Nick Arciniaga Wins National Championship Marathon
Nick Arciniaga Wins National Championship Marathon

Money is the issue today.  But first, congratulations go out to Flagstaff-based Nick Arciniaga for his first national championship, an exciting 2:13:12 win over Mammoth Track Club’s Josphat Boit at the USA Marathon Championships in Minnesota today.  Nick’s narrow two-second victory over Kenyan-born Boit was worth $25,000.  Boit took home $15,000 for second, Shadrack Biwott came in third at 2:13:25 ($10,000) and Sergio Reyes was fourth in 2:13:34 ($7000).

I lead with this in part because of Ryan Hall’s final blog from his month-long training session in Iten, Kenya where he went to prepare for the November 3rd ING New York City Marathon. In his NYRR post Ryan Hall wrote:

“My last thought about Kenya and what makes the runners here so special is their incredible self-belief. I have never met a group of runners so confident in their abilities, even if they are unproven. For example, you cannot tell the difference between a 2:04 marathon runner and a 2:20 marathon runner in Kenya; they exude the same confidence and self-belief. It seems that everyone here believes they are just one day, or one race, away from hitting it big, and with confidence like that, perhaps they are. They certainly aren’t afraid to take a risk and put it all out on the line, whether in a race or in training. Nothing great ever happens without taking a risk.” (Bold and underline added)

Ryan Hall has it exactly right. But what goes unspoken is how the imbalance in the financial rewards of running allow every Kenyan kid to take any and all risks to achieve his or her dreams, while those same rewards in the U.S. economy hampers every American without a major shoe company contract from doing the same. 


According to International Monetary Fund the average world income is $10,900 per year.  But in Kenya the average is just $1700, placing it 154th out of 183 world countries.  The USA has a per capita income of $42,693, tenth best in the world, according to the Office of Financial Management.

Kenyan group trainingWhen $1700 is the average annual wage, even a modest payday at a prize money race ran change one’s quality of life significantly.  Accordingly, every kid and his brother in the running rich areas of Kenya is out pounding the dirt ready to throw all caution and sweat to the wind.

But when even the highest payoff at a national championship marathon can only change an American’s fortunes from, say, living with three roommates to renting an apartment alone for a year, the risks are not nearly as easy to take.  And that’s for the winner.  What of someone like Boulder, Colorado’s Tyler McCandless?

McCandless prepared months for the national championship in the Twin Cities, and will now take a month off to recover after running 2:16:46 and finishing in 12th position. For those months of preparation and that small PR Tyler McCandless received exactly NOTHING.  That may well be the vagaries of the profession he has chosen, but is it really a profession at all when someone can work that long, finish in the top dozen in a national championship event, and come away with nothing?  Here is what he wrote to me following his race.

“I ended up leading about 12 of the first 20 miles and being the aggressor of the race. It was my strategy going in and I executed mostly well.  However I made a mistake of going  with a big surge by Biwott at mile 16 and split 4:49. Too fast and then he slowed it way down, and I tried to get the pace back up but by that time Sergio (Reyes) and Nick had caught back up. 

Tyler McCandless wins Kaui Marathon 2013
Tyler McCandless wins Kauai Marathon 2013

“You’re completely right about the financial situation in Kenya versus here. Today I ran 2:16 high and made $0. The two other times I’ve run 2:17 and the time I ran 2:19 I’ve made a combined $1750 before even paying my agent and the cost of travel. In order to make money I went to the Kauai Marathon this year and I was lucky I was he only one to break the course record and came home with $15,000.

“I had no salary in my shoe contract, but I do have bonuses and I’m very thankful for Newton (Shoes). The fact is that unless you’re one of a handful of guys you can’t make a livable salary off the sport. The reason I’m running way better this year is that I’m in a Phd program and make $25,000 a year and can afford health insurance through Penn State graduate school. Now that my living expenses are covered, any money I make off of road racing I invest/save.

“I love having the academic balance, and hope I inspire people that you can train and compete at a high level even with a demanding academic job.  I now take more risks in races because I want to be a contender for the Olympic team and I know I need to learn how to race at the front. I could have run a conservative race today and likely finished 5th and made $5k, but that’s not going to help my long term development. Same thing with Bolder Boulder this year…I took a risk and went out with (Aaron) Braun and (Brent) Vaughn and a handful of other sub 28 minute 10k runners. I struggled a bit and finished about 10 seconds from making about $7,000.  Instead I walked home with nothing. However, two of the races I’m most proud of are the Bolder Boulder and today because I took a risk and I’m learning to push my limits…isn’t that what the pure beauty of this sport is?”

The beauty, for sure, but as a purely practical matter the fragmentation of events and prize purses (even at a national championship that is part of a so-called USA Running Circuit) means that what we are really dealing with is a series of local events that are a circuit in name only.  While Janet Bawcom won the USA Women’s 10 Miler Championship, she only finished fourth in the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in which in was contested.  Kenya’s Caroline Rotich won that race and the $8000 first place prize.  Belaynesh Oljira of Ethiopia placed 2nd and took away $4500, while Risper Gesabwas of Kenya showed 3rd for $2000.  Janet earned $1500 for 4th plus the $5000 bonus as the U.S. champion.  So, too, did Matt Tegenkamp win the U.S. Men’s 10k Road Championship, but did so finishing 6th in the Peachtree Road Race.

While USATF has stepped up with a wholly-owned national championship 12K in November, the USA Running Circuit continues to be a group of locally managed independent events with no over-arching Tour sponsorship, commissioner or staff.  And though the USARC declares there to be $623,700 prize money at stake, only $417,100 is designated as U.S. -only, with a final $12,500 grand prix purse ($6000, $4000, and $2500) going to the top three men and women point scorers overall.  The rest of the money is simply what the independent events already offer whether they were part of the USARC or not.

“There isn’t enough money to lure the very best American athletes,” Coach Bob Larsen told me last year.  And not enough to make it a media worthy event outside the industry bubble, either.



USATF's Jim Estes
USATF’s Jim Estes

Jim Estes is USATF’s director of events.  He oversees the awarding of USATF championship events and execution of USATF-owned properties. Estes was promoted from his role as USATF associate director of marketing and long distance running programs where he served since 2005. He knows the sport of road running very well, and has the ear and confidence of new USATF CEO Max Siegel who, as I understand it, wants to more fully develop road racing via the federation.

If so, it would mark a major step forward if the events that make up the USA Running Circuit would consider naming Estes Tour Commissioner to head the competition side of their events so the regulation, marketing, sales, and promotion of the series could be brought under a unified leadership.  It would also help if every race mandated similar prize money eligibility rather than some events being open to international fields while others are U.S. only.

We see this model on the PGA Tour where the local organizers handle the crowds, ticketing and logistics, but the PGA Tour manages the competitive elements like how wide the fairways will be, how fast the greens are on the Stimp Meter, how high the rough is cut, where the pin placements go, pairings, and the like.

Until road racing institutes such a real connection and coherence in its presentation, at least for the front-end professional competitions, the sport will forever wander in the weekly county fair wilderness, never growing to a level that would allow and reward American kids to take the same risks as their Kenyan competitors.

1 United States Dollar = 86.14014 Kenyan Shillings

2013 USA Marathon Championship Prize Purse – $145,000 Total 

USA Marathon Championship
Place Men & Women
1st $25,000
2nd $15,000
3rd $10,000
4th $7,000
5th $5,000
6th $4,000
7th $3,000
8th $2,000
9th $1,000
10th $  500



  1. Toni, you and I have hashed and rehashed this problem over more than a few late-night beers, always in agreement, and yet nothing seems to change.
    Part of the problem is that the USATF circuit is made up of a conglomerate of pre-existing events, with disparate prize structures and elite field constructs. It would help if all the USA championship races were American-only events (New Haven 20k is one that is) as it might draw more of the top American runners, knowing they have a chance to “dash for cash” against their peers. It would also provide for better media exposure of said athletes to the running public. Not to be xenophobic, but USA championships should be focused on and limited to American runners; there are plenty of other non-championship events for foreigners to compete and make their small fortunes.

  2. This is the dilemma of most athletes around the world. To make it equal to everybody you either have to raise living standards in third world countries or lower those of the first world. Neither is easily possible. So yes, it will never be equal. It isn´t unfair though. I believe the east africans are simply more talented first of all. Second because of the success stories just right around the corner from a neighbour or even a family member they do have this believe inside of them that they can do it too. Plus these guys train like crazy and the hard training plus talent enables them to win big races and earn lots of money for their countries standard. I have written this on purpose “lots of money for their countries” because if you win New York as an American doesn´t enable you to retire, in Kenya or Ethiopia it would be enough if you manage the money wisely. Now choosing the right sport in Kenya or Ethiopia is easy because besides running there isn´t much these countries offer. In the US and the rest of the world there are many other sports where talents can rise to great heights and earn milliions.Back 30 or 40 years neither in Europe nor in the States the opportunities for kids weren´t there, you know X-Games didn´t exist, neither i-phones, tablets or Internet in general. So in the western countires lots of talents (for running) get lost because it is simply too (training-)intensive plus the rewards aren´t high enough. Besides, everybody knows Le Bron (US Champ with the Miami Heat). Does anybody know that Nick Arcianiaga is the new US Marathon Champ besides Running Insiders???
    I remember having read Nick Torrence comment to John Bingham. He is absolutely correct in his statement that the TV needs to improve the way our sport is represented. Nothing against you as a commentator but yes, the way a Marathon or other track and Field is presented doesn´t differ much from the way it was done when I was a kid 40+ years ago.

    1. Just as the federal government has policies to legally “work” here, I don’t see why USATF couldn’t implement the same sort of regulations with their sanctioned races (~requiring USATF membership and limiting it to US citizens and permanent resident). Just imagine if there was a “free-for-all” with jobs here in America, as currently exists with running/sports– it would drive down wages closer to the minimum and take jobs from Americans. There would be an uproar! As I mentioned above, the Japanese are already regulating who can receive their prize money (limited to JAAF members who are citizens/permanent residents and few invited international elites)– their setup with corporate teams, a level field, and the opportunity for Japanese runners to be up front (whether marathons/Ekidens/etc.) creates greater media and fan interest.

  3. Thank you again Toni for another great post! There’s definitely an inequity due to money. I still think USATF has the power to extend support to Americans beyond just the US Road Circuit. As I commented on another post of yours, the Japanese limit their prize money races to those with JAAF membership (have to be a citizen or permanent residents) and a few invited international elites. Even their Ekidens with Corporate Teams and National TV coverage have limitations when international elites can participate in the race, since it’s all about corporate exposure and creating national pride/heroes. Our top races in the US could still receive the IAAF label to allow for international elites (along with the US Championships limited to US citizens). However, it’s all the other races in the US (mostly sanctioned by USATF) who could be restricted by similar policies as the JAAF. Since I’m on the Women’s LDR committee, I’m hoping we can have open discussions about this.

    1. Camille,

      Speak to your LDR committees coordinator Bill Roe. I believe he would see merit in your proposal.

      1. Thanks! I’ve brought it up our to Women’s LDR Chair Kim, and she was going to talk to Ed. I haven’t heard back yet what they think about it, but we’re doing a conference call soon. If it works in Japan, it could work here.

  4. Do you think Estes should step away from his role within USATF to take on this tour commissioner post, or do you think it should be part of his job at USATF? If the latter, do you think that an independent running circuit is not viable in the US? Other pro sports have little more than a sanction / seal of approval from their NGB, and their successes seem to be because of – not despite – that independence. The best recent example is probably Major League Soccer. In its early days the league received the blessing of US Soccer to be America’s premier soccer league, but US Soccer has no authority over or responsibility for the operations of the league.

    1. George,

      Good questions. I wish a professional running tour could be an independent entity that works in conjunction with the NGB where national championships and Olympic Trials are concerned, which is how golf and tennis work it. But the events in running just can’t seem to come together, or they simply don’t see the need to. It’s a “it aint’ broke, why fix it?” mentality that has taken deep root because their recreational fields fill out in ten minutes each year. But nobody seems to notice or care that the sporting tip of the spear can’t penetrate outside the industry bubble.

      Now with a CEO at USATF who doesn’t carry the baggage of the past, and a road administrator like Estes who comes from the ranks of road running, perhaps the reticence of the events to allow the NGB to coordinate the racing aspect of the events might work. Certainly it would be better if the events got together and hired a Tour Director of their own who then worked hand-in-glove with the NGB, but the events don’t seem ready, anxious, or disposed to do so. From many of their points of view there is nothing wrong with how the system currently works, though without an economy of scale that allows for a national sponsorship we will never see running grow from a sporting standpoint.

  5. Hi Tony

    I may have an opportunity for you and your blog.

    Please get in touch with me to discuss.


  6. Toni, congrats to Annie Bersagel, who won the USATF 1/2 marathon champs in 1996 here in KC MO at Hospital Hill. She won by 9 seconds then to Jenny Crain. Would be wonderful to hear how Jenny is fairing these days.

  7. It’s also a shame that we rarely get our very best athletes competing at the various USA road championship distances. Not to take anything away from the men and women who train hard and are very good athletes, but in most cases, they’re 2nd tier.

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