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Front & Center: Pace of growth picks up for physical therapist Ryan Hite’s race-organizing business

“Negative split” is a strategy of intentionally setting a slower initial pace in the first half of a footrace – giving your body time to warm up and endorphins time to kick in – then speeding up and passing competitors during the second half.

It’s also the name of physical therapist Ryan Hite’s race-organizing company, which began slowly in 2013 but is gaining speed.

“We’ve always liked the idea of people finishing strong, whatever their goal,” Hite explained.

Upcoming Negative Split races include today’s Pink Ribbon Run, Glow for Hunger (May 11), Windermere Marathon (May 20), Dad’s Day Dash (June 17), U District Summer Series (July 10, 17 and 24) and Wild Moose Chase (Oct. 6).

Hite also organizes an annual race in Texas. And he does all this in addition to treating patients and working as a personal trainer.

Obviously, the slow-start phase of a negative split – whether running races or running a business – is a relative term.

During a recent interview, Hite discussed the hidden costs of staging a race, the inevitable complaints and what Bloomies should and shouldn’t do next Sunday.

S-R: Where did you grow up?

Hite: I was a Valley kid. I went to University High School.

S-R: What was your first real job?

Hite: When I was 16, I sold shoes, shin guards and other stuff at Spokane Olympic Sports.

S-R: What were your interests in high school?

Hite: Soccer, math and science. All the aptitude tests said I should be an engineer, so I went off to college intending to become a mechanical engineer.

S-R: With what goal in mind?

Hite: I didn’t really know. In hindsight, I probably should have educated myself more about career opportunities.

S-R: Where did you attend college?

Hite: I started at the University of Washington, and after one quarter realized I didn’t love mechanical engineering. I thought about when I had the most fun, and it always came back to sports. So I transferred to WSU and earned a degree in kinesiology.

S-R: Then what?

Hite: I went back to the University of Washington and worked as a strength and conditioning coach in the athletic department. I also worked for the (NBA) Seattle Sonics and the (WNBA) Seattle Storm. When the Sonics left for Oklahoma City, I enrolled in Eastern’s three-year physical therapy program and graduated in 2011 with a doctorate.

S-R: Is that when you joined U-District Physical Therapy?

Hite: Yes. I’d had my own personal training business on the side while I was at Eastern – fitness classes, boot camp, those sorts of things – and still own that business. I also work 20 hours a week at U-District as a physical therapist.

S-R: What inspired you to start Negative Split?

Hite: My wife, Amy, and I are both runners, and she’s a physical therapist, as well. Since we were already involved in the injury rehab side of fitness, we saw the performance side as a natural extension. For the vast majority of our races, we partner with nonprofits that provide volunteers in return for a share of the race revenue.

S-R: How much did it cost to launch Negative Split?

Hite: We didn’t take out a business loan. We just roll over the receipts from one race into the next one and gradually make capital improvements. Depending on the race, our expense column can be anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000.

S-R: From early spring to late fall, it’s a rare weekend in Spokane that doesn’t have a race. What does Negative Split bring to the running community?

Hite: I’d completed the Coeur d’Alene Ironman a number of times and always felt like the participants’ experience was better than any other race I’d competed in. My goal is to bring that top-quality participant experience to the local scene – more than just, “Here’s your bib number. Go run.” Instead of just organizing runs, we’re creating events.

S-R: For instance?

Hite: The whole theme of our recent half-marathon was celebrating runners’ stories. Along the (13.1-mile) course we had placards telling the stories of about 50 participants. One person had lost 100 pounds training for the race. Someone else was running in memory of a friend who had passed away. We also featured those stories on our website.

S-R: When someone enters one of your races, would they notice differences between that event and one of the popular club-sponsored races, such at the St. Paddy’s Five or the Spokane Marathon?

Hite: I hope so. We’re not trying to take over the local running community, which has a rich tradition. But we want Negative Split to be more than a series of races. Our goal has always been to try to create a sense of community around our events, partly through our social media presence.

S-R: Before launching Negative Split, had you ever organized a race?

Hite: Not as a race director.

S-R: What were some surprises?

Hite: The expense column was a surprise – everything from portable toilets, sound systems and traffic cones to timing equipment, permits, police support and insurance. And that’s on top of T-shirts, medals and trophies. We definitely didn’t make a dollar those first couple of years.

S-R: How much time do you devote to this business?

Hite: A lot. What started out as a hobby has become basically a job. During our busy season in the spring, it’s not uncommon for me to put in 40 to 50 hours a week, on top of doing physical therapy and fitness classes.

S-R: Could this evolve into a full-time career?

Hite: Hourswise it already has. (laugh) Our goal is for Negative Split to grow to a point where we can hire a staff and it operates on its own.

S-R: Would that involve expanding beyond Spokane?

Hite: For sure. There’s only a limited number of dates in Spokane where you can add a run, so at some point we need to look for opportunities in Seattle, Portland, Missoula. Our Texas run is a military contract at Fort Sam Houston that attracts 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers and their families.

S-R: What type of races are most lucrative?

Hite: Half-marathons and marathons have the biggest margins, because our pricing structures are higher. People pay anywhere from $15 to $35 for a 5K run, while marathoners expect to pay $50 to $100, depending on where they take place.

S-R: You took over the Windermere Marathon, which used to be a fundraiser.

Hite: It still is. Right out of the gate we give the Windermere Foundation $5,000 to help with low-income housing. On top of that, we pass along additional money once expenses are covered. In return, Windermere provides volunteers and publicity.

S-R: It’s impossible to please everyone. What do race participants complain about?

Hite: We can anticipate complaints about the shirt – it doesn’t fit right, it was the wrong color, whatever. Some people will complain about whatever nutrition product we hand out along the course. And we always have complaints about the accuracy of course distances. But as race director, I know the extraordinary lengths we go to – measuring and remeasuring – making sure the official distances are right.

One reason people complain is that their GPS watches – which are affected by satellite positions, cloud cover, all sorts of things – are not very accurate for measuring course distances. If we notice common themes among complaints, we take those to heart – especially if it’s a safety issue.

S-R: Looking ahead to next Sunday’s 42nd annual Bloomsday, what advice would you offer participants?

Hite: First, make sure you’re eating well going into Bloomsday. Lots of sugar in the diet, or lack of hydration, can have a major negative impact on performance. And if you’ve undertrained for Bloomsday, you’re better off sticking with your routine rather than ramping up and trying to squeeze in a bunch of miles before the race.

S-R: How about tips for the race itself?

Hite: Don’t try anything new. If your standard prerace breakfast is yogurt and granola, don’t have an omelet and sausage the morning of the race. The other thing is to get a little warmup in before the start of the race, even if it’s just jogging in place while you wait in line.

S-R: And after the race?

Hite: Do some stretching. Hydrate. If you have the opportunity to consume protein and carbohydrates within 30 minutes of finishing, that’s a win, too.

Writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached at mguilfoil@comcast.net.


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