In the world of outdoor endurance events, there is a natural tendency for competition — among organizers. The races themselves are competitive so why wouldn't the same apply to those who put them on? After all, everyone is in a "race" for registrations and sponsors and attention.
But it doesn't have to be that way, and, in many cases, shouldn't. It's a counter-intuitive approach, perhaps, but partnerships among event organizers — and less competition — can lead to growth for all.
In North Central Washington, we have an amazing event "infrastructure" — mountains, rivers and lakes, as well as the facilities, trails and roads tied to those geographic features. What we have generally lacked is the marketing and organizational prowess that will attract large numbers of people to the region for the races. In recent years, we have seen good progress in that area. The Chelanman Multisport Weekend, Leavenworth Oktoberfest Marathon, Bavarian Battle and the Lake Chelan Marathon have all established themselves as well-run and growing events. But even these local races — along with many others — operate on relatively small budgets and have a need to find new and innovative ways to get their messages out.
Last year, my group, RunWenatchee, and another local event group, TedDriven, agreed to promote each other's races. On the surface, this wouldn't seem to make good business sense. RunWenatchee puts on several running races in Chelan County (Red Devil Trail Challenge, Lake Chelan Marathon, River Run). So does TedDriven (Wenatchee Marathon, Leavenworth Oktoberfest Marathon). But both groups realized we are shooting for the same goals: Nurturing a growing running community and elevating the region's stature as a great place to partake in an outdoor adventure.
One of the ways our partnership has revealed itself is in a series of magazine ads, social media posts and posters that list all of our events together. This accomplishes three things: It more cost-effectively promotes our races; it gives the impression there is a lot of big-time running events to choose from in Chelan County (which is true, by the way); and it reassures potential visitors that the local running scene has its act together.
"RunWenatchee gets people out there, and then they're eager to do our races. And vice-versa." says Lynda Finegold of TedDriven. "It feels really good in a small community to be working together rather than working against each other."
The tricky part with partnerships is that each side will want something out of it — and rightly so. This one certainly does that.
I would argue, however, that even when partnerships aren't perfectly and equally balanced they are more than likely benefiting the region's outdoor recreation sector as a whole. The more that people recognize NCW as a mecca for events, the more that people will sign up for races in the future and take part in other outdoor activities.
When that happens everyone wins.
Steve Maher is co-owner of RunWenatchee, which organizes running events, and president of AdventureWenatchee, an online network promoting outdoor events and activities. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.