Phil Lang manages the Howard County Junior Striders, a K-8th grade running club. He’s been involved with this youth program in one way or another for 10 years, becoming the full-time director in 2008. He’s also the founder of Bullseye Running, which organizes and manages 20+ adult races per year.
Phil has made a huge impact on his community in a short time. Nearly 500 kids participated in the youth programs in the last 12 months, 175 high school and college-aged kids participated in a running program created specifically for them, and a few thousand adults joined in the local community events held during the year. Plus, Phil has coached high school cross country for 18 years and is an avid runner himself.
How did you get your start as both a running coach and event director?
I’d been involved with the Howard County Striders running club for a long time, first as a runner, then a member, board member, and finally as the president. During my tenure, I got really involved with the youth program, Howard County Junior Striders. The youth program grew and grew, and about four years ago it became clear that the program needed more than part-time volunteer attention. I was working at a bank, which ended up going out of business around this same time due to the financial crisis. So instead of looking for a new job at another bank, I asked the Striders if there were interested in having someone involved full time with the youth running programs.
They were indeed interested and we came up with a plan. The agreement was that I would create a company (Bullseye Running) to organize and manage the youth programs for the Striders. I would have the financial responsibility to keep the programs solvent and whatever was left over would be my salary. It ended up not being quite enough to live off of, so I decided to begin organizing my own events and race management team to supplement my income.
How did you become involved with ACTIVE Network?
I first got involved with ACTIVE when I started managing the adult races. I list 20+ races on ACTIVE.com, 4-5 are my own events and 15-20 are other people’s events that I manage for them.
Has such a big career change paid off?
It’s been a little crazy with how things have evolved over the past four years—I would have never guessed coaching runners and organizing races would be my full-time job. Bullseye Running has been going really well. A large part of it is because I’ve been involved with the running club for 20 years, so everyone knows who I am. I don’t know if I could have the same success in another city so quickly.
And I haven’t given up on running personally. I just ran the Peachtree Road Race 10K on the 4th of July, which attracts 60,000 participants. As much as I like to compete, I also like to see other people be successful in this sport and I’ve always loved coaching youths.
What kind of marketing do you do to promote Bullseye Running?
I’m still trying to figure out what’s the most successful marketing tactic. I’ve tried different things, from social media to past participant email blasts to flyers at local running stores and businesses. Each channel contributes a bit to registration numbers. I do email participants from past events through ACTIVE all the time and find that to be an awesome marketing tool.
You’ve been involved in the sport of running for a long time. What changes have you seen over the years?
The sport of running has seen a huge shift from competition to participation. I think our country’s health issues have really encouraged people to become more active, plus you have TV shows like The Biggest Loser and The Amazing Race that are inspiring people. But the odd thing is that it’s mostly a culture shift for adults. I find the youth are not quite having the same experience and opportunity. To some extent I think that parents are afraid to let kids go outside as much because it can be dangerous out there, but it’s also because kids are fascinated by technology. Technology is making kids sedentary.
The good news is that adults are starting to move and be more active, they’re pulling their kids along with them. But it’s more of a participation mode than a competitive mode. Mob™ events like The Color Run™ are becoming a social group activity. It’s like going to a baseball game—the whole family can go and it will be fun. Anyone can participate; you don’t have to be a runner. I appreciate that because our country needs to move and these types of events are what attract the whole family. Almost all of my events are family oriented and include special opportunities for the kids.
What is one of the best things you’ve learned over the years?
One of the things that has helped me tremendously is making sure that the kids are having fun while they’re there. A lot of youth sports are set up with competition as the main focus versus teaching fundamentals or fitness. We do offer the highest level of competition in our youth programs, but we don’t require kids to compete. I do encourage it, but our main focus is to provide an opportunity for all levels of kids to go out there, have fun, and be part of a team. We break them into groups based on age, ability, and interest level. That keeps everyone progressing and happy.
I organize all of the adult races on the weekends to make sure I can stay dedicated full time to the youth programs. It’s been a blessing to have the opportunity to work with kids.
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