USATF Unveils New Road Running Championship

The exact date and location of the event are still to be determined. 

USA Track & Field officials unveiled a new event and a new sponsorship partner that they hope will add excitement and visibility to the sport of road running in the United States.

Called the .US National Championship, the 12K race, to be run in the fall of this year, is a three-year sponsorship agreement between USATF and Neustar, the northern Virginia-based administrator of the .US internet domain name. The race will be the culminating event of the year-long USA Running Circuit (USARC), a series of races that dole out nearly $1 million in prize money to American runners.

That figure will increase substantially with the addition of the .US National Championship; the purse will total $100,000, with $20,000 each going to the male and female winners. The 12K race, whose exact date and location will be announced sometime in March after details are finalized, will bring together the top American road racers at a middle ground between 5K and the marathon, and will be preceded by an open 5K citizen race.

“I think it’s really exciting to American distance runners to have something like this,” said Deena Kastor, who flew across the country just for the day to participate in the press conference. “I think it’s going to create tremendous interest and participation.”

To induce the top runners to compete, it is likely the .US National Championship, USATF’s first wholly owned-and-operated road race, will offer more heavily weighted points, perhaps double or triple, toward the final USARC standings, according to Jim Estes, USATF’s director of events. “The main thing is to get this off the ground and running,” he said. “We can tweak and fine tune it later if we need to.”

The exact date of the race is something that will be carefully worked out. “We don’t want to conflict with or detract from other U.S. championships,” said Max Siegel, USATF’s CEO. “We’re hoping that having a culminating event will develop continuity and actually increase interest in the series as a whole, and therefore in the individual series races as well.” Siegel knows a thing or two about building interest in an annual series; he was a partner in one of the most successful teams in NASCAR racing, a sport that has defined success in building fan and media interest over the course of an extended season.

Neustar’s sponsorship of the race marks the largest single-event deal for USATF in more than a decade, and is part of Siegel’s goal of increasing sponsorship, brand awareness and growing USATF’s membership. Alex Berry, senior VP of Enterprise Services at Neustar, said he hopes that growing membership will use his company to serve their individual and group online needs. “With this partnership, we envision all national enthusiasts, such as USATF members, running clubs, elite athletes, and the running community having their own .US website. Runners can track and share their training routines, race times, upcoming races, network and more with .US—America’s top level domain.”

Berry, a recreational runner himself, joked that the 12K distance was chosen “because that’s the farthest I can run.” But he added that the fitness and family focus of the sport of road racing is what attracted Nuestar in becoming a sponsor. “The fact that the fans are also participants is something unique,” he said.

Whether Siegel can replicate the success of NASCAR in creating a viable year-long circuit that will engage both athletes and fans remains to be seen, but today’s announcement was certainly a step in the right direction.

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