Tag: Elite Racing

CARLSBAD 5000 ENTERS NEW ERA

When Competitor Group Inc. was sold to Ironman in June 2017, then exited San Diego to consolidate with Ironman at its headquarters in Tampa, Florida, you knew the Carlsbad 5000 might be in trouble.

Though it was the event that put Elite Racing, Inc. on the international running map in 1986 and led to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series 12 years later, there was no surprise when Carlsbad’s prize purse was slashed in 2018 and only six men ran sub-15:00 on the world’s fastest 5K road course, a layout that has produced 16 world and nine American records.  It had become evident that if no one was there to pick it up, the event would have been abandoned.  And that would have been a tragedy, both for the San Diego area and the sport worldwide.

Instead, the Carlsbad 5000, the iconic Party-by-the-Sea, world record race that gave birth to the modern road 5K, enters its 34th year with a fresh step and new owners, anxious to reclaim its place among the world’s best road races.

The woman who stepped up to save Carlsbad is former CGI digital marketing executive Ashley Gibson. She and husband Travis invited local Olympic legend Meb Keflezighi to join them, and together, have had four months to put the event back on solid footing.

“In 2018, when the pre-sale registration was not happening and there were no plans for 2019, we all felt it was coming,” said Ms. Gibson.  “With the change in ownership, it became clear that Carlsbad didn’t fit the brand and that the passion and appreciation for what running meant wasn’t there.”

Conversations to buy the event kicked off, but ownership wasn’t secured until December. So registration for 2019 wasn’t begun until very late last year.

“There’s a lot of learning to do,” admitted Gibson, “but we feel fortunate we are the ones to keep Carlsbad’s legacy alive and thriving.”

 

New Carlsbad owner Ashley Gibson (center) with (l->r) Shalane Flanagan, Amy Cragg, Kara Goucher & Sash Gollish (CAN.)

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ROCK `N’ ROLL MARATHON HISTORY

Suja Rock `n` Roll San Diego
Suja Rock `n` Roll San Diego

San Diego, CA. — Who knew what lay ahead in the wild open spaces of the first Rock `n` Roll Marathon? Some even questioned the concept of rock bands strung along the marathon course in the first place. What does rock `n` roll have to do with San Diego much less with running a marathon?

Well, on June 21, 1998 the world got its answer.  With the snarl of a blistering guitar solo, the tight rhythm of a snare drum and millions of accompanying footfalls, the second wave running boom announced its arrival in a rollick of music, endorphins, and sweat.

Even before its first steps were run, there was the feel of a major marathon about it. Elite Racing founder Tim Murphy had conceived the idea while running the final lonely miles of the Heart of San Diego Marathon one year out along Friar’s Road to Qualcomm Stadium.  Wishing there were some kind of support along the road to help out, Murphy thought, wouldn’t it be great to have music to run to.

It took a long time for his idea to gestate, but the seed had been planted, and after a decade of developing his reputation as an innovator, Murphy saw his grand design come into full blossom in 1998.

No longer a simple feat of speed endurance, the marathon had been transformed into a 26-mile long block party through America’s Finest City.  Though there was a 35-minute start delay at Balboa Park due to some traffic issues out on the course, which led to a water-dousing through the first aid station, the high-spirited music rocking the sidelines caused an immediate sensation.

Afterwards the nearly 20,000 entrants from 30 countries and all 50 states passed the word, ‘You gotta try this one!” And that was before they got to the post-race concert that night featuring Huey Lewis and the News, Pat Benatar, and the Lovin’ Spoonful!

So, too, was year one’s field a group of intrepid explorers, 55% of which were women, the largest such percentage of any marathon to date, and pivot-point in the history of the sport.

Mike Long, the late Elite Racing athlete recruiter with Rock `n` Roll 1999 champs Tarus & Bogacheva
Mike Long, the late Elite Racing athlete recruiter with Rock `n` Roll 1999 champs Tarus & Bogacheva

The course, mostly around Mission Bay, still had a new-car smell. Nobody knew how fast it could be run until young Kenyan, Philip Tarus, busted a 2:10 opener for the men, with Russian women Nadezhda Ilyina and Irina Bogacheva battling just nine seconds apart at the finish for the women in 2:34. That told the athletes of the world, ‘This one is worth having a go,” especially after all the Suzuki prizes and prize money checks were handed out.

No marathon except New York’s five-borough extravaganza in 1976 had ever come on the calendar with such dramatic impact: The largest first-time marathon in history, the most ingenious show along the sidelines ever produced, $15 million raised for charity – the largest amount ever for a single-day sporting event — and to cap it off world-class performances by its champions. Thus was the foundation set for what has become a global phenomenon, the so-called second running boom. (more…)

CONVERSATION WITH NYRR PRESIDENT MARY WITTENBERG

NYRR Pres. & CEO Mary Wittenberg
NYRR Pres. & CEO Mary Wittenberg

(Since 2005 Buffalo-born Mary Wittenberg has been president and CEO of the New York Road Runners, stagers of the ING New York City Marathon and dozens of other both world-class and local events in the five boroughs.  I spoke with Mary this morning about the Competitor Group’s recent decision to eliminate its elite athlete program at its U.S. races.)

WERE YOU SURPRISED BY COMPETITOR GROUP’S (CGI) DECISION?

Initially I was surprised by the immediacy of its impact, rather than say it would begin in the year ahead.  But in group dynamics sometimes you see one person say something that someone else takes as personal, but really it’s not about them at all.  So I think this move may have more to do with CGI than with the sport itself.  What would be a more concerning indicator is if we see World Marathon Majors or major not-for-profit events drop support for pro running.  Those are the real bellwethers of the sport.

But what is clear now, and not surprising, is that Elite Racing had a core passion for the sport in Tim (Murphy), Mike (Long) and Tracy (Sundlun).  But it’s likely that what the first group (Falconhead Capital) bought from Tim was the Rock `n` Roll series, not the whole of Elite Racing.  We’ve been fortunate to have CGI keep some semblance of the sport going for as long as they did.

IS PRIVATE EQUITY COMPATIBLE WITH THE DEVELOPMENT OF SPORT?

Private equity has a piece of Major League Soccer.  They can play a role in building ventures, but ultimately they are hard-eyed business people.  And professional athletes need to have a return on investment (ROI). (more…)

COMPETITOR GROUP PULLS THE PLUG ON ELITE RACING

Less than two months ago former Elite Racing TV producer Rich Jayne made a well received presentation to the Competitor Group Inc. sales staff at their Mira Mesa corporate offices.  There Jayne outlined the costs and opportunities involved in presenting six of the company’s top half-marathons on TV and the internet as a showcase for CGI’s newly designed Half Marathon Grand Prix, a two year, 30-event series for professional and age-group runners culminating in a $240,000 payout to the pros.

Then even as the sales people were out hustling the idea (to a U.S. auto manufacturer as I understood it) three days ago, Poof!, CGI’s entire North American elite athlete program was terminated with extreme prejudice, including the professional Grand Prix and the invited elite field for upcoming 36th Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon September 15th, an important final tune up for the fall major marathon season. (more…)