Endurance Sportswire Executive Interview Series – Event Director of The Running Event

November 13, 2023

The Running Event, North America’s premier run and outdoor specialty retail conference and tradeshow, is just around the corner. We sat down with the show’s event director, Christina Henderson, for a Q & A to learn more about her role, and what to expect at this year’s event.

Can you please share your background and your role at The Running Event?

I stumbled into the world of trade shows through happenstance and luck. And I do say luck, because I feel very fortunate to work in this industry. I was initially interested in the role with The Running Event because I love to run. Running has played a major role in my life – it led me to NYC where I attended college, it has cultivated most of my friendships, and it continues to frame how I approach any opportunity or challenge. So why shouldn’t it also guide my career? I am now Event Director of The Running Event and what an incredible journey it’s been and continues to be.

Although I do still love to run, I’ve made a career in the trade show industry because I’m passionate about fostering connection. I believe powerful things happen when you gather people. Digital and virtual platforms have their place in our world, but we cannot replace the power of in-person gathering. I enjoy learning along with my team. How do we do more than provide a physical space for our event? How do we craft an event that fosters and facilitates connections, drives business, and leaves a lasting impression on attendees?

How long has The Running Event been in existence, and how has the event changed over the years?

The Running Event 2023 will be the seventeenth iteration of the event, and the ninth that I’ve worked on. The event evolves each year to match the needs of the industry each year. The Running Event has grown tremendously – even as recently as 2019, the exhibit hall was 55,000 square feet of exhibit space, a record high at the time. The Running Event 2023 will have nearly 80,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Each year, we are challenged to take the traditional trade show model and innovate, adjust, reshape, and do more to provide support and value for a changing industry. We could simply provide the space for connection, but by implementing new strategies, taking chances, and listening to the needs of the industry, we are able to do more. And that’s what drives my passion. How do we create a new, fresh, and valuable experience each year and in each event within our event? We host a race for the industry each year as part of the event experience; the past two years we’ve held it at the Formula 1 Track. We’ve hosted an armadillo race at a welcome reception, a virtual treadmill race on the trade show floor, and a local trail clean up near the Convention Center. This year, we’re livestreaming The Running Event from a news desk and facilitating interviews with leadings brands and attendees. The Running Event propels business growth, fosters meaningful connection, drives inclusivity, amplifies the voices for changemakers, and creates genuine and positive forces in the run and outdoor specialty industry. I’m so proud of each piece of our events, because everything we do is done with intention.

Most people know this event as a tradeshow for run specialty retailers. Can you share more about who would benefit from attending and what else they can expect to see/experience?

The Running Event is the event for specialty retailers. Run specialty retailers are our core audience, but TRE provides value to specialty retailers in run, outdoor, and footwear.

Beyond the trade show, our educational program is built to provide actionable takeaways for specialty retailers across all levels of experience. Stores in California may have slightly different challenges than stores in New York, but generally they’re facing the same obstacles and have similar goals. Our networking events and receptions are of course fun and celebratory, but they also create spaces for industry professionals to connect and grow their networks, supporting both business and careers.

In addition to specialty retailers, media personnel find great value in attending The Running Event. In 2023 we’ll have 310+ exhibiting brands, both established and emerging, with new and exciting products.

Having managed this event for so many years, what have you seen as some of the best ways for brands/exhibitors to stand out? Can you share any examples of interesting promotions you have seen in the past?

Tell your brand story. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do that, but retailers want to understand why they should carry your brand in their store. Why and how will consumers connect with your brand and products? What differentiates your product from competitors? There are many brands on the trade show floor – give retailers a reason to schedule time in their calendar to come talk with you.

Each year I think I’ve seen a brand activation all the ways it can be done, and then brands find a new and fresh way to show up. The Running Event is full of personality and passion shown through athlete appearances, parties, branding, product launches and demos, to name just a few. They really need to be experienced, so I encourage you to come see for yourself.

This is the second year you have included outdoor brands with the addition of Switchback. What is the thinking behind this, and can we expect to see a standalone outdoor show in the future from Diversified Communications?

We launched Switchback at TRE in response to growing crossover of the outdoor and running markets. The consumer is evolving, and the industries need to do the same. We believe there is strength in inviting outdoor specialty to join the TRE community and for the industries to learn and strengthen together. This year we have more than 40 brands exhibiting in Switchback at TRE bolstered by additional brands exhibiting on the TRE floor who serve both the running and outdoor industries.

In terms of the future, we will continue to check in with the industry on how we can best support and act accordingly.

We don’t have many awards in the running industry. How do you come up with the categories, and how are winners chosen?

Each year, we do a thorough evaluation process to identify and then honor The Best Running Stores at The Running Event. The awards program celebrates the stores leading by example in the run specialty industry—the retailers who continually show their commitment to their customers, employees, and community. Leaders among their peers, these stores are always striving to create a stronger community and industry.

The evaluation process includes collecting consumer nominations, and in 2023 we received nearly 15,000. We then collect an evaluation form which asks about core values, community involvement, employee benefits and more. We secret shop 100 stores and finalize the Best Running Stores list. We host an Industry Awards Dinner on the final night of TRE where we honor these stores as well as announce additional Sponsored Awards. We present the On Impact Award, Balega Ubuntu Award, Brooks Run Happy Rising Store Awards, and the Saucony Run For Good Award. It’s a special night and truly a celebration of an incredibly special industry.

Endurance Sportswire is looking forward to going to the show this year. For someone attending, what are your tips for getting the most out of the event?

Be present! Go to the events within the event! Introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you. Reunite with friends and meet new ones at the Welcome Reception. Connect with the Austin Community at the CommUNITY Run. Experience the fun and excitement at the Indie 5k or One Mile Walk. Learn something new at the Training Camp Sessions. Take a professional headshot in The Hub. Network and sip a specialty drink at the Hilton Austin bar – sales of which give back to TX based organizations. Demo product the Pickleball Court. Check in on the TRE Livestream desk for exciting interviews. Make a point to walk every aisle of the trade show floor. You will meet passionate and emerging brands excited to meet you.

There’s so much to learn and experience, business and life connections to be made. Make the most of it!