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.
YOU DO THE MATH
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.
When $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.
“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.
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|
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