The 2019 Running Event, held December 3-6, in Austin, TX, marked the 14th time the run specialty industry gathered all in one place to network, introduce new products, renew old friendships and make new ones and to plot the future of the business. Once again TRE, organized by Diversified Communications, the publishers of Running Insight, delivered as the event marked the most important three days on the run specialty retail calendar of the year.

Running Insight editors spent those three days roaming the aisle of the sprawling Austin Convention Center and the halls of the nearby Hilton Austin to provide an insider’s view of the goings-on. Here, then, are 14 takeaways from the 14th annual Running Event.

  1. Tuesday was Education Day and the concurrent sessions on everything from store design and merchandising to hiring and social media were packed all afternoon. But by far the session drawing the most interest was “The ABCs and CBDs,” touching on the growth of CBD products in run retail. In all of my years covering trade events I have never, ever seen so many questions about a topic than at this 40-minute session. Retailers are curious, but cautious, and that interest certainly spread to the dozen or so CBD exhibitors on the show floor the following two days.
  2. The most inspirational moment of Tuesday afternoon was the opening keynote speech by Lisa Hallett, founder of blue: run to remember, which she formed in honor of her husband, John, who was killed during deployment, and for other service members who gave their lives for their country. Running was Hallett’s inspiration and the community she found is what got her through her grief. It was a good way to start TRE.
  3. Taking to heart the Opening Day Best Running Stores Summit theme that “The Future is Personal,” Rebecca Hohenstein, of Tortoise & Hare, had her seven-month-old Quinn sit with her through all of the morning sessions. “She’s our baby boss and our next CEO so she needs to learn, too,” Hohenstein told us. Now that’s personal! 
  4. The fastest retailers in America were not crowned at the Indie 5K on Thursday morning (more about that later.) They were, in fact, the retailers at the front of the line when the TRE Expo opened its doors Wednesday morning. These speedsters raced to the back of the hall to be among the first to get to the Brooks Running booth where a free pair of shoes were being given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Talk about speed!
  5. Speaking of fast runners, you need look no further than Reckless Running/Sportsafe CBD owner and world-class runner Anthony Famiglietti, who actually ran a sub-four-minute mile on a treadmill at the Zwift booth. A big crowd gathered to cheer the two-time Olympian on in his successful and inspiring run through the Zwift virtual running universe. I got tired just watching him warm up and when he crossed the virtual finish line in sub-four the TRE hall erupted.
  6. The Little Guys had their big chance to shine at the inaugural Big Pitch contest Tuesday afternoon. Three retailers – 605 Running Company (South Dakota), Running Niche (Missouri) and Palmetto Running Company (South Carolina) – presented their ideas on how to get more young customers into their stores in a Shark Tank-like contest with big cash prizes at stake. Palmetto took home the $5000 prize for its Eco-Initiative to tie in running with Earth Day 2020. Running Niche’s “Run Club” concept grabbed the second place prize of $3000 and 605 Running’s Kids’ Cross-Country in a Box idea grabbed the third place $1000 check. Nice job by Running Insight editor Mark Sullivan in emceeing the inaugural event and thanks to sponsors Brooks Running, Balega, Body Glide and Amphipod. 
  7. As dawn broke on the morning of Thursday, December 5, more than 500 retailers and vendors were found at a golf course on the edge of town for the annual Indie 5K, XC Edition. A list of the fastest runners can be found here. It must have been an extremely fast group because none other than marathon legend Meb Keflezighi was squarely in the middle of the pack, slightly behind a guy dressed like a dinosaur but ahead of a squirrel. I gave Meb some tips on marathon running after the race. 
  8. In addition to various Meb sightings during the show, the other biggest star power was brought by marathoner Deena Kastor sitting down with ASICS’ AJ Adrassy and Kenichi Harano, of its Institute of Sport Science in Kobe, Japan, for a talk about technology, running and broken ankles. 
  9. No carpeting, no problem. As part of its own eco-initiative, show organizer Diversified Communications opted to not have the traditional carpeted aisles on the Expo floor. The effort was appreciated by the run community, where sustainability has become a major focus at retail and at run events. Kudos to DivCom for taking this eco-step.
  10. Speaking of the show floor, nothing beats having Happy Hour right in the middle of things near the end of Expo hours on Wednesday afternoon. Margaritas, beer and snacks made for a welcome end-of-day opportunity to enjoy each other before heading out to enjoy the wonders of Weird Austin.
  11. In addition, the presence of food trucks in one corner at the Expo floor did add a nice touch for hungry attendees and exhibitors for lunch on Wednesday. As did some free ice cream at Untapped and some cappuccino at ASICS.
    An informal and unofficial tally of exhibitors found that, other than the regular shoe and apparel vendors, the most numerous booths were talking about socks and CBDs. And you couldn’t swing a foam roller without coming across a recovery brand looking to make life a little better for runners.
  12. Closing The Running Event were the Thursday evening Industry Awards, which honored six retailers and individuals for their special contributions to the business of run specialty. The recipients: Brooks Run Happy Award, Toni Reese of Running Lab; Nike Just Do It Award, Bekah Metzdorff, Mill City Running; IRRC Canadian Store of the Year Presented by New Balance, Frontrunners Victoria; ASICS Sound Mind Sound Body Award, Fleet Feet Mt. Pleasant/Somerville; Saucony Run for Good Award, Charm City Run; and the Ubuntu Award Presented by Balega, Playmakers, Okemos, MI. In addition, Kahtoola took home the inaugural New Product Showcase Award.
  13. We’ll leave you with this quote from Josh Levinson, of Charm City Run, who during an opening session on the State of the Run Specialty Industry summed up the entire mood and mindset of the channel at The Running Event: “We are all naïve enough to believe that running can change lives.”

We couldn’t agree more and we’ll see you all at The 2020 Running Event, December 1-3, 2020, right back in Austin.