This week I had the privilege to take some of Chris Twiggs time for a short discussion on the Endurance Sports Industry. Chris is the National Program Manager for Galloway’s Training Programs. Chris is also the Founder and Co-Program Director for the Jacksonville, Florida Galloway Training Program. In addition, he sits on the Board of Directors for the 26.2 with Donna, the National Breast Cancer Marathon held every February, where 100% of the proceeds go to the fight to finish breast cancer. One of the reasons I enjoy getting but early on a Saturday morning and running is due to Chris’s magical spirit and unbelievable knowledge of what it takes to get mostly middle aged women, some a bit overweight, to run a half-marathon or marathon, without injury in 7 to 4 months, all while making it fun.
Chris Twiggs got into running and endurance running less than 20 years ago. He was going to graduate school at Florida State University, working 3 jobs, one teaching at a community college in Gainesville, Florida when his new bride, an avid runner, told him about a new Marathon that would be held at Walt Disney World. Chris’ new wife wanted the two of them to do this together and as is typical with Chris’ personality he said sure. Chris picked up a book at a local bookstore read it and started to follow the training schedule. The problem with the schedule was that it was not practical for anyone who worked full-time and lacked time to run 13 miles on a Wednesday. Chris muddled through the training and half way through determined that he would do another marathon but it would not be using the training in this particular book. So he headed back to the bookstore and found another book, this time by Jeff Galloway, an Olympic marathoner. It just happened that Jeff Galloway was a speaker at the first Walt Disney World Marathon, and Chris and his wife stopped to listen and get autographs from Jeff.
During his speaking engagement at the Disney Marathon, Jeff Galloway was introducing a new way to run using a run/walk ratio. Chris and his wife decided to try this new method out. Using walk breaks Chris went from a 4:15 marathon to a 4:01 while Chris’ wife went from a 4:14 to a 3:38, qualifying for the Boston marathon. They became instant believers in this new method. For their third marathon the two run the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington DC. Chris was just in the process of finishing another of Jeff’s books this time more of a novel. As fate would have it Jeff Galloway rode in the bus back to the airport with Chris. As an English Professor, Chris had taken note that in the back of the book Jeff had asked for feedback on how to improve the book. During that bus ride Chris went out on a limp and asked Jeff if he could provide feedback. Three months later Chris and Jeff came together yet again at the Disney Marathon where Chris provided Jeff with feedback on the book. A few short months later, Chris received a call from Jeff asking him to start a Galloway Running program in Gainesville, Florida. Unfortunately that didn’t work out but Chris took Jeff’s offer and started one in Greensville, South Carolina. Chris enjoyed it so much that when he moved to Jacksonville, Florida he started a chapter in Jacksonville and Daytona Beach. The Jacksonville chapter has grown from just 20 people to well over 500 in just a short 7 years.
Because of Chris and Jeff’s relationship Chris once told Jeff that if the National Program Manager position ever came open he wanted the opportunity to take the position. As fate would have it, again, in 2011, Chris became the National Program Manager for over 90 chapters of Galloway Training Programs across the United States and now internationally. As National Program Manager, Chris provides all of the marketing materials, training needs and advice that a local chapter needs to become successful. In our discussion, Chris mentioned that the most successful chapters have not one but two Program Directors and work with local running stores or health organizations like the local YMCA to gain membership and the support that is needed to grow and sustain a chapter. Those in trouble are usually chapters where there is no one in the waiting to take over the reins. It is Chris’ responsibility to help out as best he can to ensure that there is a succession plan and that a chapter is set to succeed.
I also wanted to get Chris’ feedback on some of the larger races that are out there and understand why he feels that some races are so successful and why some right now are receiving such negative feedback yet are continuing to see huge volumes of runners and continue to draw people year after year. Chris’ assessment of this is that some of these larger races that are in their first years draw 30,000+ people are put on for the first time runner and not the avid runner, who knows from experience what they like and don’t like from an event. Many races won’t recover from some of the mistakes that these races have experienced recently. If you advertise a “scenic route” you have to deliver on that promise, cutting costs by running through lesser traveled sections of town and calling that scenic won’t cut it for the repeat runner. The little things like having enough T-shirts, medals and water are important to runners. Smaller races won’t recover from these mistakes.
One of the trends in producing marathons is to use a cookie cutter approach and come into a city with a plan that has worked in one city and use the same methodology for all cities. It just doesn’t work and leaves the runner with some extremely bad impressions. The problem is that these same races are bringing in millions of dollars to the cities they are held in and making millions for themselves while runners suffer. In 5 years it will be interesting to see where we are and if races like the 26.2 with Donna will be more successful as a home grown, home town feel then the big cookie cutter approach guys.
I could have talked to Chris for many more hours and feel a great privilege that he took time out of this day to talk with me. If there is one thing I learned more than anything from my conversation with Chris is that if you want something or your interested in something let people know. You never know who might be sitting next to you on a bus to the airport.