Recognizing a significant void in networking opportunities for women in the run specialty business three years ago, Kathy Dalby, of Pacers Running, and Burke Beck, of Red Coyote Running, put their collective imaginations together and formed what today has become the premier gathering for women executives in the industry with a name that says it all Ñ empowerun.

empowerun is essentially a collaborative, independent project produced by the two female principals of Pacers Running and Red Coyote with the intention of providing a space for women in running to form supportive and lasting networks and opportunities for self-growth. The first retreat was in March 2019 in Napa, CA, after a year of planning.

“For years we were both typically one of only a handful of women in the room at industry events, sales meetings and other business activities and we knew our experience paralleled a lot of other women in the industry,” Dalby tells Running Insight. “We felt it important to bring women together, help them further their networks and invest in women so in the future these events and meetings are more balanced.”

empowerun had about 40 women attend in its first year, with the attendee mix primarily retail shop owners and vendor leadership. The event expanded to just shy of 80 women in its second year, including more store owners, more vendor employees and expansion to high-level and promising retail staff.

Unfortunately, the empowerun event in early March 2020 was one of the last industry events before COVID really took hold and changed the world for everyone. “For many of us that was a time to focus on and hone our personal leadership strategy and planning for what we all knew was going to be a very uncertain and scary time,” Dalby recalls.

Even though any 2021 empowerun will be more virtual than in-person as COVID restrictions continue Ð the organizers are working on ways to offer networking and learning opportunities throughout the year until they can meet up again Ð the demand for a female leadership event remains strong, says Beck.

“There was a void in networking opportunities for women in the industry and we felt it important for women to be seen and heard,” Beck continues. “empowerun is an opportunity for women in leadership to connect and discuss our unique experiences and seek ways to amplify our point of view in our organizations and the industry.”

In its first two years empowerun was a two-day event centered on networking, knowledge sharing and leadership training. It included panels with women leaders and discussion about topics that impact the future of the industry. It focused on cross-collaboration across all channels that would lead to better business for all of the attendees, the organizers say.

“Whether it is feedback on product design, investigating career opportunities or simply knowing you can pick up the phone and call someone for advice, we wanted there to be a jumping off point for these relationships to nurture and grow,” says Dalby. “We know empowerun was the impetus for accelerated network expansion for a lot of industry women.”

There is also significant industry support for empowerun from vendor partners that not only help financially, but also support the event by sending their female leadership to the event. In 2020 vendor supporters included Brooks, Hoka One One, New Balance, Saucony and Nike, as well as On, Upper Quadrant, Feetures and Diversified Communications/Running Insight.