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Entrepreneurs

Off To The (business Of) Races

By Johanna Cano, posted Apr 5, 2019
Tom Clifford (left), owner of Without Limits, and Colin Hackman, owner of It’s Go Time, manage and operate races in the Wilmington area. They partnered and purchased the Battleship NC Half Marathon in March. (Photo by Michael Cline Spencer)
Washed-out roads, a missed shipment of 3,000 medals and torn-up running courses are among some of the logistical headaches that Tom Clifford, founder of Without Limits, has faced while managing races in the Wilmington area.
 
Despite some of the hurdles, he still enjoys running a company that connects runners in the community.
 
As the owner of Without Limits, Clifford manages seven races including the Southern Tour Ultra, Wrightsville Beach Triathlon and Swim the Loop.
 
Most recently, Clifford partnered with Colin Hackman, owner and president of It’s Go Time, to purchase the Battleship NC Half Marathon.
 
Without Limits started as an endurance coaching company with Clifford as a coach. Soon after, Clifford decided to start managing events, and the NHRMC Wrightsville Beach Marathon Madness was born, along with the Without Limits clothing brand.
 
“We started producing events and I was not satisfied with the apparel provided,” Clifford said. “So, I found a really good partner in town who helped fulfill the need for a higher- quality T-shirt.”
 
For Hackman, It’s Go Time started with a passion for running. Hackman grew up in Wilmington and ran at Hoggard High School. While working as the weekday meteorologist for WECT, Hackman ran races and coached kids.
 
Hackman noticed while participating in races how events could be better managed to appeal to runners.
 
“There were decisions made in the races that weren’t focused on what would make the event good for participants,” Hackman said.
 
Hackman helped operate the Historic Wilmington Foundation 5K, where he realized it was something he could take on.
 
“I enjoyed the work. I love the people. I love the fact that you have kids 4 years old, up to people 94 years old, helping to generate funds for a nonprofit,” Hackman said.
 
“The light bulb clicked, and I said, ‘We can do this.’ And that’s how it started.”
 
It’s Go Time is a Wilmington- based event management company that also provides race-timing technology.
 
Over time, the company grew quickly, from operating less than 20 events its first year to now operating over 80 events in southeast North Carolina. Some of the races it manages include the Polar Plunge 5K and Oak Island Lighthouse Run.
 
Managing races means having to coordinate with different entities depending on the race, Hackman said.
 
Some of the biggest expenses that come with operating races include timing equipment, swag and logistics.
 
“Runners have an expectation,” Hackman said. “T-shirts cost a lot of money. That can eat into the budget quite rapidly. We have a $35 price point for a 5K and you spend $11 on a T-shirt for each participant, you can quickly see how fast the margin evaporates.”
 
As an avid runner, Clifford has enjoyed starting a company that inspires runners to connect and do their personal best. There are some challenges that come, however, with the business of running races.
 
The growth in Wilmington is great for the city, but it has impacted how and where the races can be held, Clifford said.
 
“[The growth] has a taken away a lot of green space for events. It’s also added more traffic problems,” Clifford said.
 
Another issue Clifford has come across is communicating with business owners in Wilmington how marathons and races can attract customers to their businesses.
 
“Events really elevate community and we’ve had a lot of business owners that don’t want to get involved,” Clifford said. “Events are a great way to be involved in the community, especially running events because there’s really nothing negative about them. They bring out the best in people.”
 
A positive aspect of races in the area is the economic impact they can have, Clifford said.
 
“Bringing 3,000 to 4,000 runners when 60 percent of them are not from here, that’s going to automatically bring families and friends,” Clifford said.
 
Hackman added that races bring people with a disposable income to Wilmington, noting that 60 percent of race participants in Wilmington come from outside the city and the average Its’ Go Time event runner earns about $150,000 a year.
 
“So not only are we getting an audience willing, able and ready to enjoy their weekend. You’re doing so in a time period when we can handle it, we can accommodate it and we can really shine,” Hackman said about races that take place during the winter off-season.
 
With the Battleship NC Half Marathon under the ownership of Clifford and Hackman, plans are to expand the marathon to attract more runners, which could include changes to the start and finish venues previously at the battleship, they said.
 
While managing races in the community, Hackman and Clifford still find time to run. Hackman runs 80 miles a week and is running the Boston Marathon later this month.
 
“We’re a business, we want to make money and we want to take care of our family and our contractors and our employees. But it’s really to elevate the event, give other people better opportunities and it’s fun,” Clifford said. “That’s kind of what it is. It’s a challenge every day. When I wake up, I always have a new challenge and that’s what’s fun.”
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