RRCA ConventionA few weeks ago was the annual convention for the Road Runners Club of America. Each year, a few hundred runners, race directors and general running enthusiasts get together for a combination of running, inspiration and education centered around our sport. This was my fourth trip to the convention since becoming state representative for Maine in 2011 and a certified coach in 2008.

So far, Spokane has been my favorite destination. The Bloomsday Road Runners put on a great event, there were ample running opportunities right outside the host hotel, and Spokane is home to a strong craft brewing culture that I definitely appreciated while I was there. (Hey, I live in Maine, I’m used to being spoiled!)

My trip this year began on Wednesday, April 30th, as I took 3 flights to travel from the East Coast to the West Coast. It was a relatively uneventful trip; there was only one delay, but I was able to sprint through my final connection’s airport to reach board my last plane right before they closed the doors. Arriving in mid-afternoon, I had plenty of time to wander around downtown Spokane with Maine Track Club President Chandra Leister, who arrived on the same flight as I did.

We visited a few breweries, caught up with a few folks from around the country who were also there as early as we were, and then I turned in early for the night.

On Thursday morning, I was up early and hanging around in the lobby of the hotel looking to see who might be up for a run. I connected with some folks from San Antonio and got nice and lost running along the river and exploring the neighborhoods. My main goal, apart from running, was to find a local grocery store so I could purchase some fruit to snack on during the next few days. After the run, I attended a breakfast and presentation on racing trends put on by Active.com.

It was actually a great presentation; they culled data from the bi-annual Running USA surveys and combined it with their database of 29,000 events to see what sort of trends are happening in the running world and how we as race directors can best market to our potential runners. Long story: more women are running than ever before, and even in distances such as the marathon where there are more men running it pays to pay special attention on the women who are more likely to not only see our advertising but to bring friends and family along with them to the races.

At noon, the RRCA hosts a luncheon for the State Representatives and we spent the next 3 and a half hours discussing our roles in the organization and how best to serve the people in our state. This is usually one of my favorite sessions as it lets me know what the priorities from the national office are and what we’ve accomplished as an organization over the past year.

Follow the state reps training, I hosted one of the breakout sessions for early arrivals. There were tables on topics such as diversity in running, encouraging volunteerism, technology and social media, and (at my table) how to handle bandits in your races. I’ll have more to say about banditing based on my notes from the session, which never fails to gather a strong response!

At the welcome reception that evening, I heard a rumor that Bernard Lagat had arrived, and right after I turned around to find him standing right behind me! I got to be one of the first people to pester him for a photograph, and even got to photobomb a friend’s photograph when she lined everybody up right next to me. Bernard is a class act, and has a great sense of humor! It was great for him to spend a few hours hanging around with everybody after arriving a little early for his talk the next day.

The rest of the evening was spent making new friends amongst first timers to the convention and catching up with old friends that I generally only get to see once per year in person.

On Friday, we began the day with a group run through the downtown area and then back along the river, right by the falls. Apparently, the actual height that the water descends trumps Niagara Falls, but because it’s tiered and not straight down it doesn’t seem quite as high. Fun to run by, either way! For those that did not want to go for a run, there were also yoga classes back at the hotel.

The Friday morning breakfast included a Pow-Wow from a pair of local tribes, and then as always a presentation from Trent and Terry Diller from K&K and Star Insurance. Insurance may sound like a relatively dull topic but it’s usually a pretty interesting presentation where we learn about the changes to the RRCA’s race insurance program over the past year as well as what some of the larger claims that have been paid out or settled have been. My favorite nuggets from the presentation were that the coaching insurance will cost less this year but offer more insurance, and the (not so) fun fact that on average, there are 5 heart attack related deaths at RRCA insured events each year.

The regional meetings followed next, where all of the attendees from the different parts of the country were able to meet each other. In the Eastern region, which covers Virginia through Maine, our discussion was led by Mark Grandonico, the Eastern Region director.

Lunch with Bernard Lagat followed, where he told us about all of his trips to the Olympics and had trouble keeping them straight as he kept adding new stories onto his history. He followed that up with a question and answer session where we got to learn a bit about his longevity and how he trains, and how important his family is in his success (especially now that his kids are old enough to appreciate what he does.)

The first group of educational breakout sessions coincided with the opening of the silent auction. I attended a session on event safety and security, which was interesting from a top-down perspective but given the relatively small size of the events I put on was not quite as relevant. Some of the hurdles that large events face, such as that weekend’s Bloomsday 12k, are ones that I hope never become issues up here in Maine.

At the Annual Meeting of the Membership, the RRCA inducted members of the board of directors and satisfied their non-profit requirements for another year, and then it was time for the trip to Arbor Crest Winery and dinner. If you ever get a chance to visit, it’s an absolutely beautiful view of the valley, and if you have anybody other than the bus driver I had take you up there it’s only about 15 minutes away. (It’s closer to 45 minutes when your bus driver gets you lost…)

On a more amusing note, I spent some time chatting with a friend I’ve made at RunSignUp.com over the past few years, and after getting home emailed him some details about a race from Maine to Canada and back that he was interested in running this Summer. Unfortunately, it turns out that I was speaking with somebody else from RunSignUp, and not who I thought it was! I didn’t feel too bad about it, however, as apparently even his own wife mixed the two of them up before, and I only tend to see them once per year.

After returning from the winery, I spent some time at a local brewery, where more than a few humorous stories were born but which you’ll have to ask me about the next time you see me in person if you want to hear about them. (For a change, none of them involve me embarrassing myself…)

On Saturday, I joined a few friends early for a run, and we followed the Centennial Trail through the Gonzaga campus and along some side paths, eventually running upriver until we’d left Spokane and then turning around to head back. Luckily, they were still serving breakfast at a local cafe for convention attendees as we were a bit late getting back. Throughout the day were a variety of educational breakout sessions, of which I attended a session on coaching ultramarathon runners, developing youth running programs, and a little time in the social engagement session.

I especially enjoyed the session on coaching ultramarathoners, led by Ryan Knapp of Miles to Go Endurance. I actually met Ryan during a 6 hour race last March, where after chatting with somebody who had been running behind me for the previous 20 minutes turned out to be somebody that was going to be speaking at convention. He did an excellent job of involving the people in the audience and tailoring the discussion to their strengths and weaknesses. One of his overriding points was that canned plans don’t work as well the longer your race, as every runner is so different one to the next. Examples abounded in the audience, from older gentlemen that needed more recovery time in their training and younger ladies who were doing cross fit on their day’s off with no ill effects.

Don Kardong joined us for lunch, and told us some funny stories about his Olympic experiences and how it feels to finish 3 seconds out of a medal. After lunch, there was some downtime so I visited the Bloomsday expo and another local brewery before the banquet in the evening where the annual awards were presented and Deena Kastor gave a great talk. Maine did very well this year, with the race of the year at Great Cranberry Island, and winning the best race shirt of the year (which is narrowed down to 10 finalists before the convention and then voted on by attendees.)

One of my favorite moments of the convention was actually after the banquet ended, while chatting with Deena Kastor and a half dozen other attendees. While answering our questions (especially Erica Phillip’s questions, the New Jersey state representative) Deena actually gave us a better talk in 15 minutes than she had while on stage earlier in the evening (which was also a great talk!) – and best of all, no matter what question you ask Deena, she will always answer with a story involving food. Plus, she was willing to learn how to do Jazz Hands!

I will admit at this point that the evening went quite late, as nobody wanted the convention to end, so we wound up shutting down the hotel bar before turning in and getting up early to either race or start flying home. (Not that I actually drank much…after the first beer at the bar I just refilled my water glass the rest of the evening.)

On the final day of the convention, we ran the Bloomsday 12k. Now, I’m a trail and mountains guy, and my preferred race size is between 50 and 200 people. So heading back to the roads for the first time in years, along with over 40,000 other runners, was a bit crazy. I will say, though, that Bloomsday is a wonderful race and I highly recommend that you run it if you ever have the opportunity.

From what I could see, the starting line was handled very efficiently, the course was crowded but not impossibly so, and they handled crowd dispersal better than any other large race that I’ve ever seen after your crossed the finish line. As I finished, they were actually starting the last wave of runners a block over at the starting line, and by the time I was walking back to the hotel they had already packed up the por-a-potties an were collecting all the shirts thrown in the trees to allow traffic back through.

Finding an open restaurant that wasn’t crowded was about my only difficulty on the day, followed by killing time at various airports before taking the red eye back to Boston to catch a bus to Maine on Monday morning.

All in all, a great trip, and I hope that you have a chance to join me in Des Moines next year at the 2015 convention!