grant successful training programs funding where we have a good shot at developing Olympians. And the successful ones will stand to win grants in the next years if they continue to show improvement in their athletes toward Olympic and World champ success.
“I see RRCA’s Roads Scholars like an individual stock versus a mutual fund when you fund a training group. I like the group concept better for many reasons, including that groups typically go on year to year to year and individual runners, some, do not. A career-ending injury blows the investments like a bankruptcy of a company. I like Roads Scholars, but I don’t think it’s enough to take somebody to the next level with continuity year after year. I think it’s a one-shot $4,000 grant.
“We need to keep this simple and out of bureaucracy. I am thinking that each interested camp goes to our website and pulls down the short RFP. On the site will be a list of all races and race directors in our pledge program (good publicity for us!). Then the camp submits one copy of the RFP, and I pass along to all race directors for review. The race director chooses one or more of the training programs he/she favors.
“Some people think we should give all proceeds to USATF Foundation which seems to be doing a good job distributing. See tonireavis.com interview with Jack Wickens on the programs they are funding. Giving race directors the choice may help fund camps/programs in their own region which would be a good sell to their race entrants when we go to them for more money (Keep it Local theme). Then the training camps should be committed to sending talent to our races to showcase our investment.
“The key is in the momentum. A race director a week is my mantra. 52 weeks, 52 RDs, and more than that in races as some RDs do multiple events. A pledge from one or more of the majors, like Boston, and we’re GOLDEN. I have to get the website up and running soon so other race directors will see their peers’ names/races and wonder why they are not on that growing list.
“I just looked out the window on this typically dreary April Cape morning and imagined an American coming into the Olympic stadium and onto the track, in the lead, heading for gold – another Frank Shorter moment more than 40 years later before an entirely new generation of runners. It would be huge for the USA knowing WE all helped get him/her to the top of the podium, even those 8-hour marathoners.
“Can I count you and your races in?”
Steve Nearman, Event Director
Endurance Enterprises LLC
Founder, Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon