My excellent adventure: the Suja RNR San Diego Marathon & Half Marathon, the granddaddy of RNR marathons, by Larry Eder

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Start of the RNR SD Marathon, June 1, 2014, by PhotoRun.net

The RNR San Diego Marathon first appeared in 1998. With 20,000 in the first event, the event had some little glitches, as first events sometimes do. The Elite Racing Series grew into the Competitor Group series, and from several races to over seventy! The 2014 version, the Suja RNR San Diego Marathon & Half Marathon, was, to use one word, impressive. 

I showed up at the staging area about 5:15 A.M. There were thousands already there, and marathoners and half-marathoners were warming up for their time on the line. 

As we had arrived from Portland, Oregon the night before, after a drive from Eugene, Oregon right after the Pre Classic. Sleep deprivation was part of the day, and part of the weekend. After a fantastic day of track & field, I would be seeing the Suja RNR San Diego Marathon & Half Marathon for the first time. 
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Berhane Dibaba and Rita Jeptoo, stride for stride, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

This was my first visit to the San Diego Marathon. While I had visited other RNR events, I did not visited the first marathon of the RNR series. 

Now, with over 75 events, Competitor Group puts on the largest group of endurance events in the half marathon, marathon and road distances of anyone that I am aware of in the world. The Suja RNR San Diego Marathon & Half Marathon had added excitement this year, as one of their own, Meb Keflezighi, had won the Boston Marathon this year, being the first American in 29 years and first American male in 31 years to win the iconic marathon. 

After a week of press events, Meb Keflezighi would finish his week running the San Diego Half Marathon, pacing the 1:30 group. Obviously, for a man with a PB just at 61:00, running ninety minutes for the 13.1 mile distance would not be a challenge. But the hundreds of runners who would be surrounding him could be a challenge. "Two hundred may start with Meb, but less than fifty will be with him at the finish," commented one observer. 

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Meb Keflezighi with his Pacing Group sign, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

The men's elite half marathon field was, well, formidable. Ten men today would finish under 62:12. The woman's field had Rita Jeptoo, three time victor at the Boston Marathon, and first woman on that iconic course under 2:20 for the marathon. Berhane Dibaba, a young Ethiopian with some serious promise, was embraced by Jeptoo all week, as Rita Jeptoo provided the young runner the benefits of Jeptoos' experience as an elite world racer. 

As we walked around the staging area, Andrew Kastor appeared, the coach of ASICS Mammoth Track Club was in the elite area, with Shadrack Biwott and Gabe Proctor. Andrew is one of the most positive people that I know. 

I had asked Andrew how many athletes that he wanted in his club. What I heard from Andrew is what I am hearing from the best coaches around the world: keep the group small and focus on a key team. Coaching is art and science. Andrew Kastor gets it. 

Then, Hawi Keflezighi appeared. Hawi is the brother of Meb Keflezighi. In this sport, he has made a reputation as a manager and agent. He learnt it out of necessity, as Hawi represents the best marathon in America, his brother. Meb is the 2004 Olympic silver medalist at the Marathon, 2009 NYC Marathon Champion and now, 2014 Boston Marathon champion. Meb has been coached, since 1994, by Bob Larson, one of the most important coaches in distance running. "After I met Meb's family, I knew I wanted to coach him," Bob told me at Boston this year. Meb may be the most accessible elite athlete in the sport. 

I always have time for Hawi. Hawi is one of the hardest working managers in our sport. He has found eleven sponsors for Meb and now, with the Boston win only five weeks ago, Hawi is busy. But watch Hawi for a moment, Hawi knows that, for agents, it is all about relationships, delivering the client, finding unique approaches and always, always making sure that the sponsors feel the love. Meb Keflezighi works hard for his money, and with his brother as his agent, Meb can run and rest assured his marketing is being done well. That Hawi found a deal for Leo Manzano when others could not, showed that Hawi understands how to market Olympic medalists in athletics. That, dear readers, is a tough specialty.

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Meb with his Pacing group, photo by PhotoRun.net

That Meb paced a half marathon group is brilliant. Other elite athletes should do that. The average runners love it, and if brands understood that, 
they would do such creative approaches to relationships between the consumer and brands. Brands do not mind giving money for efforts that forge relationships, the day of just giving money because one is fast are fading. 

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Solomon Deksisa wins RNR San Diego Half Marathon, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

Solomon Deksisa won the San Diego Half Marathon today in 60:02. Ten men were under 62:12. Ryan Hall's 62:30 did not put him in the top ten. Ryan Hall was up front until mile six, which was run in 4:26, then mile seven, in 4:22, then, mile 8 run in 4:27. 

On the women's truck, I was seat belted into the top row, new to new Competitor Group CFO Barrett Garrison. This was Barrett's third race in so many weekends, as he seeks to understand the amazing business that CPG has amassed, and how it can be grown, profitably. At the end of the day, race management is a business. CPG has digital media, print media, social media, elite events, consumer running events, sponsorship: the list is long. 

Last year, there were some challenges. How does CPG stay on target? Are there events that no longer fit in the portfolio? Are elite athletes part of the package? It was a tumultuous year, but now with CMO Keith Kendrick, CEO David Abeles, both at the event, the new management team is bringing up the spirit of CPG. 

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Alan Webb paces Ben Bruce in the marathon, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

Part of CPG is the old and new. Tracy Sundlun is part of the glue that binds CPG together.Sundlun is one of the true characters of our sport. Coach, former athlete (he was on Swedish relay WR team in 1977), sport official, and running entrepreneur. Tracy understands more about the sport than most. He understands that races are successful, or not so successful in the details. He has been with RNR San Diego since the beginning. 

As we were careening down the final downhills between 10 and twelve miles on the half marathon in the elite women's truck, Tracy can be seen in the pace car, driving even faster. With his hat and his sunglasses, Sundlun loves the sport. His combination of skills serve him and CPG well as they fine tune the brand. 

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Berhane Dibaba and Rita Jeptoo on the course, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

On our elite truck was PR manager Dan Cruz. I like Dan. His press releases are short, to the point and full of facts. Dan understands pictures tell the story, and he provides great photos of the event. Using the likes of PhotoRun.net, Cruz provides photos of the race upfront and race of the masses for media outlets. 

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The real focus of races: the runners, photo by PhotoRun.net

Watching Dan Cruz on the elite truck was almost as much fun as watching the race. Barrett Garrison and I watched as Dan Cruz took one call after another from media outlets wanting this and that. Dan was constantly updating his Facebook, twitter and instagram sites for RNR San Diego, while pointing out features of the course, "Oh, another impromptu band on the course!" was one of the pithy comments by Dan Cruz. 

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Woman are the fastest growing segment in running, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

The life of a PR manager in a company that has seventy-five plus events is one that never has enough time. While I am writing this, Dan Cruz is down on the waterfront as the bands entertain the 30,000 finishers of the Suja RNR San Diego events today. 

Dan Cruz had a lot to write about today. The half marathons with elite fields, the age group runners, and the shear numbers in San Diego make this event a huge media day. At the finish line, I spotted several local TV stations, several dozen photographers and of course, running media, such as Mario Fraoli of CPG's Competitor magazine. 

I was taken by how Berhane Dibaba followed Rita Jeptoo every step for just over thirteen miles. With fifty meters to go, Dibaba was off, and winning the half marathon in 1:09.34. Rita Jeptoo, pretty well recovered from her arduous Boston marathon, ran 1:09.37. 

When I spoke to Matt Turnbull, the RNR elite coordinator, about Dibaba, he told me how much promise she has. "We saw Berhane running and Frederico Rosa and I were quite impressed. She will run some amazing races."

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Half Marathon medals, RNR San Diego, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

Matt Turnbull has to see into the future. That is part of his job as elite athlete coordinator. Matt finds promising athletes, and veteran athletes and uses his budget to find the best fields to answer the needs of various events. He follows on the shoulders of greatness. 

Mike Long was the RNR elite coordinator, who passed away in 2007. Mike gave me the opportunity to interview Haile Gebrselassie at his WR 25k run at RNR Arizona that year. Mike Long knew his elite athletes, knew the sport and loved both. 


Turnbull can be seen before and after the race minding his athletes. They like him, and he likes them. The care and feeding of elite athletes is not like taking care of rock stars, but there are some similarities; food needs, water needs, workout needs. A keen observer of the sport, Matt Turnbull has found a career that uses his skills well. Developing a fine field in a race is like painting a canvas. One must work within the limitations that the canvas and situation provides. 

I love watching races. How they develop. Who the players are. Subtle moves, subtle announcements of real fitness, a surge that goes well, a surge that goes wrong. 

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Berhane Dibaba, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

Rita Jeptoo surprised me. I did not know until watching her on the downhills after ten miles that she might not be all back from the brutal beating she took from the Boston marathon course. Jeptoo is a cool character. As Berhane Dibaba followed her every move, even down to the use of her arms and hands, Jeptoo kept her cool, and did not reveal her true fitness. My guess is that Rita felt those downhills pretty grim after her Boston victory. But, you would never notice it from her face. 

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The Finish Line is here, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

Nice stories in the marathons. Anna Corrigan had not raced over the 10k distance. Now, Anna has run 33 minutes for 10k, so the pace of the marathon was not going to mess her up that much. But, running a tough course like San Diego, Anna kept her cool, and ran a fine 2:44.28. That is a pretty impressive debut. 

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Anna Corrigan, a nice debut over marathon, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

Ben Bruce has now run two marathons in 2014. He debuted in RNR New Orleans, and with the company of Alan Webb until the half marathon point, reached in 1:09, Ben Bruce took the marathon in 2:23.50. 

"There was downhill early on, and then, the hills at 23,24, were pretty tough. I ran six minutes up the first incline, and 6:15 up the second incline. Now I can relax though, as our baby is due in two weeks." Ben looked much better an hour after his race finish. Ben Bruce earned his second victory on a course that reminds one that the distance is 26.2 miles. 

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Alan Webb, Ben Bruce on the marathon course, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

The half marathon is the largest event in the San Diego RNR events. The finish line was pretty quiet when I arrived. About five hundred runners finished the half marathon under 90 minutes. Meb Keflezighi came through at 1:29:38, I believe, with his pace group. Only 29,500 finishers to go.

I spent the next hour watching finishers come in , and the numbers in the half marathon started to grow as we got closer to two hours, then, the half marathoners started to finish en masse. 

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Ben Bruce, RNR San Diego Marathon winner, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

The marathoners began coming in after two hours, thirty. Top ten men under 2:48, top ten women under 3:17. 

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RNR Marathon medal, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

I observed the CPG senior staff at the finish, watching and talking. John Smith, VP of Advertising at CPG was helping direct the half marathoners. This event was a huge undertaking, and CPG staff was everywhere. Tracy Sundlun is just a whirlwind of activity. One wonders if he ever slows down.

But, as runners finish the races, they are greeted by volunteers giving out medals (half marathon and marathon get different medals), then they get water, Powerbars, Milk (the newest powersnack-Chocolate milk), bananas and of course, Gatorade. 

As I walked with the finishers of the half and marathon, some slower than others, I noticed most speaking about the experience and how much they enjoyed the RNR San Diego Marathon. 

I walked back to the Hyatt with thousands of my closest new friends, suggesting races to some of them, and giving them tips on how to recover faster from their races. A nice group, with various levels of sport experience, but that is what makes the sport of running fun. 

The Suja RNR San Diego Marathon & Half Marathon, continues to innovate as they search for relevance in a sport that is going many directions at once. Since 1998, the sport has changed in so many ways, and that evolution will continue. My guess is that CPG and RNR Marathons and Half marathons will continue to play a huge role in the sport for many. 

For many years to come....

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