Catching Up With Re:RUN San Diego Director Pete Hess
Every so often an individual (or two) start a new track and field meet that captures the sport's attention. In 2013, that meet is Re:RUN San Diego. Former University of Maryland runner Pete Hess and James Kehaya are putting on the new event, which is two road races with a professional track meet at the end. Along with trying to bridge the connection between casual participants in the sport through road races with the professional side of the sport, Hess and Kehaya are pushing fan interaction at meets.
We caught up with Hess this week, discussing his new event, his expectations for Re:RUN and his thoughts on where the sport is and where it needs to go. We're excited for Re:RUN San Diego and hope fans support it as it tries to gain traction in the U.S. track and field landscape.
Scott Bush (SB): First things first, can you tell us a bit about Re:RUN? Where did the idea come from? What's the event all about?
Pete Hess (PH): Re:RUN San Diego was created by James Kehaya and myself over a span of a few months. We never understood how a sport so popular in participation was lacking popularity on the professional level. We also couldn’t believe “America’s Finest City” hadn’t hosted a professional track meet since the 1988 Michelob Games. It clicked for us that it only seemed natural to have an early season event in San Diego!
SB: What are your expectations for this first-year event?
PH: I expect a quality turn out from the San Diego community. San Diego is a very fitness focused city that has a plethora of thriving road races. We believe we offer a new element that none of those other races offer in the fact we are bringing a London Olympics show to Balboa Stadium. The elite athlete fields, I always believed, would be strong as the athletes are looking for new and exciting opportunities. They have really taken to the event and are more than excited to put on a show for the new crowd.
SB: You seem to be trying to tie together the more recreational road runner population and that of professional track and field. Is that a fair assessment?
PH: It is spot on. A buddy of mine once said to me that running and football are the exact opposite in the fact that nobody actually plays organized football in America but a boat load of people watch it and nobody really watches track & field in America but a boat load of people participate in running events each weekend. Clearly we have a large group of people who are interested in the sport, but how do we gain their interests towards the professional side?
We decided why not give them the opportunity to compete as well as the opportunity to watch the best the world has to offer. It seemed like a win-win situation. Elite athletes gain new exposure and the community gets an opportunity to compete and witness a brand new event in San Diego.
SB: The YOUR Athletes program ties together the road runner and the professional athlete. What exactly is this program meant to do?
PH: The program was created to help build a following for our professional athletes. We wanted each 5k/10k road runner have an athlete in the race they are specifically cheering for. It creates an atmosphere of fans and not simply spectators. We want the race participants to remember just a small hand full of athletes as opposed to attempting to remember an entire meets worth.
Each participant will have five athletes they are tied to and that is an easy amount to remember. Hopefully the next time they flick by a meet that is actually on national TV they recognize an athlete from Re:RUN and stay on the broadcast for a few extra minutes. It is a very small victory but we need to focus on as many small victories as possible to start to make a larger impact.
SB: You already have some big-time talent coming to the event. How were you able to attract such top talent to a first-year event?
PH: Luckily we have a few things going for the inaugural Re:RUN that really attracted the elite athletes. We offer a great prize purse which is unheard of state side, we offer beautiful weather in San Diego, and we offer an opportunity for them to represent themselves to a new group of people. They have the opportunity at our meet to wear whatever sponsor logos they desire. We have athlete profiles on our webpage built out that don’t just simply show them racing but show them having fun with their friends and hanging out. We want the new audience to see the athletes for the amazing, talented people they are, not just the athletes they are. The athletes are really excited about the prospects of our new meet. I, along with them, truly believe Re:RUN San Diego gives them a real opportunity to display both their talent on the track and their personality off of it.
SB: Why only five track events?
PH: Short and sweet! If we want to create new fans of the sport we have to deliver it to them in small doses. Typically track meets are very long, a bunch of different events and an overwhelming amount of athletes. Trying to bring a new fan into a full-scale professional track meet would be a very overwhelming experience. We want to create a small taste of what the sport is like and leave our new fans hungry for more. Our elite section will last a little over an hour. It will be exciting, it will be fast, and it will be over before you know it.
SB: Obviously the event hasn't even taken place yet, but what is your long-term vision for Re:RUN?
PH: Right now the focus is having a successful year one event! We want to give the fans and the athletes an experience they want to come back to each year. I envision Re:RUN San Diego being the early season stop each year for our top level athletes and the San Diego community!
SB: Now for an incredibly open-ended question. What are your thoughts on the state of track and field in the United States?
PH: Wow, haha, where to begin?!? I think from a talent standpoint, the USA, is as deep as it has ever been in the sport. From jumps to sprints to throws to distance we have dedicated, talented athletes all the way through. Unfortunately, what we don’t have is many opportunities for them to display these talents inside the USA borders. It is hard for them to gain a real fan base in the USA when they mostly have to compete overseas.
The definition of insanity is trying to the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It seems to me we are stuck in a state of doing the same things each year and wondering when it will become popular in the States. Hopefully Re:RUN can act as a small spark plug for other events to pop up around the States so we can really start to put the talent of our elites on display.
I think we need to think as far outside of the box as possible and hopefully create fan-engaging experiences that slowly bring new fans into the sport. There is no miracle event that will all sudden revitalize track in the States, but maybe if we organize a group of new events, we can start to turn the sport around one new fan at a time.
Learn more about Re:RUN San Diego, which takes place on May 5 in sunny San Diego, CA.