The Kaiser Permanente Colfax Marathon features seven events over two days—including a marathon, half marathon, urban 10 miler, marathon relay, corporate cup relay, government cup relay, and 5K—making for an incredible weekend. Andrea Dowdy was named CEO in 2010 and since then has helped the event grow dramatically. Registration numbers have increased by about 7,000 runners in those three years and the courses have changed dramatically, adding unique and fun elements that participants are lined up to experience.
How did you first get started with the Colfax Marathon?
Three months before the 2010 event, I was asked to step in as CEO. There was a board in place, but no staff. I had my own company at the time but thought this was a great opportunity. That first year was pretty stressful as we only had weeks until the event, but with good team work we made it happen and were actually able to increase our numbers by 1,000 runners from the previous year. From there, we were able to grow and change the course.
Did you have a background in event directing or sports?
Previously I worked at The Walt Disney Company and one of my roles was Director of Worldwide Sports Marketing. At the time, Disney was launching a campaign to keep families engaged throughout their lives, instead of just during the younger years of children. One big event was a huge soccer initiative that brought in 7,000 kids from around the world to play 1300 games of soccer in one week. I was also on the board and Vice President of Marketing for MBS Mountainboards, an extreme sports company, and ran a few other companies as well. So coming to Colfax Marathon, I had some sports, business, and entrepreneurial experience.
How many runners participate in all seven events of the Colfax Marathon?
We had about 14,000 participants at our 2013 event in May. That is approximately double the number we had in 2010, so we’ve grown by around 7,000 runners in three years.
How have you been able to grow your participation numbers so quickly?
When I first came on board in 2010, we took a close look at the event, particularly the course. Colfax is the longest main street in America, which was our selling point, but the east-west corridors in Denver have so much to offer—America’s only downtown amusement park, Rocky Mountain College of Arts and Design, Mile High Stadium, etc. To grow the event, we wanted to make the course even more interesting and fun, and have the runners experience things that are “uniquely Denver” as they ran through it.
What kind of changes did you make?
All of the races except the Urban 10 Miler start in Denver, but they head in different directions from there and circle back to the start. The Urban 10 Miler starts at the Rocky Mountain College of Arts and Design, making it a point-to-point with public bus transportation back to your car post-race.
We added the Urban 10 Miler in 2012, where participants can run the final miles of the marathon course through the stadium, downtown Denver, Cherry Creek Trail, and City Park. We added this distance because there are a lot of 10Kers out there and this is a good stepping stone for them, as well as our 5K runners. It gets them over the hurdle from 5K or 10K to the half marathon.
We wanted to make the half marathon special too, so we had it run in a different direction from the marathon course. What makes it really iconic is that it runs through the Denver Zoo for an entire mile. We’re only the second race in the U.S. to go through a zoo and it’s an incredible experience. In 2011, we also added a fire station to the half marathon course. They pull out all the trucks and participants literally run through the station, getting high 5s from the fire fighters.
Whatever distance you choose to do, you will run by these iconic parts of Denver and be entertained—it’s a snapshot of the city.
How many charities are involved with your event?
We officially had 122 charity partners this year, although we supported 170. We’re a non-profit and chose to have an open door policy. Our Charity Partners Program states that all you need is 15 runners and you must fundraise on your own. That’s it—there’s no charge and there’s no minimum amount to fundraise.
Speaking of the relay teams, can you tell us how those fit into your event?
In 2013, we had 725 relay teams, making us one of the largest relay events in the country. You can register as an open, corporate, or government team. Almost 300 of those were corporate or government teams and our event is a platform for the largest corporate fitness challenge in Colorado.
Do you use social media to promote the Colfax Marathon?
Yes, it’s very important. Last year we introduced a 15-person ambassador program. The ambassadors came from all levels of experience—some were great runners, some weren’t—but they all were on social media talking about the race.
We had our largest growth in numbers ever for 2013, and I think the ambassador program was a huge factor. For 2014, we’re going to double the program and make it 30 people.
Why do you think the Colfax Marathon has been so successful overall?
We’ve developed something complex and unique and that’s why it’s successful, but that’s also why it’s really fun.
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