- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

Last week, the publicity departments at the New York Road Runners, USA Track & Field and Running USA [Note] cq-jf [/NOTE] announced for June 3 an “unprecedented, unified effort to launch the inaugural National Running Day[EnLeader] to nationally and locally promote running as a healthy, easy, and accessible form of exercise.”

“Across the country, the day will celebrate the benefits of running as part of a healthy and active lifestyle aimed at combating some of today’s most pressing health issues,” the press release read.

Anything to get people to move is a good thing.

However, there are at least two national events designed to do just that. The Road Runners Club of America has its National Run[AT]Work Day on the third Friday of September, and the American Running Association has National Run a Mile Day for kids and adults May 9 in honor of Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile barrier May 6, 1954.

So why is another national running day necessary?

“What is unique about this proposition is its breadth, from kids to adults, from the serious runner to the wannabe, from the roads to the track. And it is truly a shared initiative,” said Mary Wittenberg, president and chief executive officer of the New York Road Runners.

“We started with RRCA as we totally agree it makes sense to have them part of this. While [RRCA Executive Director Jean Knaack] was agreeable initially and liked the idea, ultimately they decided not to be part of it. [EnLeader] I did reach out again [this week] to extend our warm welcome and encouragement to be part of it.

“The principal difference here is that this idea is to get everyone running with a big focus on kids and schools as well as leveraging our pros in a ‘service’ day. While I continue to believe that Running Day can later be a springboard and serve as a promotional platform for Run to Work day, it is intended to be broader. I also believe in these times with record unemployment rates, the broader and less focused on ‘work,’ the better.”

Replied Knaack, whose 50-year-old organization represents more than 700 running clubs and 180,000 members: “First off, I will say that copying is the greatest form of flattery. Their run is an exact replica of our Run[AT]Work Day we’ve been doing for the last four years [-] the toolkit, get local people to organize events, the logo, the Facebook page.”

“I was put into a conflict with our own organization,” said Knaack, who on Feb. 24 attended her first teleconference call on the proposed National Running Day. “My job is to promote our Run[AT]Work. That is our priority. My position is anything we can do to get people moving. I applaud their effort here, but stop re-creating the wheel. Invest in what’s already there.”

Dave Watt, executive director of the American Running Association, was left out of the loop, though he said Wittenberg made apologies for the oversight. Watt said he first heard about the new National Running Day when Wittenberg e-mailed him when he put out his “Mile” press release March 13.

“She simply asked if we’d consider moving our event to this June 3 thing,” said Watt, who said he did not reply. He added that the association prefers “defining a distance that is targeted to kids and families. The Mile is something we see as both a history lesson and something kids and adults can grasp as a distance track event that is doable.”

“We are in favor of joint national efforts,” said Watt, whose 41-year-old association has 10,000 individual and group members including 2,000 physicians. “We started National Run a Mile Day because we’ve been searching for a defining grassroots event that can tie in our mission and goals. ARA supports RRCA’s efforts with their clubs and National Run[AT]Work Day. We support RUSA and have always offered to provide expertise in sports medicine to [USA Track & Field] and other running events. We are willing to promote the concept, but after we finish our two big spring events (medical conference at the Boston Marathon) and Run a Mile Day.”

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