Barbara Bennage, our Executive Race Director, first came to the Detroit Free Press in 1984 as an administrative assistant in the advertising department. She’s come a long way since then and we are so proud to have her leading us to create a great weekend of events! Learn more about how Barbara became our great leader and some of her favorite moments from over two decades of race weekends.
Q: How did you get involved with the Detroit Free Press Marathon?
A: I actually didn’t become involved with the Marathon until 1988, but I started at the Detroit Free Press as an administrative assistant (secretary back then) in the advertising department in 1984.
In 1988, I applied for the same type of job in marketing and got it. When an opening for a promotion specialist became available, I thought that sounded fun and was promoted. From there I became involved with the Marathon as it was part of my job responsibilities in the marketing department of the Detroit Free Press.
In 1989 I started managing volunteers, then in 1990, I became the race coordinator working alongside Ed Kozloff from the Motor City Striders, the then race director. Over the years, I had many titles but I oversaw the management of the race until 2008. After that, I pursued other opportunities until I returned to the business side of the Detroit Free Press in 2014. Then I became the Executive Race Director which has been my title ever since.
Q: What is your favorite memory from the Detroit Free Press Marathon?
A: There are so many but being in the lead vehicle and watching Doug Kurtis be the first to cross the finish line for four of his six consecutive wins was absolutely amazing.
Q: What is the funniest moment you have had so far as Race Director?
A: My husband was driving the lead vehicle, a convertible Ford Mustang. My young son and myself were passengers. The timing clock was strapped to the back where the convertible top was folded down. It was pouring rain and we couldn’t stop to take the clock off the back of the car to put the top on. We drove several miles in the rain and were drenched when we got to the finish line.
Q: What’s the most unique thing that has happened in your tenure?
A: Of course, COVID-19 pretty much takes the cake but 9/11 was also a very trying time for everyone. It happened about a month before our race and because we ran through Canada, we had to quickly reroute to a U.S.-only marathon course in just a few shorts weeks. The running community gave us tremendous support, along with the City of Detroit.
Q: What is it like being a female race director in the running industry?
A: I’m in good company and it’s not unusual or unique to be a female director in the running industry. Many of the large Michigan races are led by female race directors – Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot, Amway Riverbank Run, Epic Race Series including the Ann Arbor Marathon and Women Run the D and the Bayshore Marathon. At the 2020 Running USA Conference, a group of women from endurance sports convened. It was quite impressive to see how the industry has changed from a mostly male-dominated running world to a large contingency of female directors and collaborators.
Q: What is your favorite piece of race gear from your tenure?
A: I loved the pewter plates we used to give as awards and appreciation gifts.
Q: What fun fact would you like to share with participants who read this?
A: Huge Rolling Stones fan, golf is my sport of choice, I’m the youngest of seven, and my favorite, I USED to be able to juggle and ride a unicycle at the same time (An attraction coming to the next expo main stage).
Q: What advice would you give to any woman looking to start a road race?
A: While not specifically for women, surround yourself with a team that is passionate, has creative ideas, not afraid of trying new things and is dedicated to the mission. For women, there is a huge network of women race directors in the industry who are willing to share and bounce ideas off of. Take advantage of reaching out to them. We are here to help.