Who do I run for these days? This is a question I have been asked over the last 6 months from various channels and outlets. Those who knew me as an adidas athlete have noticed some change (i.e. do you run for Oiselle? No but they make some damn good clothes) but my pregnancy has served as somewhat of a “scapegoat” to skirt this topic. I have sat on this blog for about 4 months because it is often a topic most professional runners don’t wish to share or feel ashamed of. Not me. I’d like to address the obvious and share my story.
I am no longer an adidas athlete. Story headline you don’t normally see: “Runner dropped by shoe company, news at 11.” You often see “Runner signs with x for 3 years, hooray!” That’s just human nature, no one wants to announce they got fired but if it can help future athletes and companies work better together, it would be a disservice for me not to share. I signed with adidas 3 years ago after my 2:29 performance at the Houston Marathon. I was signed with the hopes I’d make the 2012 Olympic Team in the marathon. As is evident I failed to make that team but decided that day wouldn’t define me as a runner. Just because I didn’t fulfill my dream of becoming an Olympian didn’t mean my job as a professional athlete was over. I set out on an 18 month journey to race across the country, mingle with the masses, and put myself against the nation’s and world’s best. I’m a big dreamer and believe in setting goals before each race no matter how lofty they may seem. My 2012, 2013 Goals included:
PR on the track at 10,000m, be the top American at the NY Mini 10k and the Falmouth Road Race, win a national title, win the Wharf to Wharf 6 mile, run under 71 minutes in the half marathon and be top 5 at Boston.
What really happened:
2012: PR’d at the Olympic Trials in the 10,000m (32:24), finished 6th place and was the top American at both the NY Mini 10k and the Falmouth Road Race, finished 2nd and was the top American at the Wharf to Wharf 6 mile and finished 3rd place at the US 20k Championships
2013: Finished 3rd place at the US 15k Championships, PR’d in 70:53 at the NYC Half Marathon, finished 15th place at the Boston Marathon, finished 5th overall and was the 2nd American at the NY Mini 10k, was 4th place at the US Half Marathon Championships and finished 2nd place at the US 10k Championships.
So why expel a synopsis of my last 2 years? To show how most athletes view their accomplishments with the assumption: “isn’t that good enough?” This is what you’re paying me for right? Yes and No. Shoe companies of course want you to run fast, win races, and make world and Olympic Teams, that’s why we are initially signed. Outside of your performances however there is so much more to be done. We are paid to be brand ambassadors and show a company that our value is worth it to them to have you on board. My life outside of training/racing involves coaching athletes through our business “Running with the Bruce’s”, co-founder and advocate of my company Picky Bars, public speaking, sharing my journey openly and honestly, influencing the gluten free community, engaging with fans, creating contests and giving gear away as prizes, and standing behind and endorsing companies I truly believe in. As I reflected upon my time with adidas towards the end of 2013 I was 50/50 on whether they would resign me or not. In 3 years they paid me a great salary, offered performance based bonuses that I could earn, supported my travel and medical expenses, and gave me the opportunity to develop into the athlete I am today. For all of that I was and still am very grateful. They did not however script my racing schedule (what they wanted me to run), use me at enough events to help promote them, tell me how to endorse their products, or grow my fan base. That responsibility is on me and on every professional athlete. When most shoe contracts approach the end of their term, there is a rarely an athlete/company meeting where a performance review takes place and the athlete presents what they’ve achieved and the company assesses. Imagine if there was? What info would you gather as the athlete and present to your boss to convince them you belong as part of their team and here’s why?
So what is the purpose of sharing my story? What I hope to get across in this blog is that athletes step back and try to objectively value themselves. Try to put yourself in the shoes (no pun intended) of a CEO at a company and assess the value you bring to them and why you should become or remain part of their team? Yes it’s very easy to thank X,Y,Z sponsor in post race interviews but that’s not as genuine and effective as you could be. Athletes and shoe companies have a unique opportunity to work together in ways to accomplish business goals as well create genuine connections with their audience. I also encourage professional athletes to give back to companies appropriately. It’s ok to try out a few free pairs of compression socks and send out some thanks to company X for giving you the socks. But to devote 50% of your tweets is a disservice to you and to the realm of professional athletes. If however they are paying you 60K a year, it would be expected you have a strategic marketing plan developed around yourself and that company and continually work on your brand as an athlete.
So back to the initial question: Who do I run for? At the present moment and forever: me. You must always be your primary sponsor as you are the only one who can’t give up on yourself and quit believing when times get tough. With my baby due in June and per the advice of some great people I knew this was the right time to stay unsponsored and get to observe the market from the perspective of a runner not competing by choice and not forced by injury. I have witnessed some amazing shoe and non shoe companies that I believe understand the sport and are headed down the right path. As I continue my search for a new sponsor, I believe I will find and partner individually or through my team with one that wants to be part of the 2nd half of my career and be pivotal in my racing, appearances, and allows me the opportunity to grow and support their brand.