Running’s hard. Racing can be scary. And organizations don’t grow to 5,000 members scaring people away.
But running and racing are an opportunity to compete. Last year, the Montgomery County Road Runners club debuted its racing team after three decades without one, allowing the club to fulfill its mission to be, “A place for every pace”
MCRRC racing team member Lisa Reichmann says she wasn’t surprised there wasn’t a racing team prior to 2013.
“While I wish it would have been created sooner, I think that the beliefs for MCRRC are more focused on an every-type-of-runner club,” Reichmann said. “That’s why I think people love the training programs and love the club. It has always been a club focused on community and runners of all abilities.”
A mother of three, Reichmann says that she was drawn to MCRRC because of the community atmosphere. And after she had kids, it was a great way for the entire family to be involved in something.
While Reichmann volunteered and coordinated several events for the club, she felt like she was missing out on something. She was one of the fastest members of the club and didn’t have any opportunity to run with athletes who had similar training goals, or to represent the club with which she identified so closely.
For Reichmann, there wasn’t a “place for her pace” — not until club member, and now racing team member, Dave Haaga got the ball rolling.
“I initially suggested that MCRRC lend some support to some of the stellar young runners in the county trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials…in 2011,” Haaga says. “The Board did not wish to favor a particular team or store sponsor and declined that suggestion. They did [support] the more general idea that as part of the club’s a ‘place for every pace’ principle we might do more to support fast-paced runners.”
Shortly following his suggestion, the MCRRC Board of Directors created an ad-hoc committee to support competitive runners. Haaga chaired the committee and Nicole Deziel, who eventually became a co-coordinator of the team, served as a liaison. They and other members of the committee helped come up with a number of recommendations. Deziel says that she was frustrated with going to events and not seeing any representation for the club.
“I would go to the RRCA Club Challenge every year,” Deziel says, “and other teams had these nice snazzy shirts on while MCRRC would roll up with mix-matched shirts or you wouldn’t even know if someone was in your club. I felt like we weren’t representing ourselves.”
The board’s initial hesitation to create the team was consistent with their overarching theme in the club of inclusivity.
“The board just wanted to make sure that this was something that was open and available to all our members,” Deziel says, “and that it was fair and transparent.”
Several months later, the club’s board of directors unanimously supported a motion to award cash prizes to the top MCRRC team in one major race selected annually: $200 for the top MCRRC male and female runner in one major club race selected annually, and a change in the prize structures for the championship and cross country series to $500, $400, and $300 cash for the top three open male and female runners.
In addition to cash prices, the board also approved a competitive racing team.
The structure of the team was formed in a similar fashion to the Howard County Striders racing team, attracting all ages with open and masters divisions.
“There’s lots of other racing teams around for mostly younger runners,” says MCRRC racing team member Mark Neff, who competes in the Masters division. “But [MCRRC] has master runners who wouldn’t have a chance running on the other teams.”
MCRRC racing team co-coordinator Yukun Frank Fung says having both an open and masters division on the team is a huge asset to him and other younger members on the team, because of the wisdom the masters can pass on to the rest of the team.
“We are well-experienced,” Fung says. “We have a lot to learn from the older generation and they are willing to teach. The other teams who have younger, faster guys, don’t have an older generation to learn from.”
In selecting the team, time standards, adjusted for open and masters athletes, helped ensured the team members could cut it, and they served as the primary criteria. The racing team committee generally selected applicants with the fastest performances over a wide range of distances, with club activity or volunteer participation records breaking ties. Once members of the racing team were chosen, they began competing in local races — albeit with a few struggles.
“In our first race together, we didn’t have team uniforms,” Reichmann says. “Then when we did get all of our team uniforms, it was the Rockville Twilighter, which was cancelled (because the threat of thunderstorms).”
As it turned out, uniforms weren’t the only challenges the racing team faced at first.
“People are training for different distances,” says Deziel. “We have ultra-marathoners to 5k runners on the team. And having a coached workout was going to be challenging in terms of training together.”
But after several months, the team finally showcased their new uniforms and top runners at the Parks Half Marathon and placed first in the team competition. And shortly after, the team won the Marine Corps Marathon’s mixed category.
“It was such a great feeling to see everybody in their singlets and afterwards I got so much positive feedback,” Deziel said. “We achieved showcasing our runners and increasing our visibility.”
As the new team heads into 2014, members are all set to compete in a full year of races. From the RRCA Ten Mile Challenge to Army Ten-Miler, MCRRC will be showcasing their highly-competitive athletes in an official capacity. Each runner is required to compete in at least five of 10 regional races on the schedule.
In addition, Diezel noted that the team wants to attract more young runners and women in the future.
“One idea we have is promoting the racing team to children and high school club members,” Diezel says. “For example, we just expanded our high school scholarship program that we offer to runners. So we hope that by providing some support to them, once they come back from college, they’ll come back to us.”
Though the racing team is for the top athletes in the club who can meet time standards, Reichmann says that it’s still in keeping with the club’s values.
“Even if it’s a faster subset of MCRRC, I feel like it’s still the same ‘no intimidation factor,” Reichmann says. “It still has that camaraderie and place for every team member but at a much higher level.”