Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Meet the Race Director: Ryan Callahan

For Ryan Callahan, race director of the Philly 10K and outreach director at Philadelphia Runner, running isn't about breaking your personal record (PR) or medaling in your age group — and it's certainly not about winning.

"No one talks about running in the way that it means to runners," said Callahan. "Everyone is missing the mark talking about blisters, shin splints, and PR tactics. When you talk to runners, it's about what running means to them."

Callahan says running is two things: A daily struggle of motivation and then the fleeting satisfaction you feel afterwards. After the satisfaction fades away, you go back into that motivation cycle and it continues.

"In one sense it's this constant struggle to maintain; a feeling that you're only as good as your last run," said Callahan. "But out of that struggle and satisfaction, running becomes this transcendent experience where it contributes to an overall more satisfying life."

It was that passion of running that helped Callahan craft the uber-popular Philly 10K, which debuted last year.

"There were a bunch of new races coming to Philly but so many of them were these big out-of-town theme runs," Callahan recalled. "We had this burning desire to put on a race where you knew the theme was solely Philadelphia."

They looked to other big cities like Chicago and New York and loved the idea of running through the heart of the city.

"We were frustrated and thought, There has to be demand for a classic road race here," said Callahan. "We started talking about how cool it would be to get runners on streets that had never been raced before."

Apparently demand was higher than they anticipated. In it's inaugural year, the race was capped at 3,000 runners and it sold out in a whopping 70 minutes.

As the director, it's Callahan's' job to oversee every single aspect that goes into creating a successful race.

"Our course is, and always will be, our biggest challenge," said Callahan. "You have to figure out how to utilize 6.2 miles of Philly streets in a way that they've never been used before."

That's where communication comes in. One of the most challenging duties as a race director is getting everyone in the right place at the right time — runners, volunteers, staff, etc — without confusing or overwhelming them.

"It's a fine line; you have to find a way to communicate with runners but you don't want to do so in a way that they start ignoring you," said Callahan.

"We coordinate with a lot of different people — police, fire department, emergency medical personnel, volunteers — and for that 2-3 hours you have to be able to carefully keep your eye on all of them and 6.2 miles of city streets."

Logistics aside, Callahan's biggest worry is finding ways to keep the experience exciting.

"Last year I think we did a really good job of teasing the story out for this new race," said Callahan. "But this year, my anxiety lies in finding ways to keep this race exciting and authentic and new.  How do I get people to come back every year and look forward to this event?"

I have no doubt that they'll find a way.

Have a question for the On The Run panel? Ask it here. Read more from the On The Run blog »