You probably think of Bass Pro Shops as the hunting, camping and fishing retailer found in cities around the country, with stores that look like they offer an outdoors experience right inside the front doors. The company is also the world’s largest mail order retailer for sporting goods and recently expanded its empire with the purchase of competitor Cabela’s.
But the company’s mission isn’t just about selling tents and fishing poles. “We want people to stay active outdoors, all year round. And we want to offer unique experiences to both runners and walkers, encouraging them to always seek the best out of life,” says Melissa Bondy, Director of Community and Corporate Wellbeing, who oversees the Bass Pro Shops Fitness Series, which includes a marathon weekend, trail runs, a cycling event and kids activities.
In the company’s hometown of Springfield, Missouri, Bass Pro Shops has made extensive investment in the community, including a museum and aquarium called Wonders of Wildlife, which re-opened last fall after a 10 year renovation and overhaul and is billed as the “largest, most immersive fish and wildlife attraction in the world.”
It’s part of the draw for out of towners, who often need more than one reason to travel to Springfield for a race.
“Helping people understand that Springfield is actually a great place to run, eat, visit, tour and experience is a challenge. We are continually inviting people to understand that this part of the country offers a bounty of beauty, that our people are warm and welcoming and that running will offer them not just a personal best (finishing time) opportunity or Boston qualification, but also a great life experience,” Bondy explained.
How did Bass Pro Shops come to sponsor a marathon and running series in Missouri?
Bondy: Some of our current events, like the Cohick Half Marathon, had been part of the community for over 20 years but leadership struggled to maintain and grow the events. Bass Pro Shops was asked if it would provide consistency, leadership and continuity and it said yes! We love any opportunity to get people active in the beauty of the Ozarks and this was an excellent way for us to support the community in a healthy and positive manner.
What’s the goal of hosting running events?
Bondy: It sounds corny, but the real goal of everything we do is to help people become who they are supposed to be/ who they want to be. Running is a gateway to happiness and fulfillment; it changes people from the inside out. People run for a variety of different reasons but running has the power to change your life every day.
What aspects make the Conservation Marathon and Half, Relay and 5K stand out?
Bondy: Springfield is the home of Bass Pro Shops and the home of Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro. Mr. Morris has deep roots to the Ozarks area and is community minded. It is his passion and drive that we instill into our events. Additionally, when people run with us, they are part of our family and we go the extra mile to take care of them. We have animals on the courses, we have great neighborhood support with 10 local neighborhoods hosting course sections, we put road graphics on the route to encourage people and to help make them laugh and our number one desire is serve our people.
This year we are also excited to offer people the chance to visit Wonders of Wildlife, our new museum and aquarium. This was voted as the number 1 tourist attraction in the United States! Our marathon weekend events start in front of the museum and the first Bass Pro Shops; they finish in front of the aquarium and our conservation center that pays tribute to Mr. Morris’s parents. Runners will be offered the opportunity to experience these options at a discount as a result of their participation with us.
You're also partnering with GO St. Louis for the Run Across Missouri challenge this year. What was the motivation for setting up a statewide series and how many runners have agreed to participate?
Bondy: Missouri is a beautiful state and often times lacks the positive recognition it deserves for what it offers people. Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield each have a personality worth getting to know! Additionally, we want to offer people in this area a great excuse to stay active throughout the year. Racing in April, June and November means training all year, using other events to aid in the training process and bringing other runners along for the run. Everyone wins!
You also host 15K, 25K and 50K trail runs in the fall. What best practices for event production do you take from the road and apply to the trails, and vice versa? Do you have strong crossover in participation between your road and trail events?
Bondy: We use all the best practices from the road for the trail and vice versa. Running a trail run is quite different than a road race and it should be different, that’s the beauty of it. Each type of event offers runners something different and we seek to bring the commonality of best practice while emphasizing the fantastic difference of the experience. Customer service crosses all boundaries of running so this is always our number one priority. However, for example, you cannot put porta johns on our trails because we simply cannot get the units on these trails. Aid station food is also different because it takes a lot longer to run a trail run and the impact on one’s body is different.
When we started our trail runs, we offered a 25K and 50K. Within a couple of years, we added the 15K to encourage cross over from the road to the trail. (Shortly thereafter we moved the 15K to Saturday and added the North Face Challenge, running both Saturday and Sunday). We wanted our road runners to be able to complete a local trail run and feel the bug that pulls people into trail running overall. It has worked well!
Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, the location of our trail runs, is amazingly beautiful and our trails are only open to our participants on the weekend of our events- no one else gets to use them or run on them.
What else would you like folks to know about you?
Bondy: We are a grateful group, thankful every day to be part of something that brings good things to people. The tagline on my email says a lot about who we are:
“Around here, we don’t look backwards very often. We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things… and curiosity keep leading us down new paths.” -Walt Disney