Three For Thursday – Phil Stewart


By the time I met Phil Stewart in 2008 he was already a local running and race-directing legend. Despite Phil’s busy schedule and the fact that we’d not yet even been introduced, Phil was happy to meet with me and offer advice and counsel as I began my own race directing career.  We talked about everything from permitting to registration platforms to volunteer recruitment, and he was extremely encouraging and positive.

Phil has been the Event Director for the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run, the premier springtime running event in Washington, DC since 1991. The event is part of the Professional Road Running Organization Circuit, annually draws 20,000 runners, and is continually rated as one of the outstanding races in America. As someone who has run or volunteered at the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run multiple times, I can attest to the fact that it deserves that rating. 

Phil also is the editor and publisher of the Road Race Management newsletter, and the co-author of Organizing Running Events: The Complete Guide to Staging a Successful Road Race, a 500-page compendium covering every aspect of race management. He also organizes the annual Road Race Management Race Directors’ Seminar and Trade Exhibit, an annual sport-wide industry gathering.

In addition to his professional credentials, Phil also is a runner of note. He has competed in numerous races, from ultra-marathons to one-milers, and was the top DC area finisher in the Boston Marathon in 1975 when he ran a 2:19.58.

Something I didn’t know about Phil before we connected for this project is that he took the dramatic photos of President Jimmy Carter’s collapse during a 10K road race at Camp David. The photos were published in Sports Illustrated, Time and People magazines as well as in other publications. Phil received an Honorable Mention in the “News Picture Story” category by the National Press Photographers Association. The photos were nominated for a Pulitzer prize the same year.

Phil’s Three for Thursday follow.

Not surprisingly, running is the backbone of everything I do, whether personally or professionally. Through running, I’ve met dozens of wonderful people who have become life-long friends. I realize that very few people get to turn their avocation into their vocation, and I am forever grateful that I am one of those few. 

I do over 90% of my running on my own. That solitary time is critical. It’s my creative time as well as my problem-solving time.  Today there are so many ways for people to be in touch that there is less private time than ever – we are constantly bombarded with requests to interact. Running solo is the time for my mind to be free to go where it wants to go. I’ve never worn headphones while running, because my goal is to eliminate distractions, not add them. I also believe that the visual part of running is important. I love to run in new places and see new things.

Staying calm
There is a tremendous amount of hoopla surrounding The Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run. We have internationally-ranked runners and 20,000 other demanding participants. One of the best compliments that I often receive is that, in the face of all this, I am always calm. I’ve been described as unflappable. I greatly appreciate being described that way, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel frustration or concern. Rather, I often pound it out through the soles of my shoes on a ten-mile run. Or, I deal with it in moments of solitude. Exercise and solitude are incredibly important methods of dealing with stress and staying calm amidst the hectic nature of my job.

Accepting and respecting all kinds of individuals
I’ve come in contact with all sorts of people in my career. Some are serious, while others are quirky.  No two people are alike. In my business, almost every one of my “staff” is a volunteer. As such, I don’t have the power of the paycheck to hold over them. Early on, I realized that it was important to get to know each of the volunteers individually and to understand what makes each one tick. I view my role as part event director and part therapist. This spills over into my work on the Road Race Management newsletter, where I realized very quickly how important it was to pay freelancers almost immediately after their work is published. That small gesture has gone a long way in my relationships with the many writers with whom we work.

One For The Road…
Empathy.  I “grew up” professionally in an era during which the stereotypical business behavior was to be cutthroat and to focus on maximizing profitability. I never subscribed to that philosophy. I always make a point of understanding the perspective of the person with whom I’m interacting. That person may be upset about something totally unrelated to our conversation and that could be driving his or her behavior, so I try to not take it personally and to work through the issue with empathy for what that individual may be going through.