A running fundraiser idea

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My colleague’s face went completely blank. The pause felt long, then very long, and longer still. And then a slow, broad smile became his involuntary expression. He realized it was a good idea. A really good idea.

The 0.0K.

The man wearing the smile was Adam Swansen, a Senior Event Manager at EnMotive. For a number of years Adam was head of timing and scoring at Virginia Beach based J & A Racing. His experience ranged across 700 events, including the area’s massive Shamrock Marathon Weekend, which draws tens of thousands of runners every year. Swansen’s expertise was recognized in 2018 with a Chronotrack Pioneer Award. Now Adam was working with EnMotive. In short, Adam had seen it all. At least, almost all.

EnMotive had recently taken over the timing, scoring, and organization of running events on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, and I reached out to them to assist me in the creation of a 5K fundraiser. At the time I was working for a small museum, and the goal was to create a spring fundraising event to bookend our annual fall barbeque. The 5K has become a tried and true platform in our large running community of Southeastern Virginia. From early April all the way to the end of the year, you can find a 5K of some type to race almost every weekend. The nearly three mile stretch of our beach’s boardwalk is one of the most popular courses. The boardwalk is actually a wide, concrete seawall, and will easily accommodate running crowds both large and small. And so I set up the meeting with Adam to begin outlining our event on the oceanfront concrete.

At the table I sprang the idea of not having a 5K at all.

We’d set up the start line arch just north of the nonprofit’s location. About two hundred feet north. It would be a big arch. The type used at the major events. The finish arch would be just as big. Give or take, the arches would be about half a block apart. And both timing stations would be replete with announcers and far reaching outdoor speakers. We’d need two announcers, since the start line announcer wouldn’t be able to get to the finish before the runners.

Adam came up with idea of the water station. We’d set the course with all the flags and trimmings of a full course, and include a large water stop at half way. I would get volunteers to service to water, holding out the cups. A better fit will be to talk a sponsor into giving us money and bringing their team for an exclusive water stop marketing opportunity.

Since the water station will be at the half way point, why not add a timing strip for splits. And that gave us the idea of including a relay team option. If the 0.0K was too much, teams of two could split the difference. The relay friends bibs will also add another price point for entry.

Yes, I did just write bibs. The 0.0K would be an officially timed event. At least, sort of officially.

Runners would be given numbered bibs with timing chips as they would in any other race. That’s why I had invited Adam to help. Running races is a very complicated and technical challenge. Adam’s got awards because he’s one of those folks in the industry pushing the tech. They’ve already honed facial recognition software, so the scanners won’t need to see your scrunched up, half blocked out bib number to grab your race photos. And if you’re a small organization trying to have a run, you need a running organization’s tech to manage registration, bib assignment, shirt preferences, and safely handle the massive influx of entrant’s data. This event’s goal was 250 runners for our first year. Even that humble number brought a dizzying crush of administration.

My perspective was the running tech would be key to the event’s success. For folks to hand over the $40 entry fee in a flood of event choices every weekend, the race needed to feel real. That’s what made it funny. Without the details, we’d just be a bunch of folks on the boardwalk, and I didn’t want this. I wanted to celebrate running, but with a laugh. A belly laugh.

The timing chips, the split times, the water station, live tracking for folks wanting to watch their friend’s progress on course, it made it all real. Runners would get an inaugural Back to the Beach 0.0K shirt. Not a cheap cotton tee, but a moister wicking running shirt. The race medal would be a large classic style 0.0K, with added beach graphics. Of course, the race would include photos. I realized, as did Adam, we’d only grab so many running photos during the short run, so the plan was to take photos at the party as well.

Of course there would be a party. A big party. A live band, all you can eat, it’s almost summer beach bash of a party. Not one of those little 5K party’s, with the bad DJ and party trays. This would be 0.0K party. I had met Jerry Frostick, the J of J & A Racing, the previous year to explore 5K ideas, before the 0.0K took shape. His positive energy was amazing and infectious. He said something that stuck with me;

“It’s about the party.”

He, his wife, and his team have grown a once small, regional marathon into one of the largest race events on this part of the coast. They didn’t do that by accident. They learned what runners want the most and they stay successful by delivering on those wants. And a big part of a runner’s experience is the party. Anyone that’s ever run the Shamrock event in Virginia Beach understands the party is a pretty big deal.

We already knew how to have great parties. And we knew some great live bands that would help. The music would need to be live and very loud. Since there was nothing like this in our 1.8 million resident market, it was worth reaching out to the popular restaurants and catering companies for, again, a quite special, and very exclusive marketing opportunity.

We ended our meeting that January morning completely energized for creating something new and special. I began to work on the marketing, with the May date helping sculpt the big back to the beach theme. Costumes and craziness would be very encouraged.

I started designing a graphic rich, detailed course map. I created a four week training program, with calendar blocks masquerading the seriousness of a marathon plan.

I planned a series of blogs and videos, with training tips and runner’s insights. I was going to reach out for guest blogs from top local area runners. I wrote up an ask for our area running store, Running Etc, to assist in making a course tour video. The shop runs a great Ambassador program, and the plan was to have a test run with them, with follow up interviews offering impressions and how they plan to prepare for the challenge. It would be four weeks of absolute tongue in cheek seriousness leading up to race day.

By the end of February, a great many of the pieces had been put together. I created a full color, eight page race packet design with a welcome letter I’d hope to get from the Mayor, running articles, and naturally lots of space for sponsor ads. And after some careful explaining to the City permit office, had a May 30th date approved and a permit application to file.

The money was no joke.

Even after expenses, there was actually profit in the entry fees and when we added the projected sponsorships, the nonprofit stood to net over $20,000 from our efforts. That was a lot of money for our small budget and well worth the time and output for our first attempt.

By the middle of March it was gone. The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. I have no idea how the community would have reacted to the 0.0K. My informal pole with 25 people, both runners and non runners, was 100% positive. As I am no longer with the institution, it will be on a long list of I wonder ifs. I do believe, however, that the 0.0K idea is sound with the right approach.

Folks in the Florida Keys know it works. The Cow Key 0.0K has been going on for years. Runners dash across a bridge about three hundred feet long and raise money for a local animal shelter. This is where I snatched the idea. There’s actually a number of fundraising 0.0Ks happening around the country. I thought, and still do, that marketing the ridiculous concept in the middle of a big running community, and gracing the event with professional race tech, would be a solid combination for an amazing community party.

Race organizers take note. The 0.0K could be a fun way to make money and educate your community about your cause. Just remember, regardless of how you approach or organize the run, it’s about the party.

Make it a big party. A 0.0K party.

Writer. Runner. Mental Wellness Advocate. I believe in ghosts, yoga, local beer, food trucks, and great coffee.

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