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Saturday, March 28, 2009

New Blogs and More Thoughts on the Project 30 report

Two more: 400 Flat Out, which concentrates on the 400, and Notes on a Running Life. The latter, written by Douglas Hegley, has examined the recent Project 30 task force report from the perspective of a road racer.

Hegley looks at a number of issues, but the first and most important (at least from USATF's perspective) is getting some portion of the millions of amateur distance runners to join USATF. Hegley suggests various ways to entice us who pound the pavement, but I think Logan & co. need to look at it from a different perspective.

To better answer the question "Why should I, a road racer, join USATF?", we need to answer the question "Why should I join RRCA?" I'd bet the majority of the RRCA's 180,000+ members don't even realize they're in the organization. People join a local road runners club, and in turn they become RRCA members. Triathletes join USA Triathlon in the same way.

The reasons people join their local clubs are many and various and depend on the club. My motivations are simple: there are a small number of dirt-cheap members-only races; a winter 25k, a fall 15-mile trail race, some 5ks and 10ks, all of which cost less than $5. Others like the social aspect, while some clubs offer group training and coaching, and so on. But the point is that the national membership comes through local clubs.

So if USATF wants to get some of the road running action, it needs to make it worthwhile for road runners clubs to join USATF. As it is, the costs are fairly low for a club to become USATF-affiliated (about $30 last I checked). But the club members still have to pony up their own USATF membership dues, and that's the sticking point. If USATF offered group rates run through clubs, then we might see some significant movement.

But besides reducing the financial pain, USATF needs to create incentive for clubs and their members to join. Imagine your club's board meeting: you bring up the topic of affiliating the club with USATF, and the board replies with "Why? What will it do for us?" As it is, there isn't any point unless you wish to compete at a national club championships, which 99% of road runners are far too slow for. Clubs are affiliated with RRCA for a number of reasons, mostly financial (i.e. insurance) and organizational. So USATF has to come up with something that RRCA doesn't do.

Road running is based around two ideas: mass participation and mass competition. USATF is not, except at the age-group level. But road running is generally for adults. If USATF could come up with some sort of competition between clubs at the association level that not only rewarded racing fast but mass participation as well, then there would be significant reason for many clubs to get on the USATF bandwagon. It would be a lot of work to fall on a volunteer's shoulders. But in this day and age the calculations might not be as difficult as you think.

Imagine the biggest/best/most interesting road races in your association's area are formed into a series in which clubs earn points for winning awards (overall and age-group), number of athletes participating, and distance traveled to compete. At the end of the season, the team with the most points is the association champion. The idea is that ordinary runners would be rewarded for traveling to races with their friends, and while running well is good you'll still help your team by just finishing. This is the kind of mixture of competition, participation and socialization that people run for in the first place.

1 comment:

Douglas said...

Good points. I like your blog, just stumbled across it. Thanks for linking to my posting, I have stated that a lot of us have good ideas, the problem is getting an audience. Your blog is now listed on my blog page as one to follow.
- Douglas