50 years of running: building on success

During years of competitive running from the age of twelve through post-collegiate success on the roads and track, the most important lessons learned were how to set goals and plan the process to achieve them. After being coached through high school and college, I was on my own setting up training programs. So I read books and articles about the best training methods. I made gains by training with other runners as well. My 10K times dropped from 33 minutes to 32 minutes to 31 minutes and from a 5K PR of 15:20 down to 14:45 on the track and 14:57 on the road. Those weren’t world-beating times, but they represented progress for me.

Along the way, I kept journals and studied the “ROI” on monthly training volumes. Most significantly, I won many races in the “open market” of road racing. After all, you never know who might show up at a race. The best you can do is get as fit as possible and meet the day head-on.

Winning a race with three thousand people in it was a wonderful feeling. That meant the weeks of training and hard sessions on the track paid off. That’s called building on success.

Real-world experience

Translating that hard-won education in sports to the work world was challenging. The factors leading to success in the work world… and the possible distractions along the way are manifold. But once I earned a spot to control some of my own destiny, by taking on the Promotions job at the Kane County Chronicle, I set up my system and worked hard to make things happen.

One of the big goals for the newspaper was generating circulation increases. I looked at our circulation numbers in a new light, like a race goal, and figured that there was more than one path to success. The typical way to generate circulation sales was the evening phone bank where a group of workers made direct phone calls. I decided to step outside that world and create partnerships to help us sell the value of the newspaper as a commodity.

My idea involved getting banks to offer subscriptions as incentives for opening new savings or checking accounts. By law, the banks couldn’t offer a value of more than $10. That was our value limit. So I met with the circulation manager to see how many weeks of home delivery $10 would buy, and we came up with a ten-week offer.

Having met the legal standards of the banks and the revenue goals of the circulation department, the advertising program kicked into gear. I took it live with house ads and radio promotions. Within a week more than 100 new subscriptions were sold. Rather than hail the program’s success, the circulation manager panicked. Apparently, he didn’t think the program would generate that many sales. In the first manager’s meeting after the program began, his eyes flickered with worry as he said, “We need to shut this thing down.”

I was exasperated by his response after the work I’d put in to organize the sales program with more than ten local banks, all of who loved the program. So I had to go out and tell them we’d achieved our goal and were shutting it down after ten days of business. I felt good that I’d come up with a winning program.

Hitting a Roundtripper

I kept looking for ways to drive circulation and brand awareness and came up with the idea of partnering with local libraries to support summer reading programs. That would put the newspaper in front of thousands of families. There was a new minor league baseball team in town, the Kane County Cougars, who were also looking for ways to reach the public. I conceived the Roundtripper Reading Program and recruited a juice beverage company called Everfresh to serve as one of the sponsors, along with Pheasant Run Resort and Schwinn bicycles. The program was a massive success for the libraries, who saw completion rates in youth reading programs soar to 75%. Circulation for the newspaper increased with the special offers we made.

The kids completing the program all received a free ticket to attend a Cougars game and get a free hot dog, chips, and Everfresh beverage on game day. I arrived at the game to find a long line of people stretched across two parking lots. In a panic, I ran inside the stadium to find the general manager Bill Larson, with whom I’d worked to build the program. “Bill,” I asked him urgently. “What’s the holdup?”

“What do you mean?” he replied.

“How many hot dogs are you cooking?” I asked.

“Why?” he replied.”We’ll have enough…”

“Come with me,” I told him. We walked outside and Bill’s face fell at the sight of the enormous line of people waiting to get into the game. “Those kids have all earned their way here. You better get more hot dogs cooking….”

“I’m on it,” he muttered. And while jogging away, he turned his head and laughed. “Nice work!”

At that point, I walked the line to assure people that the Cougars were hustling things up. About halfway along, I saw a child sitting on a curb next to a parking lot light pole reading a book. “Whatcha got there?” I asked the boy.

He looked up at me when his mother chimed in. “I made him promise to finish the last book before he gets into the park.” She smiled. “He needs to understand what it means to complete a goal.”

Other parents smiled as well. Some said thanks for hosting the program. I profusely apologized for the delay but people seemed to understand “They didn’t know how many kids would finish,” I told them.

I had called ahead the week before to inform the Cougars that several thousand had qualified, but could not predict how many would plan to attend that night. I guess they thought a couple hundred hot dogs would cover the need. It all turned out fine, with many of the children wearing the Roundtripper tee-shirts that I’d designed for the libraries to hand out for every kid that completed their summer reading. The Everfresh guys were happily handing out drinks at the game as the kids and parents left the hot dog line. The whole thing was a huge success.

Crazier days

A few weeks earlier I’d attended a Cougars game and met up with Bill Larson. By then he was getting famous in the area for his promotional abilities, and that night the main entertainment was a talent night. The third act stepped out on top of the dugout to a famous striptease song, and a pair of men started ripping off clothes to reveal a set of black bra and panties underneath.

I turned to Larson and said, “What’s the craziest routine you’ve ever seen in the minor leagues?”

“You’re looking at it,” he groaned, and started toward the dugout to call off the act in case it went any further.

Day Game, Night Game

A few years later, on my own volition, I worked with the Cougars to create a set of posters featuring my artistic renderings of the park. For the first, I sat in the right field bleachers during a day game looking in at home plate, and painted a live rendition of a game in action.

The second image was a painting from the third-base side facing left field, also painted live, but at night. A pair of drunk dudes in front of me begged to be in the painting. “If you can hold still long enough for me to draw you, it’s a deal,” I told them. It was challenging, but they stayed in position a bit.

I sold the first sponsorship of the Day Game poster to a local law firm. The Night Game poster I pitched to the manager of Torco Dodge, whose sign was visible in the painting. I made my pitch and sat back to wait for the manager’s decision. I’d learned in sales training at the Chronicle that when making a sales pitch, you state your value proposition and then shut up and wait for the client to make the next move. “The first person to talk, loses,” the sales trainer told me.

So I sat, and sat, while the manager looked over the painting and finally said, “And where would my logo go on the poster?” The deal was sealed.

I’ve never been a major sort of business guy, or made tons of money, but I did sell those sponsorships for $7000. Over the years, I learned to build on that type of success, with plenty of mistakes along the way. It was the same way with running. Like they say, you win some, you lose some. When it came to those posters, I won some.

But the key is to keep building on whatever success you can achieve. Few things are more important in life than that.

One note: one of the lessons I learned in publishing those posters was about quality. A few years before, I’d printed a fine art print on matte finish paper. The image didn’t do justice to the painting. It looked faded.

For the Cougars poster, I found a high-level printer than cost a few thousand dollars to produce the works. But they didn’t NEED to be that high quality for promotional purposes. I could have printed them cheaper and made even more money.

But I framed one up nicely with a local frame shop that donated the work valued at $250. The naive assistant manager called me up that night and said, “I sold the poster!”

“It was for display only!” I reminded him. “What did you charge?”

$25!” he said enthusiastically. I was outraged, but there was nothing I could do. Such are the vagaries of business life.

About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and genesisfix.wordpress.com Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
This entry was posted in Christopher Cudworth, college, competition, mental health, running, training, TRAINING PEAKS and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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