As someone who was new to empowerun, it’s safe to say two things: 1) I didn’t quite know what to expect and 2) I was a bit intimidated. But after spending three days with 120 women in the running industry, I left feeling inspired and excited for not only my own trajectory, but for the industry’s future, too.

For those who aren’t familiar with the event, empowerun was conceived by Kathy Dalby (CEO of Pacers Running) and Burke Beck (owner of Red Coyote Running and Fitness), who were looking for authentic, intimate ways to connect female leaders in the running industry. Providing a forum for cross-collaboration along with a program for enrichment, empowerun is for women who seek opportunities for self-improvement and a willingness to amplify the female point of view in our organizations and the run specialty industry. Taking place in Santa Barbara, CA, 2023 was empowerun’s fifth year.

The three-day event kicked off with a day-long team training workshop led by Piper Abodeely (Facilitator, Pivotal Transitions Coaching and Consulting). Beginning with a morning group run along the coast, Days Two and Three were a mix of more training, roundtable discussions, speaker panels, team building activities and networking — plus a little bit of wine, of course. 

As a first timer at empowerun, I focused on absorbing the endless insights, advice and struggles shared each day. I listened, pushed myself to think outside of the box and took endless notes about ideas, strategies and processes to bring back to my team. 

I especially found value in the team training and speaker panels. The team training provided time for myself and Christina Henderson (Event Director of The Running Event and Publisher of Running Insight) to talk through team dynamics, our own strengths and weakness and more — something we rarely have time to do. 

The speaker panels, meanwhile, featured unique perspectives from women in different roles across run specialty, from brands to retailers to non-profits. While listening to these women answer thoughtful, sometimes challenging questions about everything from leading teams to managing imposter syndrome, one thing was clear: No matter the job title or years of experience, we face many of the same challenges. 

While that thought is simultaneously frustrating and comforting, I believe it’s what’s at the heart of empowerun. As women, we face similar challenges and many of us have similar questions about navigating difficult situations and obstacles. empowerun is an opportunity to connect with each other about these challenges, learn from shared experiences and build solutions together. 

There aren’t many spaces created solely for women in the running industry — or really anywhere, for that matter. When I reflect on empowerun, the word I keep coming back to is grateful. Grateful for the time spent with so many incredible women, grateful for all I learned and absorbed in just three days, grateful to be part of such a special industry.

Other empowerun Insights 

My perspective is one of many and does not speak to everyone’s empowerun experience. After asking around, I gathered a few thoughts about the retreat shared from several of the inspiring women who attended:

“Empowerun is tremendously important to our industry. What Burke and Kathy created continues to evolve into a powerful platform for connection, sharing and leadership growth. Each year I think I am ‘too busy’ to attend and then I am grateful I have taken the time.” — Megan Searfoss, Owner, Ridgefield Running Company

“Attending empowerun reassures me of two things. First, that I’m going to make valuable industry connections with fellow female industry leaders. Second, that I’m bound to shed a tear or two (or more!). But it’s that level of vulnerability that reminds me that I’m in the right place. As a small, yet mighty, business owner I find this retreat valuable because it puts me in the room. How I proclaim my presence in that room is on me, so when I was invited to speak this year it made for a full-circle moment. I was not only able to learn from others’ expertise, but also share my own through our work and impact with our Game Changers program.” — Vanessa Peralta-Mitchell, Owner, VCPM, Inc.

“I left on Friday with a renewed sense of being seen, acknowledged and supported by the women in our industry. I established connections with brands, store leaders and many women who looked to the future in hopes that we could work together and push the industry in ways that would benefit all of us.” — Tammy Zito, General Manager, Palmetto Running Company

“We took advantage of the optional half-day team-based training, which was invaluable for our first experience at empowerun. In addition to what we were able to do together as a team, it was great to meet a new and old friend of the Running Industry Diversity Coalition. I am looking forward to seeing how we can help get more women of color in the running industry to experience the benefits of the retreat in 2024 and beyond.” — Kiera Smalls, Executive Director, The Running Industry Diversity Coalition

“As a first-time attendee of empowerun, I was not quite sure what to expect, but was excited for the experience nonetheless. What I found upon my arrival and diving on into all the programming was an incredible opportunity to connect, learn and share amongst a group of amazing and talented women in the running industry. To be brought together with women from all different areas of the industry with the driving purpose being to promote connection, education, leadership and overall inspiration is such a unique opportunity and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of it all.” — Nicole Driscoll, Brand Marketing Manager, Performance Run and Run Specialty, ASICS

“In just a few days I was able to connect with other women in the industry as we came together to create alignment and pave a path of change. The connections and work we created as a group was tremendously meaningful and empowering. I’m excited to watch us all continue to grow and evolve the industry.” — Maura Bergan, Asst. Product Manager, Marathon Sports