Emergence From the Emergency Part 2”: HMRRC Annual 2022 Report

by Jessica Northan

October 16, 2022

In preparing remarks for today, I re-read my report from last year and while I wanted to take the easy way out and repeat that speech, it wasn’t going to work. I do figure, however, that this can be the “Emergence From the Emergency Part 2.” We have found that the running world we are re-entering post pandemic is quite different from the one we left. We must make some adjustments. Just what those are and how we do them will need careful consideration. All club members must voice their concerns, their wishes, their desires during this readjustment period.

Right now, we continue to put on a significant number of well-organized and popular running events, though their popularity (and the popularity of racing in general) has waned. Participation numbers are down across the board, but expenses increase (hello inflation! and safety regulations!). The board is in a solid financial position, but we must continue to make adjustments as needed

The race market is saturated and nearly all our events face competing races on the same weekend or weekends just before/after. I see a barrage of events promoted for worthy causes or by for-profit management companies or entities with much more branding and marketing power than us. Smaller races without sponsorship or marketing experts on staff get overlooked. Many come and go as it’s simply not as profitable or as easy to manage as one thinks. The bare bones races seem less desirable by the masses and people look to pay more for extra flair. Many pick “events” over “races.” While our club offers some events, we pride ourselves in quality races for low cost as well. Improving our marketing and securing race sponsors is a must if we want to continue our race calendar as is.

        President Jess Northan on top of
                      Giant Mountain

Our club has eliminated several events from our schedule in recent years and may need to consider the elimination of more. I’d hate to see that happen as I personally like many of the smaller, cheap, low-key events, but it’s not apparent that others do, so we’ll see. Our current schedule has 20+ races with 11 being free for club members. We are only able to offer the free races with the dedication of our many race directors and with some profit from the other races. Some of our folks (Maureen Cox for the marathon, Mark Warner for the WTC, Brian Northan for the Stockade-athon & ROTG, John Parisella for Labor Day, Masters 10k, Distinguished Service, and WS #4) are giving many hours a week over several months of the year to the club. We must find ways to recruit additional qualified race directors.

Some opportunities exist for prospective RDs to get their feet wet by being an assistant or co-director or being a coordinator for one aspect of one of our larger races. The RDs of our major events have large jobs requiring a good deal of work. Their teams are invaluable. As is assistance they receive from our administrative assistant Carol Reardon, our club facilities manager John Parisella, and our insurance coordinator Barbara Sorrell. We must keep these teams strong. Not only does it lessen the workload for the director, it spreads the knowledge and experience should the director not continue in their role.

While it’s possible we could create new “events” that might better reflect runners’ interests in the modern era and perhaps draw more participants, we’d need the oomph to do that. Having more RDs is great because it lightens the load, but in some ways it’s a disadvantage as well. We lose networking ability when we’re decentralized. Rather than having one RD build a solid rapport and repeated relationship with the police chief or mayor or town/county officer, we have multiple HMRRC RDs contacting them for different events and they don’t really learn who we are or that we are all connected with the same club. We have the finances to start a new event but do we have the visions, connections, and manpower?  

In the past, the board has discussed the option of compensating race directors, and some suggest we revisit that idea. It really isn’t simple though and brings up a lot of questions. What would the compensation be? Which RDs would receive it? What about the coordinators who take on major parts of each race? Would they receive some compensation, too? Where do you draw the line between a volunteer and a paid worker? What impact would compensation have on the club's other programs? The club was founded on the spirit of volunteerism, and I’m hopeful (yet not confident) it can continue that way. Because of our wonderful volunteers, we are able to do so much for our community. So much beyond putting on quality running races.

Our Shrader Scholarship program encourages and supports young runners in their efforts to make running a lifelong part of a healthy lifestyle. This year we resumed full payout of six $3,000 non-renewable scholarships to runners from Section II planning to attend a college, university or

community college on a full-time basis. We are now in our 23rd year of the Shrader Scholarship program and have awarded in excess of $223,000 to 89 student athletes. One of these athletes recently served on our board and others continue to race in our community. We must find more ways to get younger runners involved with our club.

In 2010, we started the Just Run program and while it missed a season during the pandemic, Ken Skinner has it thriving again. This program supports elementary school running programs and provides a stipend to teachers who run the program in their schools and t-shirts and snacks to the kids who participate. We put on a track meet last spring and in a couple weeks, 19 schools will be attending our fall cross country meet at Mohonasen High School. There are over 1200 students participating in the program this year and likely 850 will attend the meet over two days. We have 40 club members helping, and I’m smiling just thinking about all the smiles there will be :)

In addition to these programs encouraging the youth of our community to run, we partner with the Food Pantries of the Capital District. Over 348 pounds of produce and 218 pounds of food was donated by our club in 2021! And, since 2004 the CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge has selected one or more Charities of Choice annually. The program selects non-profit organizations in the Capital Region to receive a donation from CDPHP and HMRRC, as well as direct contributions from race participants. The Oakwood Community Center in Troy, NY was the recipient of $31,188 after this year’s race.

All of these efforts give me great pride, and as HMRRC members, you should be proud, as well. Much of our mission has been accomplished, but there is work to be done. The primary tasks for the new board as I see it: Secure sponsors for races, improve marketing, and recruit younger participants. We need to focus on ways to turn the Just Run participants into Scholarship Applicants and the scholarship applicant cohort into race participants, club members, and future race directors.

Without the addition of these incredibly hard-working and competent people, it's difficult to imagine how the club will move forward.

Thank you Jess and Brian for all the help you freely and enthusiastically give to the HMRRC. You are an inspiraion for all of us.

Thank you for joining us for the 50th Anniversary of the HMRRC. The annual meeting is not generally held at a race, but given indoor events and parties are still somewhat questionable in safety, this seemed like the best plan for getting 25 members to attend and meet our bylaw requirements for officer elections. With little racing and socialization in the last year and half, it was nice to have the opportunity to honor some of our members as well.

The state of our club is strong, though admittedly, not the strongest it has ever been. In 50 years, there have been challenges to the organization for sure, but none greater than the COVID Pandemic. Here is a recap of our emergence after the emergency. That statement makes it seem the emergency is over. It is not. Yet we have begun to run again.

In October 2020, HMRRC had no races or activities on the calendar. A local running company, AREEP, began to safely offer races so community members eager to get out and run had opportunities. AREEP shared it’s safety plan, and we became interested in resuming our events, yet, our race venues are mostly public property (SUNY, town/city parks, public schools), and it was not possible to get permits. Given our race directors are volunteers who have other full time jobs, it wasn’t realistic to ask them to come up with new venues, new courses, new safety plans, etc. After many brainstorming sessions, our Winter Series was cancelled. As was ROTG, DD, the Master’s 10k, and the Distinguished Service Run. Our pandemic debut was the Colonie Track Series. Frank Myers, Ken Skinner, Barbara Sorrell, and Ed Hamston were instrumental in pulling this off with very restrictive requirements from USATF. Then came the Tawasentha Series directed by John Kinnicutt. And with support from CDPHP, Mark Warner and team, the Workforce Team Challenge offered the opportunity for 5000 Capital District employees to race. Less than a 1000 seized the opportunity to head to Altamont on a hot August evening. While the event didn’t bring in any funds to further HMRRC programming, the charities of choice (Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless, Ronald McDonald House and Red Book Shelf) each received upwards of $7000 through runner and corporate donations. HMRRC mission accomplished. The club hopes to resume this race with the traditional date and location in 2022, but it is unexpected that we return to the 10,000 sellouts we’ve had in the past. Many work places are permanently different. The Labor Day 5k returned to Schenectady with NNL still the sponsor and John Parisella still the RD. The dedication of race directors in 2021 is a highlight of the year for the club. It was an easy year to fold. An easy year to back out and say “it’s not worth the extra effort”. It took extra effort in keeping people safe. And our club has always had volunteers willing to go the extra mile.

Some of those volunteers are aging, and this has been a year of transition. We’ve had transitions in major club roles: Administrative Assistant, Facility Manager, Pace Setter Editor, Public Relations, and we’re preparing for transitions in more: Website Administrator, Race Committee Chair, and Race Committee Treasurer. Change is good and continuity is important. Those leaving their roles have been extraordinary in training their replacements. We’re extremely grateful for that. One goal for the future is to better utilize our Google Drive system of record keeping. Having accurate job descriptions and details of processes properly organized will suit our needs should anyone ever leave abruptly and/or be unable to train a successor.

Note in the list of transitions we had no change in RD’s for 2021, but we know this won’t always be the case. We have very qualified people at the helm of our events, and it will be a challenge to find replacements when needed. We have secured a new Administrative Assistant after Marcia Adam’s retirement and a new facility manager after Tom Adam’s retirement. Carol Reardon and John Parisella will be assisting race directors in the coming year, but the challenges for them remain. There are a lot of other events out there. While our races have been very popular in the past, will they remain so? What will race directors need to do to keep them competitive? The competition in the running marketplace is changing. 50 years ago HMRRC was the running club of the community. Now there are clubs associated with running stores, with breweries and restaurants, with coaches and gyms, with social media groups and more. Some people attend races to race. Others attend them to socialize. Our club and race directors have the challenge of meeting everyone’s goals, and it isn’t easy, but it’s HMRRC mission critical. Our membership is down. Understandably, hundreds of members did not renew during the pandemic. Will they re-join? Will they attend our races?

To attract runners to our races and to reward our club members, we have reinstated the Grand Prix, albeit with a reduction in prize money. We shifted the start and end dates so we will be able to recognize winners at next year’s annual meeting/awards ceremony. The Labor Day 5k race was the first on the calendar with Tawasentha #2 being the last. To attract volunteers to our races, we are giving them Grand Prix points as well. There is no requirement to be a volunteer, but people must realize there are no races without volunteers.

Another way we can attract runners to our races is to improve our marketing. Ray Newkirk has transitioned the role of public relations to Courtney Breiner who has created an Instagram account for the club. Now you can follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Race Directors are using various social media outlets to advertise their races and some may be developing promotional videos for the future. The continued presence of photographers and participants willing to write race stories and reports will contribute to the marketing as well. In 2021 we saw a change in Pace Setter Editorship from Christine Bishop to Stephen Hallgren back to Christine Bishop. The Pace Setter has always been a means of marketing our events and bringing members together. 2021 was no different.

One way 2021 was different is that we suspended our grant program for the year. Considering we had no race income in 2020 and considerable financial loss, we halted the grants and reduced our scholarship awards from $18,000 to $12,000. We awarded $3,000 each to 4 Section II runners who are on a mission to continue running in college. Our Just Run program which also supports youth in the community was on hold this year as schools were not offering extracurricular activities in that manner. Knowing our funds were low from the lack of races in 2020, Just Run coordinator Ken Skinner paired up with Pete Newkirk to seek out a sponsor for the hefty price tag of the program. After being turned down by several corporations, the club got an offer of $35,000 from a charitable foundation for the sole purpose of Just Run. Amazing! When Ken Skinner is involved, it’s mission not impossible.

From a financial standpoint, the state of our club is strong. Again, not the strongest it has ever been, but due to excellent operational planning in the past, the club had a “rainy day fund” to weather this pandemic

Whether or not HMRRC makes it another 50 years is not dependent on the finances of the club. It is dependent on the members of the club. Members of the club must voice their concerns, their wishes, their desires; attend meetings, attend races; direct meetings, direct races. Together we can make another 50 years happen, but let’s focus on 2022 first.

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