This past weekend I ran the 2010 NYC Marathon for a second time and like the first time, it was an incredible experience. But unlike the first time I trained much harder, joining the Jack Rabbit Sports marathon training got me whipped in to shape and after 16 weeks, 420 miles, 45+ loops of Central Park, enough Power Gels to fuel a Smart car, 2 pairs of shoes and more blisters than I care to admit to, I was transformed in to a real runner. This confidence in my running skills and being my second time around allowed me to experience the marathon in a whole different way. Since I didn’t have any nerves or the fear of the unknown about the marathon to distract me and being as brand and experiential obsessed as I am, I was far more in tune with all the cool stuff brands and sponsors were doing in and around the marathon. Starting with the NYC Marathon Expo, the Mecca for all things running and marathon.

Events like these are prime opportunities for brands to connect with their core audience and engage them in unexpected ways. In the best-case scenario it converts consumers to brand loyalists for life, at a minimum gets on their radar and worse case scenario, misses the mark completely and is a turn-off. But let’s focus on the positive, for me there was one brand in particular that got it right and made me a fan for life, . I know it sounds cliché that a global super-brand like Nike would be a favorite for me. But before you judge, let me provide some context for why this is a big deal. Two reasons; 1) For a runner, Nike isn’t normally seen as a specialized running brand; the perception is their shoes and gear look better than they perform and 2) Super-brands like Nike, usually don’t have to offer a lot at big events like the NYC marathon because they have iconic status. So Nike could have just sat back and relied on that – had a booth with some running stuff, sponsor an athlete, create some local inspirational NYC marathon ads and be done with it. It would have been fine, nobody would have thought twice and they would still have incredible status and consumer following. But quite the opposite happened with Nike and the NYC Marathon. While not an official sponsor, they certainly acted like one.

First, pre-marathon they launched Run Unleashed to get you primed and excited for the marathon. Second they created a Facebook page to get messaging out to the NYC running community. Third, during marathon week they transformed their 57th street Niketown into marathon central – specially created shirts and gear, customized marathon shorts and a free shuttle to and from the where they had a great booth filled with running gear, freebies and special discounts for Nike+ and NYC members. Following the marathon they continued to engage the NYC running and Nike+ communities on their Nike Run website with inspirational stories from the marathon and lots of local running info including courses, running maps and tips all specialized for NYC. Nike showed me in an incredible way just how dedicated they were to running and to me as a runner. It’s still TBD whether or not I’ll run the NYC Marathon again but one thing is for sure when it comes to Nike and running they get it and I will be a Nike Run fan for life.