Feature – They do run, run

Posted on Sep 5, 2013 :: Features
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Volunteers cheer on runners from Kimberly-Clark in a Fox Cities Marathon event. Kimberly-Clark also participates in My Team Triumph, which pairs a runner with a disabled participant throughout the race. Organizers of the Fox Cities Marathon expect about 7,500 athletes this year.

No, you don’t have to run 26.2 miles to participate. That’s one of the first things organizers of the Fox Cities Marathon want you to know, and what participating companies tell their prospective team members to encourage them to join in.

“I think one of the big pushes that we have this year is reinvigorating the business challenge,” says Stephen Zich, the executive director of the Community First Fox Cities Marathon presented by Kimberly-Clark. “We’re going out to a lot of companies in the area, tapping into their wellness programs and trying to piggyback what they already have going on.”

Lots of area companies are doing just that. Last year, the marathon events had 6,800 participants and organizers are planning for 7,500 this year – many of those runners participating in teams that have been formed by area companies. In August, 46 companies had signed on and marathon organizers hoped for 50, Zich says.

Last year, the marathon donated more than $50,000 to 17 area schools and non-profit organizations, and it has raised more than $500,000 so far in its 23-year history.

Zich has been conducting lunch-n-learn sessions to help encourage companies to participate – and help them get over that initial, jarring word.

“I think first off, hearing that word ‘marathon’ scares a lot of them away, they’re like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, you want me to run 26 miles?’” Zich says. But employees also can form teams of five for the marathon, or they can run in a half marathon or in a 5K, he says. “Our overall name is ‘Fox Cities Marathon’ but at the end of the day, we’re doing a whole series of events, for every body type, every athletic type, whatever level you’re at.”

The weekend of events, scheduled for Sept. 20 to 22, also includes events for kids, making it an event for the whole family.

Many companies also have volunteers participating, either at water stations or at the health-and-wellness expo. Sometimes, that’s a way for people to get their feet wet (without sweatsocks).

“Some of our employees have decided just on the basis of doing the water station that it looks fun being on the other side, and they wanted to run at some events,” says Brenda Schanhofer, wellness coordinator at Miron Construction, which is a sponsor for the event. “We have one of our spouses from last year who is now training to do the half marathon this year.”

Area businesses are motivated to participate for a variety of reasons, but largely the participation is tied into company wellness programs, which have a mission to make employees healthier (and in effect keep the company budget healthier).

“Let’s be honest – that’s what the wellness program is all about, right? It’s trying to control costs and keep health costs down. But you also get a happier employee out of it, too,” says Bruce Rounds, CFO of Alliance Laundry Systems in Fond du Lac. “They enjoy coming to work, where they feel like they’re getting more out of it than just an 8-to-5 job.”

“Studies have shown being healthier and proactive with your health has reduced costs, but really our main goal is our mission, which is to enhance the life, health and wellness of the people we serve,” says Lorian Meyer, marketing and PR coordinator for Network Health, which is the major sponsor of the Health and Wellness Expo. “And the ‘people we serve’ is also our employees. So, that’s really our driving force.”

The keys to getting people motivated seem to be by first setting an example and then providing the needed support to make it happen.

“I’m the CFO, so I’m kind of the leader, so to speak, and I think that in itself interests some people,” says Rounds of Alliance. “‘If the 57-year-old CFO can do it, I can do it, right?’”

Alliance also has organized training runs, weekly updates, outside speakers and expert advice for both beginners and experienced runners, Rounds says.

Network Health President Sheila Jenkins is walking the half marathon, and Chief Administrative Officer Penny Ransom is running the half, Meyer says. The company’s director of health management, who has not been a runner in the past, is training for the half marathon.

“There are quite a few others,” Meyer says. “Just having the leadership team out there as well, I think is really encouraging for people to participate.”

A little healthy competition isn’t a bad idea, either. This year, Kimberly-Clark is forming marathon teams from different brand departments. Miron had the most participants the year it pitted its employees against Faith Technologies in a fitness challenge.

“Anytime you link something to a challenge or an incentive, you increase participation,” says Schanhofer of Miron.

While controlling health care costs is part of the motivation, Miron and other area companies also want to build a spirit of camaraderie among their team members, she says. Kimberly-Clark ties the event to its company mission.

“It goes down to one of our core values, which is caring for the people in the communities where we live and work,” says Jeff Curtin, a senior leader at Kimberly-Clark. “It ties into all of our local affiliations, with not-for-profits, and other activities that we do in the Fox Cities. I think first and foremost it’s really showing our employees and showing the community that we do care for the places where we have our offices and where we’re located.”

The Cellcom Marathon

The Green Bay Cellcom Marathon, held annually in May, also includes a marathon, half marathon, marathon relay, 5K and kids’ runs. In 2013, it had capacity for 8,000 runners in the marathon and half marathon and 250 teams in the marathon relay. Like the Fox Cities Marathon, the Cellcom Marathon donates funds back to the community, and has contributed more than $674,000 since its beginnings in 2000, according to the Cellcom Marathon website.

For more information

The Fox Cities Marathon is full, as is the ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus Half Marathon. Visit www.foxcitiesmarathon.org for information on weekend events. The Fox Cities Marathon organization donates proceeds back to the community, including to area high schools, track and cross country teams and the YMCA Strong Kids program. If your company is interested in participating or volunteering, contact Debbie Jansen at (920) 882-9439 or [email protected]