A Community of Beasts: There's roaring in Seattle
By: Caitlin Chock
Danny Mackey's right where he thought he'd be only, just as the feet move for his Brooks Beast runners (http://talk.brooksrunning.com/), it's happened much quicker than anticipated. Coach of a stable full of World Class athletes, a group being cited as spearheading a complete shift in how companies sponsor elite distance runners. What's happening for Seattle's running scene is rivaling the city's attention for veganism and the music scene.
"That was always the goal, I didn't think it would happen so quickly, I though it would take more like two years down the road, so it was a quick reel," explains Mackey. Mackey migrated to Seattle, WA in January of 2013 with plenty of experience in both coaching and working for other powerhouse brands of running sponsorship contracts. He brought along with him 1500m star professional runner, Katie Mackey, his wife for whom he also coached. Brie Felnagle, sponsored by adidas, was also seeking a change; she joined the group, as well did Mark Wieczorek and Matt Scherer. Those four were the originals, the core.
Danny Mackey, Brooks Beasts Coach
But the synergy they created is clearly impossible to resist. In a little over a year the Brooks Beasts have nearly quadrupled in size. What makes the Beasts unique, especially for an elite group, is they truly function as a team. Meeting six days a week, that essence of teamwork is central to Mackey's training environment. "The people who are joining, they want a decent sized group, they want to be close-knit, they want to meet as a group, and they want people to train with," he explains. Don't confuse numbers with a lack of individualism, "We have a big group bit it's still small, and they're super focused, and they're great to work with."
A full team may not be the right fit for every professional runner coming out of college, some may prefer only one or two training partners, a one-on-one coaching situation, or a team that only meets for the hard workouts. "Elite runners have been catered to their whole life, high school, college, it's all about them," says Mackey. Sometimes, "it's hard to get them to buy into [the team aspect]," he acknowledges. But for those runners seeking the full package of teammates and the supportive environment their presence creates, they couldn't be welcomed into a better spot.
"I think the athletes on the team are pretty hard not to enjoy being around, people want to train with them," Mackey on why his group has grown to quickly, actually doubling between July and December 2013. "None of this would have happened if the core group wasn't there last year, and they ran well too." Ahh, the 'and.' Yes, performances speak volumes and certainly can't be ignored.
But it's not just the times that have seen the Brooks Beasts making giant impacts in the sport of running. The brand: in a world where sponsorship contracts can at times seem cold and harsh, it is a business after all and from a marketing standpoint elite distance runners are running advertisements, Brooks diverged. Back in 2013 the aim in building the Beasts was two-fold: support an elite team AND support the running community.
"Brooks is really about supporting the run," says Mackey. "They want the team to do well, they're really competitive, and [they] want to support running...one way to support running is to have this elite team." That is the distinction and driving force behind every decision made in how Brooks uses the Beasts and leverages their media: supporting the run. It's what has the Beasts getting out there, meeting with high school teams, connecting with local runners, and building a strong community of runners. Centralizing that in Seattle certainly, but even while in Albuquerque, NM for altitude training, Mackey and his runners have dived into the local running scene. They're visiting local high school track teams, running stores...getting involved. The Beasts want to be a part of the very running community they are marketing to.
The aim is looking long-term of course, by the time the 2016 Olympic Trials roll around, "[We're] going to be really well-known, have the community behind us going into the trials," says Mackey. With their full roster of runners in tow and a multiple number of them realistically poised to make the Olympic Team, "that's a lot of really good energy."
Other companies, and not just shoe companies, have seen how Brooks harnesses that energy and thus, the world of running, contracts, and sponsorships has been turned on its feet. True to their essence, Brooks and the Beasts are just as excited about this change as anyone, "I hope other brands do the same and it seems that's what's happening," shares Mackey. For them, "Brooks caught it at the right time, we'll have a couple more years to establish the team, we'll continue to build the people that are around the team...[and] get people excited about our sport."
Katie Mackey, Rieti 2013, photo by PhotoRun.net
And isn't that what it's all about? The thrill of racing, the buzz of getting swept up in those races, the endorphins that trickle out into the stands and get the crowds excited. Excited about RUNNING. Where America has since been lagging behind in the number of track fans when compared to other sports, Brooks, the Beasts, and their mounting community is out to change that.
Again it's two-fold, because a community of runners REALLY gets excited when their Beasts are lighting up the track. Watch out, Brooks has already brought television to magazines, you can only imagine what those Beasts will bring to the track come Summer 2016.
Brooks Beasts Roster:
Katie Mackey, Angela Bizzari, Deb Maier, Jessica Tebo, Jamie Cheever, Erica Moore, Matt Scherer, Riley Masters, Mark Wieczorek, Casimir Loxsom, Nick Symmonds, Garrett Heath
(adidas-Sponsored: Brie Felnagle, Nike-sponsored: Phoebe Wright)
The Brooks Beasts Track Club, photo courtesy of Brooks Running
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.