John Kane had an idea as he looked out of the window of a North Hills office in 2011. It has turned into a successful half-marathon series that has gone national, and continues to expand.
The popularity of half-marathon road races — which are 13.1 miles long — continues to grow, and Kane’s Raleigh-based company, Race 13.1, has taken full advantage of that trend.
“We’ve got all this parking that doesn’t really get used on Saturday and Sunday mornings,” Kane said of his thoughts that day looking out the window from the office of Lookout Capital, where he was director of investor relations at the time. “And then, I thought, there are all these tenants here who are built-in sponsors, so I thought why not?”
That led to the first Race 13.1 event in June 2012 in Raleigh, which started and finished in North Hills. After it went well, made a profit and earned money for a local charity, he added to a fall Raleigh event. Although Kane still is an operating partner with Lookout Capital, a small private-equity investment firm, he works full time as the CEO of Race 13.1 out of a North Hills office.
The series expanded to five North Carolina events in 2014, then to 20 events in seven states this year, mostly in the Southeast. Kane expects to expand to 25 or 27 races next year — venturing farther north and west — then add 10–12 races a year after that until he reaches his goal of 60–65 races by 2019.
“After a few successful races, I started really studying the race landscape and realized there was a void in kind of smaller tier-one to tier-two cities for really well-produced half-marathons,” said Kane while noting that this isn’t an issue in the Triangle.
Helping make the expansion happen was the $750,000 that Lookout invested in the series in December 2013. “It enabled us to grow a lot quicker than I would have been able to do otherwise,” Kane said.
Most Race 13.1 events also have a 10K and a 5K, although there are some instead have an 8K as the only companion race. The biggest event in the history of the series was the debut of Race 13.1 Durham on Dec. 12. There were 1,810 finishers for either the half-marathon (1,052), 10K (361) or 5K (397) on an unseasonably warm day.
“It’s a testament to strong base of runners that we’ve built in the Triangle now having operated races here successfully for four years or so, and people know what they’re going to get when they run a Race 13.1 race and hopefully like it,” Kane said. “One thing we pride ourselves on is having great consistency from race to race.”
Race 13.1 has a staff of seven with several part-timers, and has added a Nashville office. Kane credits Eric Johnson with making sure those first Raleigh race ran smoothly and getting the series off to a good start. He hired Johnson to direct that first Race 13.1 event, and Johnson is the vice president of race directing for the series.
“We weren’t really sure what the response would be to adding that event,” Kane said of Race 13.1 Durham. “We’ve wanted to add an event in Durham, but the calendar for the Triangle is pretty crowded. It was hard to find a good date that doesn’t step on the toes of other races.”
Kane’s love for sport began when he started running to lose weight after an injury ended his football career. He played fullback and special teams at N.C. State for Coach Chuck Amato during the 2006 season. He’s also completed an Ironman triathlon.
The majority of half-marathons are companion races to marathons. Race organizers have found that half-marathons tend to be bigger draws than marathons.
Many runners want to try a distance more challenging than a 5K (3.1 miles) — which is still by far the most popular race distance — but don’t want to spend the time it takes to properly prepare for a marathon. For many, the half-marathon has become the perfect race distance.
”The trends for half-marathons have really been pretty staggering,” Kane said. “They’ve grown in participation 23 out of the last 24 years and by more than 40 percent since 2010. The reason I think that growth has taken place is the half-marathon is really a lifestyle distance. It’s part of people’s lives, it doesn’t have to be their lives and it’s long enough to where it’s a great accomplishment.
“A full marathon has tendency to take over somebody’s life. In the busy world that we all live in, the half is just a great distance when it comes to time commitment,” Kane said.
In 2014, half-marathon finishers in the United States exceeded two million for the first time at 2,046,600, a 4% increase from 2013, according to Running USA. There were also a record number of U.S. marathon finishers in 2014, but that total was only 550,630.
Although 8.3 million finishes and 44% of all road-race finishes are in 5Ks, the half-marathon is second with 11%, followed by the 10K (7%), according to Running USA. You can run any of those three at most Race 13.1 events.
Marathoner finishers always have expected finishing medals. But it’s only been in the last 10 years or so that the distance’s popularity has led organizers to also award medals to half-marathon finishers.
The 13.1 Durham race will mark the 10th currently run half-marathon in the Triangle. It gives Durham two fall half-marathons, joining the Bull City Race Fest’s half-marathon, which ran for the fourth time in October.
While Bull City starts and finishes outside of Durham Bulls Athletic Park, 13.1 Durham starts and finishes at Northgate Mall. Both courses run by Duke’s East Campus and include the neighborhood to the north of East Campus.
Like most Race 13.1 events, the half-marathon course includes a greenway, in this case, the Ellerbe Creek Greenway. The Raleigh fall race includes three greenways and the Raleigh spring race includes one.
There’s finally a December half-marathon that doesn’t require a long drive. For years, the Mistletoe Half-Marathon in Winston-Salem was the only December option for that distance. It was run for the 32nd time last Saturday.
The 13.1 Raleigh Fall event ran for the fourth time in October and the fifth annual 13.1 Raleigh Spring event is set for June 4.
The only other active Triangle half-marathons not associated with marathons are both Raleigh races in November: The Skinny Turkey Half-Marathon, which ran for the fifth year Thanksgiving Day, and the Raleigh Greenway Half-Marathon, which took place
Triangle half-marathons associated with marathons are: Tobacco Road in Cary on March 13 (which has sold out in recent years), Not So Normal in Carrboro on April 3, Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh on April 10 and Raleigh City of Oaks on Nov. 6 (in 2016).
Racing can get expensive, and 13.1 has one way to save money. For $150, which is what you could pay for two (or possibly three) races, you can buy a Race 13.1 Season Pass. That gives you the right to run any of Race 13.1’s races for an additional $15 per race.
The season pass used to cost $195, and runners could compete in an unlimited number of Race 13.1 events. With that structure, Kane said that some runners registered for races they didn’t actually run, and that left Race 13.1 with a lot of unused T-shirts and medals.
Like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, the Race 13.1 series is a for-profit venture. But there are contrasts in transparency regarding its charity fund-raising.
The official title of last April’s Raleigh race was Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh Marathon & ½ Marathon presented by WRAL benefiting The V Foundation for Cancer Research. This is despite the fact that the race donates no money to the V Foundation.
“I don’t think there’s personally anything wrong with their charity program in and of itself, they do a lot of good,” Kane said of the Rock ‘n’ Roll races. “Their platform raises tons of money [for charities], but I wish they would be much more clear how they do it. Their program makes a lot of sense, it’s just a matter of the way they market it is disingenuous.”
In response to criticism, Rock ‘n’ Roll has modified the name to: Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh Marathon & 1/2 Marathon presented by WRAL, with featured charity The V Foundation for Cancer Research, but the fundraising model hasn’t changed.
Another big difference is that Race 13.1 events are run by a company in Raleigh while the Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh race is run by Competitor Group Inc., a company based in San Diego.
There is no mention of a charity in the name of any Race 13.1 event. But each event has a featured charity, and it’s Heart 2 Heart Collaborative for Race 13.1 Durham.
“We try to be really transparent with that,” Kane said. “We’re a for-profit business and there are for-profit businesses involved in every race.”
The charity is given a discount code and between $5 and $20 is donated to the charity for every runner registering using the code. The amount varies according to how many people associated with the charity volunteer for the race. In addition, every runner who registered is given the opportunity to donate to the charity, with 100 percent of those donations going to the charity.
“They get all the benefits of the branding for being part of a race, rallying their base and a percentage of the registrations that they generate without having to take on the financial risk and all of the logistical headaches,” Kane said of their partner charities, pointing out that raising money often is difficult for charities that put on their own races.
If you prefer to races run by local folks, you now have three Race 13.1 options in the Triangle.