Mary Wittenberg & Virgin Sport: The Next Social Movement?

As CEO of the New York Road Runners from 2005 to 2015, and having been involved with them since 1998, Mary Wittenberg helped the NY Marathon grow to include 400,000 participants, including 120,000 school children across multiple events and helped found the World Marathon Majors which connected the marathons in Boston, Berlin, London, Chicago and New York.

Since stepping down from NYRR, Mary is now Global CEO of Virgin Sport and together with Richard Branson, she is re-inventing group athleticism to encourage as many people as possible to experience social running.

Virgin Sport has four weekend multi-events on the calendar with more to follow. And you know if Richard Branson is involved, these fitness festivals will truly be special.

In this episode Mary tells us about the philosophy behind Virgin Sport and how they are engaging athletes of all levels. She also goes into detail about the events currently on the calendar as well as what the future of Virgin Sport looks like.

She shares her experiences of running, both as an athlete and as a race organizer and group leader. Her passion for running and fitness shine through in this conversation.

She is an inspiration and we are all very lucky to have her join us on Run To The Top.

Mary Wittenberg & Virgin Sport -The Next Social Movement?

Here are some of the topics we’ll discuss today:

  • How Mary’s rowing team led to her becoming a runner
  • What Mary did as CEO of NYRR and how the youth program grew under her leadership
  • What it was like to run the NYM after being the CEO.
  • Why she believes running is for just about everyone, especially kids
  • The current and future vision of Virgin Sport

Questions Mary is asked:

3:14 What is your background as a runner?

4:40 How much has competitive running changed since you were a more serious athlete?

6:13 Had it been an available option would you have continued post-collegiate running?

6:57 Do you still run now?

8:22 What was it like to run the New York Marathon after having been the director for so long?

11:53 What did being the CEO of New York Road Runners entail?

15:33 Why did you feel it was so important to build it at a youth level vs. focusing on adults?

17:20 Of the 50+ NYRR events, which is your favorite?

18:10 What about being the first female marathon race director?

19:29 Why do you think it’s important to have other events outside of traditional marathons for people to choose from and do you think other cities will adopt these, too

21:31 What about your current job as CEO of Virgin Sport?

23:33 What can you tell us about these initial four festivals you have scheduled?

26:08 Can people pick and choose which events they want to do, can they do all of them?

27:18 How do potential future events look for Virgin Sport beyond these first four cities?

28:43 How could someone get involved in these events?

30:03 What is it about running that makes you want to share it with as many people as possible?

31:56 Where you would like Virgin Sport to be in 10 years?

33:07 What can more recreational runners do in their own world to inspire others?

34:57 What do you think about Park Run?

38:09 The Final Kick Round

Quotes by Mary:

I think there’s many more opportunities today for young runners and athletes in other sports that switch to running to find a post-collegiate running group and run pretty seriously.

You realize as time goes on that there are still roadblocks to women in leadership.

If you fit running and some high intensity running into your life, it may be the best way for you to get healthy and fit. It’s not just about the marathon.

I have always had this burning desire to take the model of community based running and fitness on the road.

We’re in the experience business.

Our Proposition is based on bringing people together.

For us, the challenger in the industry is not other people putting on events, because from a mission of purpose that’s awesome they’re doing that. Our challenge is the things that stop people; the comfortable bed, the super-busy workday.

Just by getting out the door every day, you inspire people. When people see people running, other people realize: ‘Oh. maybe I can do that, too.’

Take a Listen on Your Next Run

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Mentioned in this podcast:

Virgin Sport Homepage

NY Road Runners

The New York City Marathon

Park Run

Book: A Race Like No Other; Liz Robbins

Book: Once a Runner; John L. Parker, Jr.

Book: Running With the Buffaloes; Chris Lear

FloTrack

Runner’s World

Ask Lauren Fleshman

Garmin watches and wearables

Strava Homepage

Runkeeper Homepage

We really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Run to the Top.

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