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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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Visionary Women Leading Mid-Major Marathons Are Urban Boosters

They aren't based in the largest, glamour-oriented American cities.  They don't have the battalion of skilled personnel.  They don't operate with the muscle of well-funded budgets.  Their races don't feature world-class athletes at the front of globally-assembled fields.  They don't offer handsome prize money for their top performers.  But Nancy Lieberman, Patrice Matamoros, and Iris Simpson-Bush – who are the corporate leaders, respectively, of the GO! St. Louis Marathon, the Pittsburgh Marathon, and The Flying Pig Marathon – are bringing an innovative, evolutionary approach to their race weekends which is changing the face of the sport while, at the same time, is lifting the economic fortunes, the well-being, the spirit, and the self-esteem of the cities they serve.

 

Nancy Lieberman / President & Founder, GO! St. Louis Marathon / Coming Together

 

 

In 1997, Nancy Lieberman – at the age of 47 – ran her first marathon.  After running two more – one of which was the Boston Marathon – Lieberman returned to her native St. Louis and asked herself – and others – this question:  “Why don't we have something like this?”  “I was really excited by what I saw,” she reveals.  I was excited about the engagement of the city – the runners, the spectators, and sponsors all merging together in celebration of so many different things.”

Lieberman decided to do something about it.  "I left my job in health care – which I had for 20 years – looking for an opportunity to do a similar type engagement of people all coming together to celebrate the best of this city, a cause, a runners' fitness, or something,”  she explains.  “I realized I had this passion for running and I wanted to put together a marathon – but more than a marathon.  It was going to be more of an event for people – an event that would kind of have a different bent.”

Toiling to fill the void created when a smaller, local St. Louis marathon began to droop, Lieberman got right to work.  The task wasn’t easy and posed some risks.  “First of all, I didn’t take a salary that first year.  There were four of us who pledged money out of our own bank accounts if I didn’t raise enough money to put the race on,” explains Lieberman as she recalls those stress-filled early days.  “I was fortunate enough to secure enough money to put the events on.  We employed the St. Louis Track Club and got volunteers.”  The inaugural year was like an advanced class in on-the-job training.  “I really didn’t know anything about putting on a race,” she admits.  “Except I had run three marathons, so at that time I certainly thought I knew everything,” she adds with a laugh.  But she found help along the way.  “I went to a road race management seminar and I realized that I didn’t know very much.  I listened to [Boston Marathon Race Director] Dave McGillivary.  He came out to help me.  He helped me line up a course. And he became my mentor.”

Now a seasoned veteran with 15 years of leadership experience, the 65 year old Lieberman has cultivated a crisply tailored vison that guides her.  “Our vision is to get people of all ages, abilities, and lifestyles to engage in some kind of fitness event,” states the President and Founder of GO! St. Louis which hosted the 2004 United States Olympic Trials for the Women’s Marathon. “We are not about who is the fastest and who is number one.   It is about being inclusive in terms generations now and in terms of demographics.”

The GO! St. Louis Marathon – the running of which “always dances around Easter during the first part of April” – has now evolved into a multi-event race weekend which offers a variety of event selections to capture all demographics.  Saturday’s offerings – the read/write/run event for school age children; the middle school milers; the “mature mile” for seniors, and a 5K race – attract over 13,000 entrants.  And Sunday’s traditional marathon, half marathon, and marathon relay draw yet another 13,000 athletes.

While the Go! St. Louis Marathon is the centerpiece event, Lieberman and her charges have assembled a year-round race series that includes four additional events:  a multi-distanced Halloween event; the Cardinals Care 6K in memory of Stan “The Man” Musial; an All-American 5K on Father’s Day – complete with post-race apple pie and ice cream; and the GO! Missouri KT 82 – a Hood To Coast-like 82 mile long distance relay race from St. Louis to Missouri’s wine country.   

With the national racing calendar offering an abundance of marathoning and road racing options every weekend of the year, successful races have to offer a distinctive alternative, providing special and varied experiences not readily available at other locations.   “One of our distinctions is our events are for the entire family.  Many families will come to St. Louis where someone will run on Sunday and the family will run on Saturday.  So there are opportunities.  St. Louis is a wonderful small town – although we think we are a big town,” offers Lieberman as she explains how St. Louis residents view their city of approximately 320,000 in a county with a population of just over 1 million.  “And notwithstanding our size, there are so many cultural attractions:  the Cardinals, the botanical garden, the science center, the zoo. And many of these are free or charge only minimal admission,” she explains.  “We are a friendly town.  It is easy to get around.  Our course is a great tour of the city.  We serve local, indigenous food – toasted ravioli from a local restaurant; Ted Drewes ice cream; Crown candy; Michelob Ultra.  Our racers run by Busch Stadium; they see the Arch; they go by Anheuser Busch; they see St. Louis University; they go into Forest Park.  So our marathon is a pretty great tour of our city.  So we try to make it all about St. Louis.”

Building on years of success and pressing to add new events and expand the race series’ reputation for inclusiveness, Lieberman is hesitant to offer a precise vision of what the race series will look like in 5 years.  “I am not exactly sure,” she confesses.  “But I will say that we will be reaching out regionally to replicate some of the things that we do here in St. Louis.”  And with candor, she adds, “We want to be relevant.  We’re not going to put on an event just to put on an event,” Lieberman declares.  “It’s got to fulfill our mission to help more people get healthy and well.  It’s got to make sense to us.”  In the wake of the race series ever-growing success, it is pretty clear that the various running events of Go! St. Louis do make sense – not only to its race organizers, but also to its growing legion of participating runners.

 

Patrice Matamoros / CEO, Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon, Inc.

The Yellow Brick Road To Rejuvenation

In 2003 and plagued by the city’s economic woes and the departure of its key title sponsor, the Pittsburgh Marathon – which had hosted the United States Olympic Trials for the Men’s Marathon just three years earlier – shut down operations, bringing the curtain down on its 18 year old spring marathon race.  But after a 5 year absence, the race re-appeared.  “In 2008, we had a press conference to announce that the marathon was going to come back for a 2009 running,” explains Patrice Matamoros.  “I came on board in 2008 to plan the May 2009 marathon.” 

Matamoros – who has now served as the CEO of Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon, Inc. for nearly 7 years – will readily admit that neither she nor others leading this effort of race rejuvenation fully appreciated the magnitude of the task that lie ahead.  “It was truly a startup effort organizationally.  When I was asked to take on the marathon, my colleague Dee Staphis and I had a mutual friend who said to us, ‘Hey, Dee, this is going to be a blast.  Why don’t you and Patrice work on this together?’  So we did.”  The duo soon found out that the resuscitation of the race was more difficult than they had been led to believe.  “The two of us basically worked the first five months for no pay until we could solidify sponsorships,” Matamoros soberly discloses. 

Hard work led to some relief when sponsorship contracts with key corporate supporters – headed by Dick’s Sporting Goods – were finalized.  “Then I was able to reimburse myself for the event expenses that I put on my personal credit card and I was able to pay something small to myself and to Dee so we could continue on.”  Slowly, the effort gained traction and – Phoenix-like – the Pittsburgh Marathon began to rise from the ashes of its 2003 flame-out.  “I was employed and Dee was working as an independent contractor.  But we had kind of collected people along the way that had something unique to offer,” explains Matamoros.  And laughing upon reflection, she adds, “It was kind of like the Wizard of Oz.  We found people who had laid out the course before and others who had handled operations before, and they all came on board and began helping us as independent contractors.  Another friend helped with P.R.&rdqu

With Matamoros in the lead, an unlikely confederation of passionate independent contractors and volunteers skipped down the yellow brick road to race day.  “The right people came to us at the right time.”  And with a smile and a laugh, the CEO adds, “I always say the Red Sea parted for us on that first race day because it was an absolute miracle that we were able to pull it off that first year with the things that we didn’t know.  Shaking her head, she adds, “You don’t know what you don’t know until you do it.  We showed up on race morning and it was pretty wild.”  How did the rejuvenated race’s first race day turn out?  “At the end of the day, we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re probably gonna be run out of town.’  We went back and looked online at the reviews of the marathon and they were fantastic.  We were like, ‘Holy cow!’”

Refining its execution in subsequent years, the Pittsburgh Marathon now delivers a polished race program to its runners.  While race weekend now features a 5K on the day before, the first Sunday of May is a cavalcade of running and fitness opportunities which include its centerpiece trio of the full marathon, the half marathon, and a 5-person marathon relay.  But Sunday events now also include a pet walk and a gargantuan kid’s race of over 12,000.  All in, Pittsburgh’s two-day celebration of running boasted approximately 40,000 participants in 2014.

Matamoros delivers Pittsburgh’s springtime running celebration to an army of running warriors with a lean full time staff of less than a dozen dedicated workers.  Married with three teenagers, Pittsburgh’s CEO admits the obvious:  “I’m a multi-tasker,” she proudly confides.  Does life for her and her management team resemble a state of perpetual sleep deprivation?  “Yeah, pretty much,” she laughs.

Pittsburgh’s CEO knows the positive impact of the marathon does more than just enhance the experience of the runners on race day.  And she has the cold, hard data to back it up.  “3 years ago when the race encompassed only 30,000 participants, the direct economic impact of our race weekend on the greater Pittsburgh area was $8 million,” notes Matamoros who has indicated that the economic impact study will soon be updated.  “Now with 40,000 participants, the direct economic impact of the race weekend should easily exceed $10 million.”

Patrice Matamoros sees many ways by which the Pittsburgh Marathon differentiates itself from the crowded field of road racing options.  “We know you can go almost anywhere to get a shirt and a medal,” she admits.  “But we are a race with a soul.  What is different with us is we get that this is a lifestyle for our people who are running.  It’s all about the runner.  It’s all about what we can do to help make this a most memorable experience in their life.”  And Matamoros notes the manner by which technology enhances and adds value to the experience.  “We capture what they need and what they want.  And we provide customer service.  We do a personal media center which is a virtual customer service center for any questions on race weekend.  We provide 130 band acts this year on the course together with ‘cheerathoners’ in addition to 13 neighborhood festivals.  We have commissioned a local artist who has created our official poster which blends sport and art.  We also will be working with the local hospitals, the Andy Warhol Museum and the Paralyzed Veterans of America to add other important aspects to our race weekend.”

Pittsburgh’s 47 year old leader doesn’t hesitate when asked about how the race will look in 5 years.  “We think about merging the arts, the culture, music, and technology.  I think Pittsburgh really has a backdrop for all of that.  And that’s what we are seeing the synergy is,” Matamoros is quick to point out.  “We have unbelievable art museums here.  We have unbelievable educational programs here with technology.  We have the charitable component of Pittsburgh,” she notes.  “We’ve become the fabric of Pittsburgh and our region within the last six years.  We are just going to strengthen those ties.”  And the CEO sees an often-overlooked inspiration for runners to patronize Pittsburgh.  “When you register with the Pittsburgh Marathon you can say, ‘I gave back’ because about $1 million of our race registrations go back to the community through a variety of programs.”

 

Iris Simpson-Bush / Executive Director, The Flying Pig Marathon / Celebrating Community

 

The memories are fond for Iris Simpson-Bush as she reflects upon the sequence of events that ultimately led her to the leadership role for a fledgling marathon in Cincinnati, Ohio.  “I heard someone was trying to bring a marathon to Cincinnati.  I was excited personally since I had run a few marathons and I thought it would be great to have a hometown marathon.  I thought it would great for our city.”  After 30 years in broadcast sales, Simpson-Bush left her position with a local television station to join a group of local leaders who were pursuing a shared vision of founding a marathon for the Queen City.  Simpson-Bush never looked back.  “When you find yourself glancing back at the good old days and the way things used to be,” she reflects wistfully.   “It is probably time to go and create some new good old days.”

As an original board member of Cincinnati Marathon, Inc., Simpson-Bush was part of the early brain trust that undertook detailed planning for the inaugural race in 1999. Early on, the board made a decision that proved to be instrumental to the embryonic race’s theme, brand, and ultimately its impressive success.  “We all felt that that name [The Cincinnati Marathon] was not going to cut it as the way to attract others,” she reveals.  “We did think it was a bit of risk to name ourselves ‘The Flying Pig’” states Simpson-Bush in noting that Cincinnati – a leading meat processing center in the 1800’s – was once actually known as “Porkopolis.”  “As you well know, running a marathon is a very serious undertaking.  You invest hundreds of hours and miles.  And if we were going to be a truly successful marathon, we had to attract people from other cities.  Cincinnati is not necessarily a destination city.  We think it is a great city.  And many people tell us, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a wonderful town.’  We are rather small, very navigable.  We have Major League Baseball, an NFL team, a world renowned symphony, very vibrant arts.  So it is a city that has a lot to offer.”  And with a serious delivery, Simpson-Bush lays out the challenge the naming decision presented.  “Are we going to be able to attract others by calling ourselves ‘The Flying Pig”?  Will they trust us to take the race seriously since we do everything else with tongue in cheek?  And with a relaxed smile, Simpson-Bush concludes, “It was a risk.  But in hindsight, I would call it a stroke of genius.”

The rest is history.  The funky, festive name was an immediate success.  Everybody got it.  “Suddenly,” understates the Pig leader, “we had a name that was very brandable.”  Before long, Fast Company named “The Flying Pig” as one of the top ten best brand names in the country.  Runners World called The Flying Pig “one of the most fun marathons.”  Simpson-Bush understands now what a transformational moment the naming process turned out to be.  “When we came on the scene, we were one of the first ‘thematic” marathons.  Hundreds of races have now taken the act of running and added these fun elements.  We were fortunate to come on the scene at the beginning of that phenomena.  And now it is integral part of running.  It is a very important reason running has grown – not only in our market, but across the nation.”

Iris Simpson-Bush – who in 2002 eventually ascended to the top position as The Flying Pig’s Executive Director – has taken the energy from that early naming decision and, well, she has run with it.  On the eve of its 17th running, the Flying Pig has now evolved into a weekend festival for the city once known as Porkopolis.  The flagship weekend – always the first weekend in May – has evolved over the years and now offers many events.  Friday evening kicks off with a one mile run.  Saturday features a 5K, a 10K; a diaper dash for wee ones; a 2 mile dog run known – of course – as “The Flying Fur” and an incremental youth program that features a toddler division known as – wait for it – “the Piglets.”

Not unlike many road racing organizations, The Flying Pig has spread its porcine wings and now offers a year-round array of racing opportunities.  Drawing upon Cincinnati’s heritage as a regional brewing center, The Flying Pig has embraced a beer-themed race series to complement its inaugural marathon weekend:  There’s an Octoberfest race in the fall; a Bockfest event in March; and one of the local breweries is the name sponsor for the Little Kings Mile during The Flying Pig race weekend.  Runners competing in all three Beer Series events become ordained Brew Hogs, receive a commemorative mug, and race medals – all of which double as functional bottle openers.

While fun bordering silliness prevails, Simpson-Bush has taken care to ensure that the whimsical tinge to The Flying Pig Marathon and its emerging race series does not allow deviation from the race’s carefully-crafted 3-prong mission statement. “First of all, the mission from the very beginning was to put on a premier event for athletes of all abilities.  I think with all of the distances and all of the divisions we have, we feel very good that we can say we now do indeed have something for athletes of all abilities and people who just aspire to be an athlete.”

“Secondly, we’re not for profit and we raise money for charities.  I get to work with a couple of hundred charities.  They are all worthwhile causes armed with dedicated people working hard for whatever their cause may be.  That is pretty inspiring as well.”   And with a sense of pride, the Executive Director adds, “We now raise well over $1 million a year for those charities.  So that can be pretty gratifying.”

“And the third part of our mission is celebrating community,” she explains.  “I now think the Pig has become a real icon in our community.  It is the support of our city leaders, our police, fire fighters, first responders – just the community at large – that gives the Pig some of its uniqueness and why I think so many people return.  We get participants from all 50 states and 18 foreign countries.  They return every year and the city benefits greatly from that.”  Drawing attention to the periodic economic impact analysis performed for the race by Xavier University, Simpson-Bush notes, “Our economic impact is conservatively estimated at over $12 million a year.”

The Flying Pig’s leader can quickly cite what makes her signature event and its emerging race series so distinctive.  “I think what makes our race unique is the fun aspect combined with the well-organized execution of the event,” offers Simpson-Bush without hesitation.  “We are told all the time we are one of the best organized and well run events that our participants have ever attended.  We work very, very hard to make sure all of our participants’ needs are met.  The community support – the parties, the residents along the course – and the large charity component also play large roles.”  And with a knowing smile, she adds, “If you can manage the fun aspect, but never at the expense of a well-executed event, people notice it.  It does kind of set you apart.”

The 64 year old Executive Director is upbeat when she looks into the future for what has become a true race series for the Flying Pig Marathon. “I think it [the race series] will continue to grow in large measure because of its accessibility,” predicts the Executive Director. Noting the signature event will celebrate its 20th running in 2018, she adds, “I think the Pig is here to stay.  I think the presentation will be in the same fashion as is it is now.  We don’t feel the need to add much more.  I am optimistic about its growth.  The sport of running is growing here and across the nation.”

Concluding with a final comment on her race, Iris Simpson-Bush notes, “We try to make our participants – regardless of the distance – feel that from the start line to the finish line, they are in good hands and we’re trying to help them achieve their personal goal.”  And after a momentary pause, she smiles and adds, “And we do it with fun.”

***

Lieberman, Matamoros, and Simpson-Bush of course realize that their respective racing weekends will never be on the World Marathon Majors circuit; they do not generate record-setting performances; nor are they glittering, elite, solemn events attracting world-wide attention within the sport of road racing.  However, they continually witness that their regional events do much to advance fitness, engrain healthy nutritional practices, promote self-esteem, celebrate and lift community spirit, and deliver a significant direct economic impact which substantially aids all sectors of the cities they serve.  And they know, in the end, those are the accomplishments that really matter.  

RunBlogRun Some photographs on this site have been reproduced with permission from runblogrun.com.