Nancy Lieberman is, well extraordinary. I am a little biased, as I count her as a friend. I have watched her build a magnificent marathon in St. Louis, now numbering 17-18,000 on the weekend of event, with a team of good friends and volunteers. The interview that follows was done last week. The full interview will appear in the March issue of Missouri Runner, shows how her brain works and how she is rebranding a very successful event.
Nancy has also finished two Wisconsin Ironman triathlons and recently, with her daughter, Elissa Udell, a sports marketing consultant, climbed Mount Kiliminjaro! (The intereview was edited by Diana Minardi Strauss, editor of Mo Runner). We are very excited to provide our readers with this special interview:
GO! St. Louis, formerly the Spirit of St. Louis Marathon & Family Fitness Weekend, is the largest running and walking festival of its kind in the state. Missouri Runner's Larry Eder recently interviewed president Nancy Lieberman about the event's rebranding, success and challenges.
Missouri Runner:Tell us how you started the Spirit of St. Louis Marathon & Family Fitness Weekend, now GO! St. Louis.
Nancy Lieberman: A group of my running buddies had a vision
to turn a “marathon” into an event by creating a festive environment and by adding other distances to make the event more inclusive, because not everyone should or can run or walk 26.2 miles. We incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2000 and in October of that year, 2,500 people participated in three different events over the
weekend: marathon, four-person marathon relay and a 5K.
MR: How did the weekend event grow over its first 7 years?
NL: The weekend participation has grown from 2,500 participants to more than 16,000 from 48 states and 12 countries in 2007.
Our weekend participants grew primarily for three reasons:
1. New fitness opportunities were created for people of all ages and abilities: Read, Right & Run Marathon, Mature Mile for adults over 60, Battle of the Badges Relay, etc. The family fitness approach was important from the start.
2. The timing was right. People began to think about their own health and developed a personal fitness plan which included training for one of the events.
3. Word of mouth: The weekend events were well organized, people enjoyed themselves and everybody, even the Diaper Dash children, received a medal.
MR:Tell us about the change of name.
NL:In early 2007, we entered into a strategic planning process to
evaluate our strengths, assess the needs of the community, determine our mission and build an organization to carry out the mission. While we have always been more than a marathon, our new mission is to transform the health of individuals and families through a variety of year-round events and programs for all fitness levels. With a
broader mission, the new name—GO! St. Louis—inspiring fitness one step at a time, better reflects this new direction. We have built new strategic alliances and partners with like-minded organizations in order to collectively communicate wellness initiatives to the St. Louis community.
MR: Is there a subtle change in focus?
NL: The organization has always been concerned with the in-
creased rate of obesity and its associated effects: heart disease, diabetes, asthma, etc. Our year-round approach to offering more fitness activities, along with community collaborations, will create more public awareness and be part of a solution to address this epidemic. Our website was enhanced to not only to provide information about
the April signature weekend, but to primarily serve as a community resource for fitness tips, nutrition information and, in the near future, a calendar of events.
MR:What are your biggest challenges as president of Go! St.
• Safety of participants is our main concern. This requires signif- icant communication, not only year-round, but especially on race day with all public safety officials, medical personnel, aid stations and volunteers along the course.
• Costs of conducting business. Working within the confines of a budget to balance the increasing costs of intangible items needed to conduct a safe race (barricades, tents, tables, etc.), along with the tangible items needed to create a positive, festive event
for all participants (medals, shirts, post-race festivities, etc.)
• As a nonprofit, securing sponsorship dollars has always been a challenge. St. Louis is a wonderful, affordable city and our goal is to maintain registration fees at the current level so as not to preclude someone from participating.
• We have eight medical stations along the course and a group of medical personnel that roves the course on bike.
MR: Does being a native St. Louisan help or hinder?
NL:While I am not a native St. Louisan, I have been here for 28 years. There are certainly some positives and challenges. Sometimes St. Louis is a tough town to break into, especially if you did not go all of the bonuses of a large metropolitan area.
The local arts and professional sports community is very vibrate here, so competition for exposure and participation for the hundreds of other fitness events (runs, walks, bike races, etc.) can be challenging, but this community has proven that if you provide a quality, fun and rewarding event it will be supported. My goal is to help sponsors recognize and understand the value of promoting participatory activities, not only as an opportunity to create goodwill in the community, but also as a successful marketing tool for branding products and media exposure. For example, ING, a
financial institution, has built their identity by being a Title Sponsor for events in several cities—New York, Miami, Atlanta and Denver. Companies like Publix Super Markets in Florida or automotive companies like Mercedes-Benz and Saturn regard runners as the target markets. Corporate brands or products can be integrated into communications and corporate outreach that touch consumers.
Runners are a pre-qualified, built-in target audience. In addition, we are very grateful to have some very loyal major sponsors such as the St. Louis Bread Company, National City, McCarthy Building Co., Saturn and KMOX Radio, along with many other supporting
sponsors. Many of our sponsors have been with us from the very beginning and are very passionate about their role as a community partner promoting fitness.
MR:What will your numbers be this year?
NL: We are anticipating 17,000–18,000
participants, which makes it Missouri’s premier fitness event. Although we want to attract as many people as possible to our April weekend, it has never been about how large we can grow it, but to have a fitness celebration that is safe and rewarding for all of our participants.
MR:Tell us the dates and info for 2008.
NL: Saturday, April 5 is the “Family Day,” to include a 5K Run/Walk, Read, Right & Run
Marathon, Children’s Fun Runs, Mature Mile. Sunday, April 6 is “Endurance Day”:
marathon, half marathon, marathon relay (4- person).
MR: How can people reach you if they want to volunteer?
NL: The weekend events rely upon the 1,800 volunteers who are St. Louis’ best ambassadors. People may access our website, www.gostlouis.org, to register online as a volunteer or contact the office: 314-727-0800.
MR: Tell us about your Corporate Health program.
NL: In the fall of 2007, we piloted a pro-
gram with the City of St. Louis—GO! St. Louis Mile by Mile Marathon. Approximately
275 city employees walked 26.2 miles in 6 weeks. An awards ceremony was held and
medals, t-shirts and certificates were handed out. The program is designed to help employers create a simple, non-intimidating employee wellness program on-site during business hours. Oftentimes, when the work day ends, people have family obligations and are unable to find the time to “work out.” An employer may see a decrease in healthcare costs and an increase in productivity because employees
have more energy.
For more on ths superb event, please click: www.gostlouis.org