Since 1978 Rob Wallack has owned and operated Runner’s Den, one of the premier running retail stores in the country. In fact, in 2012 it was voted one of the 50 best stores in the U.S. by Runner’s World magazine. As an extension of Runner’s Den, in 1982 Rob founded Raceplace Events, an event staging and data processing company involved in the production of some of the largest events in the southwestern United States. In all, Raceplace has been involved with the production or timing of 1300+ events over the past 30 years. We talked with Rob recently to ask him about how he got his start, the changes he’s seen over the past three decades, and the secrets to his success.
The Beginning of the Running Boom
In the early 1970s, Rob moved from Cleveland to Phoenix to establish Runner’s Den, the first running retail store of its kind in the area. This was the very beginning of the running boom and Rob laughingly recalls how unusual his store was at the time.
“We got calls from people thinking we sold carpet runners,” he remembers. “Running wasn’t the organized industry it is today. People mostly just ran for fun, so a business based on running was largely unheard of.”
Runner’s Den Road Race
In the late ‘70s through the ‘80s, Bill Rodgers was one of the biggest names in road racing and a legend. A fellow who had met Bill on a cruise walked into the Runner’s Den in 1978 and told Rob that Bill wanted to run a race in Phoenix. Rob knew a good opportunity when he saw one and jumped at the chance to create the Runner’s Den Road Race, which soon became the fastest 10K in history based on the number of sub-30-minute performances. Within two years, an American record was set and 35 years later the event is still going strong.
“We were a cult race,” Rob notes. “Olympic and elite athletes from all over the world came to run this event and Bill Rodgers ran it years 1-12, 15, 20, and 25, although he never won it! He did manage to finish 2nd at the 1st and 20th editions.”
By 1982, Rob had decided that he liked being involved with events and he founded Raceplace Events. Raceplace offered event staging and data processing services for such entities as the Fiesta Bowl, Intel, Motorola, Dial, Mayo Clinic, and the 1996 Super Bowl. It also provided data processing services for the final years of the Bud Light Triathlon Series and the entire Coors Light Duathlon Series. Throughout the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, Raceplace was the most prominent multisport timing company in the U.S.
“Runner’s Den and Raceplace Events are two totally different businesses,” Rob comments. “My strong suit is surrounding myself with people who are smarter than me and really investing in what we were doing, which is why I think we’ve been successful. I’m passionate about this business and I was involved in every part of it, but I had a strong team helping me the whole way.”
Girls on the Run
About five years ago, Rob moved away from events. He is now focused on Runner’s Den and is an active board member of Girls on the Run Maricopa County. Girls on the Run is a transformational learning program for 8 to 13 year-old girls, teaching life skills through dynamic, conversation-based lessons and running games. The program culminates with participation in a celebratory 5K running event, which Rob helps to organize and manage.
“It is incredible to see these girls “graduate” with a 5K,” Rob says. “I cannot tell you the satisfaction it gives me to be involved with Girls on the Run.”
Rob & ACTIVE Network
ACTIVE Network and Rob have been working together since 1999 when ACTIVE was founded. Raceplace Events uses ACTIVE’s software for its event management needs and GetSetUSA.com and GetSetAZ.com are both online calendars that feed into ACTIVE.com.
“Our companies have a great relationship and have been in business together for over a decade.”
All of us here at ACTIVE Network are proud to work with Rob Wallack, one of the pioneers of the running industry and someone who is truly passionate about the sport. Congrats to Rob on being December’s Event Director of the Month!