Competitor Group’s elite athlete coordinator is a walking bank of racing knowledge.
There aren’t many jobs like Matthew Turnbull’s. As the elite athlete coordinator for Competitor Group, Inc., the 36-year-old British citizen spends most of his days on the phone and behind his laptop’s flickering screen.
His primary mission is straightforward: get the right mixture of pros to all of the starting lines of Competitor Group events.
Turnbull’s interest in race organization took root when he was 13 years old. Growing up in Northumberland, England, he played soccer and used running to say in shape.
Turnbull also volunteered to work at the Great North Run, and he said his passion for racing was fueled from that experience. He continued to help out at the event whenever he was able to and after graduating from the University of Northhampton, Turnbull called race director Brendan Foster and asked for a job.
“I think I phoned him probably once a month for about a year,” Turnbull said. “I feel like he probably finally said, ‘Look, can we get this guy a job?’”
His persistence paid off.
Turnbull started doing sales and marketing for the Great North Run and stayed in that position for a few years. At that time, the elite athlete coordinator for the race was Olympic silver medalist Peter Elliot.
“I helped him out a little bit during the years,” Turnbull said of Elliot. “And he recommended me for his job when he moved on.”
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Turnbull has always considered himself a runner, but he says it wasn’t until he started working with elites and their agents that he gained a real appreciation for what they do.
After his stint with the Great North Run, Turnbull switched companies in 2008, choosing to work for Competitor Group after meeting Tracy Sundlun at the ING New York City Marathon.
Being around Turnbull during a Rock ‘n’ Roll race immediately gives you respect for his extensive knowledge of the sport. He walks and talks facts and figures. He knows his athletes’ ages, their hometowns, their family situations, and, most importantly, how fast they can run.
“You simply learn it by doing it,” he said of the job. “It’s a relationship-driven sport. You have to trust the agent and the coaches of what I call the developmental athletes. You must believe that they will be sending you the next Kenenisa Bekele [the current world-record holder in the 5,000m and 10,000m].”
When he’s not chasing elites all over the globe, Turnbull likes to spend his days at his quiet, peaceful home in Granada, Spain — especially during the summer — with a good book to keep him entertained.
“The best thing about my job is that if I have a telephone and Wi-Fi, I can work anywhere,” he said. “With all the track meets going on in Europe, it’s a good place for me to hang out since most of the elite athletes’ agents and managers are over on this side of the pond.”
With the majority of the elites hailing from East Africa, Turnbull says he likes to spend two to three weeks a year in Ethiopia and Kenya.
“I think it’s important to have a relationship with the athletes over there. It shows a level of respect for them by going there,” he said. “When you see them training at 4 and 5 in the morning at 10,000 feet, when you see what they actually put into the race, it’s humbling and commands respect.”
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But travel aside, Turnbull’s latest project is something that he hopes will transform the running world. Starting this weekend at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon, Competitor Group is unveiling the Half Marathon Grand Prix.
The series would not have been possible without Turnbull’s influence and leadership.
With points-based scoring for place and time as well as age group, the Grand Prix is a first of its kind in the running industry, showcasing what has become the dominant and fastest-growing distance in the sport of road racing. The Half Marathon Grand Prix will include all of the 30 half marathons CGI organizes as part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, along with the EDP Lisbon Half Marathon.
“What this series does is give a platform for the ultimate half-marathon competition,” Turnbull said. “I’m hoping it will attract the best athletes in the world.”
Since his first day on the job, Turnbull said he’s been pushing for this kind of series.
“It’s been a question of what can we do that will be unique — something we can take ownership of,” he said. Turnbull selected the half-marathon distance for this Grand Prix because he says it complements the existing World Marathon Majors Series. “It’s perfect, because we can attract the big-named athletes who are racing the Majors and looking for a half marathon 6-11 weeks before their marathon.”
But Turnbull stresses that unlike the World Marathon Majors Series, the Grand Prix isn’t just for the elites. “It’s open to everyone,” he said. “Every age group has a shot at this. You can been an average to good club runner and still stand to win something.”