Running and racing is big business. I’d venture to say it’s the most popular sport in the world. In what other sport can 50,000 people participate on one day in one venue simultaneously? You get me. That “other” sport doesn’t exist. So the innovators at runDisney decided to host its first-ever State of the Sport forum and Race Director Series. Nearly 100 of the most highly respected names in the global running sector – major race directors, media executives, industry influencers and former Olympic runners attended perhaps the most significant gathering of running industry leaders ever assembled. I assure you. It was an impressive crowd.

Disney VP Maribeth Bisienere, Photo Credit: Disney

Disney Senior VP Maribeth Bisienere, Photo Credit: Disney

The event, was staged at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, and was anchored by a panel discussion featuring race directors and executives from the world’s top running events – Peter Ciaccia (TCS New York City Marathon), Tom Grilk (B.A. A. Boston Marathon), Tad Hayano (Tokyo Marathon), Hugh Brasher (Virgin Money London Marathon), Carey Pinkowski (Bank of America Chicago Marathon) and Juergen Lock (BMW Berlin Marathon). The panel, moderated by Runner’s World editor-in-chief David Willey, tackled several key industry topics, such as the evolving demographics of runners, the impact of the upcoming Olympics, increasing runner participation and other best practices. They also chatted about security, the increase in female participation and of special importance to me …  increasing opportunities for children to participate. The kids in my world-wide Morning Mile program need more and more places to run in a fun, safe environment!

Big Sur Marathon's Doug Thurston

Big Sur Marathon’s Doug Thurston, Photo: Fitzness.com

Besides learning from each other, runDisney and Disney Sports provided several tours and learning opportunities to share their best practices as well. I spoke with and ran side by side with many of these RD’s as they  participated in some of the races. Big Sur Marathon’s, Doug Thurston, was intrigued by the tremendous amount of employees/volunteers involved in the set up of entertainment along the courses and water stations. (Of note: he proudly took home third place in the super fun Race Director Challenge for the half marathon. Nice duck, Doug!) Nancy Smith from the “Hoodie Hoo” and other fun races in Michigan was inspired by the magical feelings runDisney is able to generate for each runner. She gushed about how happy the entire experience was and hopes to bring that same joy to her local runners as well.

This meeting of the minds can only be good for us, the participants. Instead of hoarding all of the good stuff, these industry leaders decided to share it. And that means, from registration, race gear, start, medals, water stations, entertainment and to the finish line … each step moving forward should be better than the last!

What are your major concerns, wishes or favorite components of participating in races? 5K – Ultra marathons — it ALL counts!

WDW Race Director Challenge Participants, Photo: Fitzness.com

WDW Race Director Challenge Participants, Photo: Fitzness.com