New Running USA Case Study Focuses on Starting a New Event from Scratch
Tes Sobomehin Marshall led the Atlanta-based Unity Collective to the start line for a half-marathon and 5K called The Race, celebrating community and diversity, in October 2018. Here’s what she learned from the experience.
ATLANTA – When Tes Sobomehin Marshall envisioned the start line of the inaugural The Race half marathon she spearheaded in Atlanta last year, she pictured the sun rising over a momentous new event in long distance running.
That sunrise did happen, but it was at first metaphoric. Lined up to start The Race half that Saturday in mid-October was the largest group of African American runners to ever run collectively in an organized long-distance running event. Runners who identified as African American made up 86 percent of the field. But it wasn’t until they headed out into the neighborhoods of westside Atlanta, an area of the city that rarely if ever is exposed to endurance sports, that the sun came up over the historic experience.
"There were many conversations about running and race that weekend, but I can’t tell you how many times people said to me: ‘It was just so beautiful seeing people who look like me to my left and to my right.’ I heard that numerous times,” said Marshall. “I also thought I’d be crying at the start line, but when you’re the race director, there’s always too much to do to be in tears.”
An African American race director and runner who came up in the sport with the support of organizations like Black Girls Run and the National Black Marathoners Association, Marshall and a group of collaborators in Atlanta had for some time talked about creating an event that would speak to African American runners nationally. In late 2017, she decided it was time to stop chatting about it and act. That founding group became the Unity Collective, which worked together under Marshall’s direction to produce The Race.
“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t want to talk about stuff too much – let’s stop talking and do it,” explained Marshall. “So we came up with the idea to put this event together as a Kickstarter campaign.”
The establishment of the Unity Collective and its goal was formally described as: A collaboration of running community leaders, vendors, and supporters united to host a road race that supports black owned businesses, runs through historically black neighborhoods, makes a positive impact with charity and service, and garners massive national support from the African-American running community.”
Using Kickstarter to create a financial foundation and crowd-sourced buzz about a running event is not unheard of, but it’s also not easy. As a result, Marshall doesn’t recommend it to new events or event organizers. But The Race’s Kickstarter campaign was successful: in less than two months, the Unity Collective raised more than $70,000 for startup costs and registered more than 700 people to run in the half marathon. This was all with the traditional Kickstarter caveat that if the funding goal was not met, the event would not happen. Using the platform entailed a great deal of additional legwork and communications to ensure the backers registered, in addition to traditional registration management.
“The thing I always want to make clear is that money wasn’t a fundraiser, but it was basically people saying, here’s my financial commitment to a register. If this race happens, I am signed up,” Marshall explained. The event still sought out and earned numerous corporate sponsorships as well.
One positive benefit to using Kickstarter was that early backers took a sense of ownership over The Race. Their names were on t-shirts and a banner at the event to honor their support, and throughout race weekend, there was a sense of pride in the air of being part of a successful new venture.
Steering clear of a Kickstarter startup was just one of the many lessons that Marshall learned during The Race’s inaugural year. She shared many other smart suggestions for start up running events with us recently, and they are summarized in the downloadable document below.
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