Carl Ewald became the race director of Philly's Oddyssey Half Marathon through what he describes as an act of serendipity.
In 2006, Ewald started a running group of about 20 people to train for the Broad Street Run.
"For the first three years, everyone had a great time but then Broad Street would be over and no one knew what to do since you'd have to wait until the fall to run another distance race," Ewald recalled.
"I was talking to the group one day and said, Somebody needs to start a spring half marathon in Philly. Someone joked that I should do it. A year and half later, it snowballed."
The inaugural race was in 2009 and it was Ewald's first stint as a race director. Previously, he had served on race committees when he was in law school about 15 years ago, but he had been away from that circuit for about eight years.
Looking back on his first year as Oddyssey's director, Ewald recalls marketing as his biggest challenge.
"Yes, you have to design the course and teach people the concept of the race, but just getting people to know that this new opportunity was available was my biggest hurdle," said Ewald. "We didn't have a huge budget to flood social media, not to mention, that medium really wasn't as big of a deal back then. We'd get a booth at local race expos and people would be like, What the heck is this?"
But of course, things got easier. Last year, the Oddyssey brought in over 3,500 participants spanning 31 states and 3 countries.
"On a race our size, a director wears a whole lot of hats," said Ewald. "There's no job too big or too small for them to do."
Depending on the time of year, a race director's duties can differ. Ewald breaks it down:
"Early on, you're getting permits approved by the municipality and marketing the race to get the name out. Then it shifts into a mode where you're trying to sell registrations, working with graphic designers to come up with unique ideas for swag like medals and t-shirts (or koozies in the case of the Fox Trot 5k). Closer to race day, you get into the nitty-gritty stuff — ordering bananas and water and soft pretzels for the Philly people. After race day, you're seeking feedback and paying bills until the whole cycle starts over again."
Today, Ewald retains four clients as an attorney and focuses the rest of his time on directing races. In addition to the Oddyssey, he also directs the Great American Brewery Runs at Sly Fox, Flying Fish and Yards brewing companies.
"On race day, our staff is 200 people. But a month after the race, our staff is one person — me."
Through his journey, running has transformed into a social activity.
"I use it to stay fit in many ways but I also use it to stay connected to people," said Ewald. "As a young adult, it's easy to get isolated when you're just going to work and coming home everyday so to combat that, I'm out running with different groups and different friends several days a week."