Running clubs in Seattle

I’ve run all my life but only got “serious” about it in 2007 when I decided to run the Portland Marathon. That year I ran a lot of races, including CNW‘s Firecracker 5k (which I mention below), SRC‘s Cougar Mountain 13 miler (which is vaguely alluded to) and Portland. I also paid dues to join both SRC and CNW that year (though I didn’t understand these in the context of USATF club affiliation).  In 2008 my memberships to both lapsed and I asked myself which club I should stay affiliated with.  The summer of 2008, I went to a Club Northwest board meeting and presented this letter.

Members of the board of Club Northwest,

To clarify: this is really about running and doesn’t touch on field sports.

My name is Patrick Niemeyer and early in 2007 I started getting much more involved in the local running community. I saw the 2007 Firecracker 5000 fliers which appeared to advertise a great deal for race registration for Club Northwest members:

  1. Club Northwest membership and the discounts and perks (Northwest Runner subscription, fashionable bright orange t-shirt) that go along with it
  2. race registration for one low, low price,

so I signed up.  I remember running the race and wondering “who is this ‘Shelly’ I’m trailing that everyone keeps cheering for?” and who I tried, and failed, to catch (who I later learned was board member Shelly Neal).  It wasn’t my first race but it was the first where I self-identified as a runner and over the past year I’ve incorporated running into my life to the point where it’s hard to imagine my life before or without it.

However, as we’ve just passed July 4, 2008 and with it the most recent Firecracker 5000, I’ve let my CNW membership lapse and started to wonder whether I should renew. Though I take part in many races, including those sponsored by CNW, I haven’t attended the All-Comers track meets, I don’t go to the front lines of races wearing a bright orange CNW singlet, and I’ve realized Northwest Runner subscriptions don’t require CNW membership. In talking with running friends about CNW, I’ve realized that many of them don’t even understand that membership into CNW is open. Their impression is that CNW begins and ends with the elite runners they see at races and I’ve found myself correcting the perception.

Meanwhile, I think there is greater clarity about the role of some of the other running communities in Seattle to which I belong.  I’m thinking specifically of ChuckIt and Seattle Running Company/Club.  As a monthly dues club, ChuckIt feels more like it fills a specific niche and doesn’t make as much sense to discuss in this context, but SRC feels much closer to CNW – and I have to guess this is a topic which has come up before.  If I were to characterize SRC and CNW to someone unfamiliar with local running groups I’d say that SRC conducts and evangelizes trail running or ultra running and CNW conducts and evangelizes more traditional track running.  I’d say both have a significant roster of elite runners, but SRC events and participation feel, for whatever reason, like they appeal to a wider base while CNW feels like it more directly serves a specific elite base.

None of what I’ve said may be quite demonstrably true and I can’t speak for “runners of the northwest” but I feel the impression I’ve described is probably pretty accurate among runners who are familiar with, but not members of, either club.  So, finally, this leads me to my two questions.

First: I wonder whether CNW realizes or agrees with the impression that (again, speaking only about running) the club is focused on elite local runners?

Second: if this isn’t the case, I wonder whether the board has plans to assess the image of CNW to help someone like me who is maybe an occasional AG placer but not an elite runner understand why they should become or renew their membership?

To reiterate: my points are really not to ask why CNW isn’t more like SRC (or even ChuckIt), but to ask the board to help clarify what membership in CNW means and help understand who CNW wants as its members? I suspect these aren’t questions which will be answered in a short conversation but sincerely look forward to any conversation this generates.

Thanks very much for your time and consideration,
Patrick Niemeyer

2 Comments »

  1. Scott Sorheim said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 4:44 am

    What was the response? Or is that for a follow-up post

  2. Patrick said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 11:47 am

    They were generally receptive to the message, however I remember being very surprised by some comments from one board member that were directly aimed at SRC. This was probably one of the reasons I’ve maintained my SRC membership and chose SRC club affiliation with a USATF membership.

    However I believe that CNW have made efforts in the years since to get broader reach and expand their base. Tahoma Khalsa runs (what seems to be) a great race series and other club members organize group runs that are open to the public. I don’t think I made this happen, but I feel like efforts like that are aimed in the direction to address concerns like the one I raised.

    I think that for the most part they don’t have a strong base of people who care about and want to execute any sort of grass-roots efforts, though. I mean the type of thing that makes Joe Average Runner feel like this is a cool or fun club or one that they BELONG to. Joe Excellent Runner (Gray) will definitely have a stake in belonging to the club and be at the top of the ranks and that’s as it should be – I think that’s an important legacy the club should work to maintain. But it’s obvious when you consider the CNW FB page has ~200 likes and SRC has ~700 that SRC is still definitely winning in that dimension.

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