The Nike Women’s marathon is now in its fourth running. Over the past four years, the course and event have evolved, just like the company that sponsors the event and the sport that is changing so many lives, each day of their life….
This afternoon, after spending most of the day learning about new Nike running footwear, apparel and accessories at a Nike running summit, about ten writers and publishers headed over to the Nike Women’s Marathon expo. The expo is located near Union Square, and it’s size does not give any indication to the magic that this event evokes for women runners.
The women who will run, walk and jog the Nike plus half marathon and the Nike Women’s 26.2 Marathon are able to pick up their numbers, their goodies bags, test
the Nike plus ( a training and motivation system based on Nike and Apple I-pod technology), learn about Nike shoes, receive a pedicure, and sample chocolate,
fitness bars and even take a Yoga warm up class! This expo, by any standards, is
a small, focused affair, but with big numbers. The 23,000 runners here (including
3,500 who paid $45 to get a t shirt and Tiffany key ring for logging the 13.1 miles
anywhere in the country using the Nike Ipod to keep track of their miles
on Sunday, October 21) have raised over $18 million dollars for cancer research.
It was only 23 years ago, in Los Angeles, that the women’s marathon became part
of the Olympics. Joan Benoit-Samuelson won that premier event. As she took the lead for good, before four miles, Joan opened the sport of marathoning to American woman. Benoit-Samuelson has never looked back. Now, having qualified for her sixth Olympic Trials ( she has run four of them), Joan is the ambassador of this event.
In a short interview on Friday, Joan Benoit-Samuelson, 1984 Olympic gold medalist, had this to say about the marathon and her sport: ” Since 2003, the running crowd here is much more savvy these days. The energy is far greater than in year one….this event is about runner helping runner…I think that running is an accessible sport, and especially for women. I refer to my career as before children and after diapers–women do too much, and running allows you to air it out. ”
Women runners are the story of the past decade in the sport. In the mid nineties, the cause running phenomenon happened, and many women runners were drawn into the sport. Runners, walkers, numbers grew at crazy amounts. Now, over half of the new runners are women and races such as the Nike Marathon give them a chance to meet new people and feel, as one female writer put it so eloquently, ” run with my own tribe.”
This event has changed how many women view the Nike brand. Nike has always celebrated the athlete, male and female, but was heralded for the likes of John McEnroe and many in your face slogans and catch words. Nike was in your face.
In 1996, there was the slogan, ” You do not win silver or bronze, you loose gold.”
That did not fare well with women athletes. There were also issues on how Nike running footwear fit women runners. Alas, the $19 billion company that is Nike changed. Perhaps the better term is mutated, evolved, maybe even kicked itself.
This very volatile culture, created by Phil Knight and his mentor/partner, Bill Bowerman, celebrates and battles change each and every day. It is this dichotomy
that gives Nike much of its current success and challenges.
In the end, and over the past three to five years, Nike has developed shoes that answered the needs of the female consumer. The events such as Nike Women’s Marathon, the product lines such as Nike plus, all reach out and touch the women consumer.
Phil Knight once said, ” Always listen to the athlete.” Well, the athlete has changed. Take the case of Kara Goucher, a young distance runner who took the bronze medal in Osaka, Japan this past August in the 10,000 meters. When asked gushingly by the media if the bronze medal was the greatest thing to happen in her life, Kara responded, ” Well, in the athletics part of my life.” How refresing. How honest. Goucher earned that bronze medal with twenty-two laps of gut-wrenchingly honest
running and two laps of making her fondest dreams a reality. Women runners
identify with Goucher, like they identify with Benoit-Samuelson.
This is not hero worship, for women are too smart for that. Goucher and Benoit-Samuelson give Nike street cred with women. Both women juggle real life issues in a real life world. And they have this running part of their lifes.
This weekend, Joan Benoit-Samuelson will run with 23,000 of her closest friends, her tribe, in the city of San Francisco. San Francisco, or the City to its inhabitants, will welcome them with open arms. A city that celebrates diversity, eccentricity, tribeness has been the home to this race for four years.
There is talk of putting on this kind of race in other cities. That could happen, and perhaps it should happen. But Joan Benoit-Samuelson, that quietly confident goddess of the sport of running, knows her tribe. Joan suggests that the City by the Bay open the race, the entire city to as many women who wanted to run the hallowed streets and hills of San Francisco! 23,000 to what, 50,000? That could be a story, as 23,000
women runners is a celebration, and 50,000 would be, what, a city?
On Sunday, I will be walking the course, asking runners and walkers about their dreams, their goals, their reasons for running and walking. And, like the many who line the course, I will be cheering 23,000 runners and walkers as they celebrate their tribe and their lives…
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