at the races How LuluLemon Is Growing its Road Race Circuit

How LuluLemon Is Growing its Road Race Circuit

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Lululemon continues its all-in approach to running and the brand’s latest announcement signals a push to bring its race experience international.

On July 26, registration opened for the lululemon San Diego 10K, the first event the Vancouver-based athletic brand is hosting in the United States and its latest foray into running. The 10K is the third of its kind in addition to Edmonton and Toronto.

It’s no coincidence that lululemon chose San Diego as its next race. The brand operates four stores in the city and surrounding areas, a perfect recipe to pull off a successful launch, and it’s an ideal spot as a destination race.

“Two years ago, we declared our stand for run and to live into that commitment, we were the title sponsor of the Toronto 10K,” the newly-launched race website reads. “We had such a great time we took the race to Edmonton and now to you in San Diego.”

Not shockingly, the race sold out its 5,000 spots in three days and 14 hours.
Lululemon is betting big on running and it’s clearly paying off.

The Races

Lululemon made a splash in 2017 when it became the title sponsor of the Toronto Waterfront 10K. Lululemon, thanks to its cult-like following, vaulted the event into popularity instantly.

Due to its success in the first few years of operation, the race was capped at 10,000 runners in 2019, up from 7,000 in its inaugural year. Originally, entry fee cost $50 and has since risen to $84, which remains in line with what a typical premium 10K costs in Canada. (The San Diego race cost US$84.)

Lululemon, though dubbed as such in press releases, isn’t merely a title sponsor for its races. Their influence permeates much greater. They’re able to influence and shape the entire race experience. Not surprisingly, the race T-shirts are lululemon, and because there are a limited number made, the shirt is a hot commodity in and of itself for anyone who regularly shops at lululemon.

Lululemon is also able to bridge the gap for community partners/sponsors who would otherwise not be associated with running. You wouldn’t normally see rows of stationary spin bikes along the course of a road race but run the Toronto Waterfront 10K and Ride Cycle Club members cheer you on. Nor would you typically see doughnuts from a vegan restaurant at the finish line, yoga cooldowns, or activations from wellness brands like Saje. But it’s these activations and experiences that make lululemon events different, catering to both die-hard runners and those who run just to say they did. The ability to offer an experience to both demographics is almost unheard of, and few even attempt to pull an interactive event off with the exception of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series.

It can not be overstated how strong lululemon’s following is, and it’s a great thing for running as their events motivate many non-runners to enter when they otherwise wouldn’t. Case in point: other than a tweet by CEO Calvin McDonald and a press release, the San Diego 10K got minimal media coverage and still sold out in a few days time while many road races struggle to hit their cap at all.

How They Do It

Perhaps lululemon’s smartest move is their strategy to partner with world-class event organizers, absorbing much of the value of the event while not necessarily doing all of the heavy lifting. In Canada, lululemon partners with Canada Running Series, the organization which puts on the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and a collection of other events as part of their national circuit.

The two lululemon races in Canada currently are the Toronto Waterfront 10K, which was already an event before lulu came along, and the Edmonton 10K, which launched more recently for its inaugural edition under the watchful eye of the yoga-famous brand. Canada Running Series organizes both.

In the United States, lululemon partnered with DMSE Sports to host the 10K in San Diego. DMSE Sports is short for Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises and Dave McGillivray is the race director for the Boston Marathon, the world’s most sought-after and prestigious road race. It’s no coincidence that lululemon’s first event in the U.S. will be hosted by those who put on the race among amateur and professional runners. There is mention of DMSE Sports on the website, but it’s clear that lululemon are the ones at the forefront.

According to McGillivray, the race has been in the works for about a year.
By partnering with world-class athletics organizers, lululemon are able to market to runners, a relatively niche but passionate subset of the broad fitness industry.

The key: cater to both runners and executing an experience in line with what a consumer of lululemon would expect. Beyond the three 10Ks mentioned in this article, lululemon actually have another event called the Seawheeze Half-Marathon, which is famously popular as a festival beyond just a 21.1K race. The event’s tagline reads, “some would call it a half marathon, but we prefer to call it yoga. run. party.”

Seawheeze, a high-end premium road race, this year costs $178. Brilliantly, the event has expanded beyond its 10,000-runner cap because they’re charging people US$28 to complete the run virtually, with the benefit being that runners earn a finisher’s medal like all of those who do the route in Vancouver on race day.

The primary difference between Seawheeze and the 10Ks is that Lululemon organizes the half-marathon. Finally, every lululemon race come with training plans to help encourage people to be the fastest versions of themselves on event day. This is just another example of enhancing the race experience, even if it’s in the lead-up itself.

What Could We See Next?

Lululemon is doing just about everything to qualify as a mover in the running market. They already have a global run ambassador program as well as run clubs out of their stores across North America. The brand manufacturers and sells running-specific apparel including shirts, sports bras, tights, shorts, socks, underwear, and accessories.

In June, lululemon launched a new line of self-care products for athletes including shampoo and deodorant.

Perhaps most intriguing is the prospect of a lululemon shoe. Currently, lululemon carries APL (Athletic Propulsion Labs) footwear though it isn’t their own line of shoes. According to reports, “footwear is part of a five-year growth plan that executives unveiled to investors and analysts.” It should be noted that their footwear may not even be running-specific, and that it will likely not come within the next two years.

Going forward, don’t be surprised to see lululemon partner with more races to continue to reach new markets, whether it’s in Canada, the United States or outside of North America.