- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

BOSTON — Running USA hired Susan J. Weeks of Colorado Springs last month as its chief executive officer to replace veteran Basil Honikman, who had announced his retirement after he led the organization for eight years.

Founded in 1999, Running USA is a tax-exempt, non-profit association devoted to improving the status of road racing and long distance running in the United States through education, research, communications, collective marketing, promotions, services to runners and events and athlete development. Running USA, through its annual conference and other communication channels, provides the community “meeting place” for major road race, media and athletic industry personnel.

Weeks, 57, had spent the past four years at USA Field Hockey as an assistant executive director of business development. She has more than 20 years of Olympic sport management experience, has owned and managed specialty running store Runners Roost in Colorado Springs and has directed running races. She is a two-time marathoner and four-time finisher in the Pikes Peak Ascent (13.32 miles).

I sat down with her this weekend in Boston. Here is some of that interview:

Q: What is Running USA’s mission, as you see it?

A: That’s a very interesting question. As I studied the organization, as I talked with [elite marathon coach] Joe Vigil, who coached my husband, Mark, I fought with what exactly is the mission. It’s very broad, promoting running in the U.S.

With the board, I’d like to work to improve what we already do. Maybe narrow it, maybe not. The youth part is very important. But we battle with a very small budget [$600,000]. [The budget] is one thing I’m hoping to change. That’s one thing my experience has given me is that people undersell their programs, and I am hoping to change that, too, mostly through adding more sponsorship dollars.

Q: What does Running USA really do for running in America?

A: It is the only trade association for running. It puts the companies with a vested interest in the sport with the events. I’ve spoken with all the board members to see what they get out of their involvement with Running USA, and they said it’s the networking.

Q: Critics are saying that you are an outsider, coming from the sports of field hockey and swimming and not from inside the sport of running. What can you tell them?

A: My experience in the nonprofit world. I understand the governance part and that the board is full of visionaries. That the members of the board check their individual agendas at the door and make collective good decisions. I think I’m really good at finding little niches of funding revenue. Having worked with Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. Olympic Committee, I’m comfortable with talking with people.

Q: What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

A: With field hockey, quadrupling revenue for the organization. Going from four sponsors to 10.

Q: With all the experienced insiders in the running industry, why do you think Running USA chose you?

A: A fresh look, maybe because I don’t know the politics. Maybe because of my Olympic background and my passion for running.

Q: How do you plan to improve Running USA’s exposure?

A: I think we have to turn that around. We have to put it out there front and center. For instance, I go to our members’ Web sites, and there is no reciprocal link to our Web site. My brother-in-law has been a runner for 25 years, and he never heard of Running USA.

Q: Other than being a junior Olympic swimmer, what are your proudest athletic achievements?

A: Taking Joannie [Samuelson] for a run during the 1996 Olympics [laughing]. Four times up Pikes Peak, once at age 50.

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