John Spriggs Makes the Transition from Runner to Race Director (Event Director of the Month)

John Spriggs HeadshotPresented by the Pamakids Runners Club and guided by the vision of the board of directors of the Club, the San Francisco Half Marathon and 5K Fun Run is executed by the race management company RhodyCo. John Spriggs, co–chair and race director of the event, acts as the emissary of both the Club and RhodyCo. The event is ranked as one of the most scenic in the country by Runner’s World and has successfully attracted runners to its beautiful course for the past 31 years.

John has been involved with the event in one way or another for many years, but 2014 will mark his first year in the race director role. Here’s what he had to tell us about the event itself and his path to become race director:

How did you get involved in the event? What’s your background?
I’ve been running for about 35 years. I ran in cross country and track in high school and college, so running has been a big part of my life. George Rehmet, the other co-race director of this event, brought me into the Pamakids Runners Club in mid-90s and got me on a racing team. From there I started volunteering at this event and moved from course monitor to course captain and now race director. 

What’s it like transitioning from participant to race director?
Switching into a race director role has given me a real appreciation of what it takes to put on an event like this. In particular, I have a much greater appreciation of having talented and dedicated volunteers.

It’s just critical. I’d see the volunteers when I was running in events, but didn’t realize how much of a time commitment it was on their part. For our event, we have 1 volunteer for every 10 runners, so our volunteer coordinator is responsible for recruiting 1000 volunteers. It’s just so important to have great volunteers. 

How have you been able to create such successful relationships with your sponsors?
Kaiser Permanente came on board as our title sponsor in 2005 and I can’t say enough about the amazing support they’ve provided. I think our relationship is strong because of good communication. Even though they’ve been with us for several years, we still begin working with Kaiser’s PR department months in advance of the event. We ask them what they want to see out of the event and align it with our goals. They encourage employees and plan members to participate and we provide training programs for them. Kaiser really believes in and supports exercise as illness prevention.  It’s a great fit for both our organization and theirs.

Plus, adding the 5k in addition to the half marathon has been key in getting support. Sponsors like events that can accommodate a variety of athletes, not just the folks who have the time and ability to train for longer races. This was important to Kaiser Permanente, for example, because we provide an event that all their members and staff can participate in.

What are some of the things you think set your event apart and help it be successful year after year?
One of the reasons our event consistently attracts runners is that we have a really great course. It’s scenic, fast, and the time of year is perfect. (We always hold the event on Super Bowl Sunday, so people like to get a great run in before they relax and enjoy the game.)

The event is also meticulously organized—it’s always on time and every detail is accounted for. RhodyCo, our event management company, is amazing. People put on a lot of races like this, but our event is put on by runners. We give a lot of attention to the details runners care about, because we’re runners ourselves.  And we always incorporate runner feedback into the next year’s event.

Also, since the Pamakids are a non-profit organization, we donate around $75,000 per year from the race proceeds to a variety of charitable organizations. We like to support local non-profit community organizations that match our club’s mission to “promote a healthy lifestyle.” Doing this is really helpful in connecting with both the runners in our race and sponsors who like to participate in an event that benefits their community.

Plus, we get lots of help with promotion. Kaiser Permanente really helps us reach out to their clients and employees. For example, we organize training runs with certified coaches to get people motivated and in shape for the event.  And ACTIVE Network also helps promote and attract registrants on ACTIVE.com.

What are some plans you have to improve the event?
Since this is our first year as race directors, George and I are sticking to the status quo for the most part. But one thing we’d like to do is send out more surveys. We really want feedback from participants on how we can tailor the race even more for them.  We’ll take a look at the responses for 2014 and try to make some changes for 2015.

Do you have any advice for race directors who might just be getting started?
I’d recommend that you visit other races in the area and see what they’re doing. Stop by and talk with them—it’s a great opportunity to trade stories and get some ideas.  Overall it’s a very friendly culture and we all want other events to succeed too because it only helps the industry grow.

Learn more about the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon & 5K Fun Run

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