Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Former Nova All-American Carey Pinkowski Readies Another Chicago Marathon

Chicago Marathon race director Carey Pinkowski
By Jim Ferstle for RunnersWorld

The 33rd running of what is now the Bank of America Chicago Marathon features the hottest female marathoner, plus the winners of Chicago, Boston, and London Marathons in the men’s divisions during the last year. It filled its 45,000 entrant field in 50 days, a record, and has a Beijing like race date 10-10-10 (October 10, 2010). Runners are hoping that the triple tens are their lucky numbers for a calm, cool day on the flat, fast course ideal for setting personal bests. Below, Race Director Carey Pinkowski talks about Mayor Richard M. Daley’s final marathon, the World Marathon Majors, and his high hopes for this year’s elite race. Pinkowski was interviewed prior to Ryan Hall's withdrawal from the October 10 race.

Since Mayor Daley has announced he won’t be seeking reelection, this will be his last marathon as mayor.
Carey Pinkowski: The mayor’s been very supportive. I think he’s enjoyed participating. Sunday is family day for him, so we’ll have to see if it will still be that way when he’s out of office. I have to talk to him and see; maybe we can get him to help out next year.

There’s been a lot of talk about the World Marathon Majors, whether or not it is having an impact. This year, Chicago could be decide both the men’s and women’s titles. What are your thoughts on the WMM?
CP: Yes, the race within the race. I am extremely proud of the relationship with the WMM. The integration we see with all five events. Our operations people meet and share their experiences. That’s really one of the great facets of the relationship. Our medical people, our media and PR people. A lot of the positive relationships most people don’t see.

For example, this past January, the five race directors and our medical directors got together. We dedicated two days to address those areas. There are a lot of similarities, and a lot of areas where we can learn from one another about overall philosophy and protocols. It was an opportunity for staff to observe and participate.

You're also competitors in the area of recruiting the top runners.
CP: We’re great friends and collaborators, but we each want the best athletes. I think that competition is good. It’s mostly the athletes who benefit.

It helps them negotiate better deals?
CP: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s part of it.

How much do you think the general public is aware of the WMM?
CP: There is a certain amount of visibility, and there are some things we can improve on. I think in Chicago it is in the general consciousness of the average person. When I talk to people I meet or at clinics, they have referred to Chicago as one of the majors. I was in Davenport for Bix. I was talking to a group of runners there, and they said the same thing.

What specific things have happened within the WMM organization that made a difference?
CP: A lot of the things that we collaborated on and supported. We were on the front end of the EPO testing. We continue to expand on what we’ve been doing. We’ve done some great things with the charity component. In 2009, for example, we raised $10.1 million for charity, which is great. Last year we had over 8,000 sign up through the charities. This year we have over 10,000.

The improvements in the charity component of the race were a direct response to collaboration we had from the successful charity programs they have in London and Berlin. In addition to the money raised, I think it has contributed to the demand of the event. We opened registration for the race February and in 50 days, we closed. That’s the shortest period of time we’ve had. We also do a lot of other things that benefit from what we’ve learned from the other WMM events. We have a youth imitative and a youth running program. We support groups doing school and after school programs. We support a youth cross country program. New York and Boston have done that. It’s just and opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm.

Why do you think that events such as the marathon are still thriving, even in a tough economy?
CP: I think that people who discover marathoning, whether they participate in the training groups or with the charities, feel that it is an opportunity to challenge themselves, and I think people are attracted to that. In this day and age, there is something basic and refreshing to that challenge. Take that training and express themselves. That’s what drives the participants. Also, I think the runners feel there is still something unique about being to line up with the Olympic champion or world record holders. Run over the same course, experience the same conditions. I think that is something that intrigues them.

Also, one of the things we’ve discovered is that people come to Chicago and discover what a vibrant city it is. We commission a study done by the University of Illinois every year to measure the impact on the local economy. Last year, they estimated that race weekend generated $150 million, and the weekend is also one of the top grossing weekends for hotels and restaurants.

A lot of marathons have added events to the weekend, but Chicago hasn’t followed that trend.
CP: Over the years, we’ve tried different events. I’m not saying we won’t do those again, but as the marathon numbers continued to grow in the past eight years, we decided to focus on trying to make the marathon the best in the world.

It seems that all the top events make a claim to be the best, and it’s hard to find objective measures to settle even which one of the WMM should be rated the best.
CP: All five are inherently different as the cities are inherently different. But I think I’m pretty safe in saying that they are the top five in the world.

A lot of marketing right now is catch phrases or slogans that are used to give the product or event a brand or image. The marathons don’t seem to have something like that. How would you do that for your event?
CP: The way our course is designed, it’s always been built for speed. Also, it’s a great tour of the city, convenient. The fact that we have the start and finish in the same venue. That part of it resonates with our participants. The course is also very accessible to the runners’ friends and family members. That’s evident from the number of people who buy metro day passes. That part of it adds to the vibrancy of the event.

Also, we’ve always had great athletes–Khalid Khannouchi, Steve Jones, Paula Radcliffe–a history and tradition. I think that adds to the atmosphere. This year Bank of America is using the “10-10-10 The date to motivate” as their slogan. Each year they, Bank of America, do a great job of coming up with a slogan, a focus like that. This year, we’ve had the most response we’ve ever had to the promotion, The Bank took 10 Chicago area participants – they’re from your neighborhood. Put them on the ads. Put them on the Kennedy(Freeway) mural.

People really responded to this. These people were all great members of their communities, What was important is what they do all year round. They’re just very giving people. They are just a wonderful part of their communities. (The promotion was) a real departure from what we’ve done in the past. We’ve had a lot of response from other neighborhoods who want to be a part, who wonder how they can get marathon banners up in their community.

All this stuff is very important to the event, but I know that one of the things that energizes you is the elite field. This year’s event is one of the stronger ones in years for the potential to have fast, competitive races.
CP: I’m really excited by this year’s field. I saw Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot’s run at Boston this year, and I was just blown away by what he did. It was one of the greatest performances I’ve seen, arguably the greatest marathon ever run in North America. If he can bring that fitness level to Chicago…

I’ve seen Tsegaye Kebede run in Fukuoka and in London this year, and I was impressed. Sammy (Wanjiru) is well, Sammy. But what impresses me most is that they are all at the front end of their careers. In 2002, I thought we had our greatest field here in Chicago. We had Paul Tergat, Khalid (Khannouchi), El Mouaziz, Takaoka, but they were near the end of their careers. These guys that we have this year are on the rise. They’ve all known they were going to run here since the Spring. There’s a lot of luck that goes into it, but if we can get everybody to the line healthy, favorable weather with not too much wind. To have them go under 2:05 would be cool.

There are also some good Americans that aren’t getting much notice but may do well. For example, Desiree Davila was here not long ago to do a tempo run on the course. She really impressed me. I don’t see her threatening (Lilya) Shobukhova (the defending champion and 2010 Flora London Marathon champion), but I think she will run well here. And, of course Magdelena (Lewy Boulet) ran 2:26 in Rotterdam this year and should be ready to run. I’m really looking forward to this year’s race.

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