Speaking about RunFest with Ewra Kusmierczyk.

Sweeping views at Mount Joseph, Lake Tekapo. Image by Grethe Meisingset (supplied).

Sweeping views at Mount Joseph, Lake Tekapo. Image by Grethe Meisingset (supplied).

If I had one disappointment with the conversation that I had with Ewra Kusmierczyk It’s that it wasn’t longer, or turned into a podcast. This was one of the most fun and engaging things I’ve done for GPR and I walked away very excited about the prospect of attending the 2016 Runfest.

Ewra (pronounced “Ever”) is one of the organisers of the RunFest and “Chief chop-chop-chopper” of the Wellington Running Meetup (as in, “chop chop, you’re not on holiday!”). Ewra riffed passionately about RunFest, being a not-for-profit organisation, and a multitude of other topics (most of which, unfortunately, didn’t make it into this interview). It was clear speaking to Ewra that those attending the RunFest are in for an exciting and immersive experience. How fun is it going to be to spend the weekend surrounded by kindred spirits within the running community where the focus is on people, reciprocity and engagement?

GPR founder Paul Petch and I (Matt Rayment) are pleased as punch to have been invited to speak, and personally, I’m really looking forward to hitting some quality Wellington trails when I’m there! The 2016 RunFest  is happening in Wellington on the weekend of February 27-28th. For full programme and information about the event, visit the website at www.runfest.org.nz

Who are you guys, how did the idea for Runfest come about?

We are the Wellington Running Meetup Group, (WoRM) and we’ve been around for just over five years, I started the whole thing, and it was a more of a random click of a button than any forethought to it. Over the last five years it’s really evolved, I often laugh that we’ve created a monster. We have 1400 people rolling through the group and we have anywhere between one to two hundred people running with us every week. Last night we had 60 people with us on a regular run around Mt Victoria. We call ourselves “Feral runners of Wellington” because we are not a club, we’re more a tribe or an informal community, we don’t take ourselves seriously, we love adventures, and we have all sorts of abilities within the group. We’re keen to push our limits but also socialise.

We talked about it for about six months, one night, we were sitting at a pub after the run and mike said, “let’s do it”.

Runfest came about after a number of conversations on Tuesday runs. We always go up Mt Vic, which is quite a steep climb, so you don’t really talk much, but I don’t shut up and usually talk to people. One of our runners, Mike Brown (who is one of the organisers of Webstock) and I started chatting about how cool it would be having an event that was about more than just running, where we could get together and talk about running but also to focus on some members of our group who have gone away to do really amazing stuff, but never really get the chance to talk about it.

We talked about it for about six months, one night, we were sitting at a pub after the run and mike said, “let’s do it”. We did the first one in 2014, a small one, half an afternoon, four speakers, and that worked, so we thought “Ok, clearly people want that type of thing, so how about we go bolder and better?”, and here it is!

It’s a really exciting time to be involved with running culture in New Zealand. It seems like there is a burgeoning alternative, DIY, “just go out and do it” ethic. Do you see this developing in New Zealand?

I spoke to Roger Robinson who is speaking at Runfest, he said that we were another running tribe and it’s becoming mainstream. it used to be all clubs and then the loners who run the ultras, and I think all that is starting to become a bit more mainstream, but in a way that it’s all about the community, and it’s really important for us to keep it as such. We want to avoid keeping everyone happy just because we can. We found that we predominantly went into trail theme because we tend to run trails. There is nothing to say that there is not room for a similar event that focuses on road running.

I would love to see Runfest as an event like the Kepler Challenge, that it is an event that leaves people super excited and a little bit anxious and baffled, because they never know what it is going to be. That they will be so excited that they will sign up for something stupid. I want people to really get excited that they will have a chance to immerse themselves in the experience not necessarily running 100km, we don’t want to create another race, and we don’t’ want to compete with other races, but we want to bring people and people who put on these events together. Our goal is bring people together and also show what New Zealand has to offer in trails. I think this also stems from when I started running, I never knew how much I could run, or how far I could run, and the limits are what I set it to be. As a group, we wind each other up a lot, and I think that this is what Runfest is about as well.

As an organiser, what is the part of Runfest that you are most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to meeting all of you guys, I guess I’ll know maybe 70% of the audience. I’ve only met three or four of the speakers. I think I’m looking forward to seeing what people take out from Runfest as that will drive what happens next. I think the weekend will be really hard work, but we’re doing it for a love of running and we have a very strong drive within us. I’m looking forward to seeing the fruits of RunFest. We’re also looking forward to see if we can do it and run it sustainably. It’s much bigger and bolder this year!

What are the benefits of being a not-for-profit organisation?

I think that if there was a profit focus when we would not be able to direct the whole focus on what really matters to us. I’m not very economically driven, so that’s also maybe part of it. We’re volunteers, the whole community is volunteers. We rely on people like you guys to come say “Hey, we’ll help you”. None of our speakers are taking a fee this year, and we acknowledge that. For us the focus is the content and we’re doing and creating rather than the money that we are going to take out from it. It still needs to be sustainable. We need to think about ways to generate some revenue to drive it forward. It’s been like this for five years. WoRM is money free, there is no question of membership or “how much money do I need for this or that”. If we are going away together we decide as a group how much money we will need to cover the cost of going somewhere. We try to help each other out. We know that there are people in the group who can afford to run ten races a year and there are are people in the group who cannot afford to run one.

I would love to see Runfest as an event like the Kepler Challenge, that it is an event that leaves people super excited and a little bit anxious and baffled, because they never know what it is going to be.

Do you have sponsors?

No. This year we decided against it as we wanted the freedom to do whatever we want. We have kind people offering us prizes. Kiwi Trail Runner are giving away five subscriptions, we will be giving away an entry into an inaugural event down here. The Wellington Urban Ultra, or Wuu2K, because there is 2 km of climbing. That was organised by one of our runners who wanted to organise a race around urban trails in Wellington that was more than a marathon. We have a few other things that I can’t say anything about yet. Perhaps sponsorship is an option in the future, but we really wanted to focus on the content, the speakers and the people. We are clarifying our vision, but right now it’s about serving the community.

What can we expect from the sunrise run? I’m pretty excited about that. What shoes do I need to bring?

Trail shoes, of course! Because we are obviously going to run on a trail. You might touch the tarmac a couple of times, though. You’ll see the sunrise, you’ll get awesome views, there will be hills. We are going to go towards the sea, the sunrise is most spectacular. I’ve kept the route secret. I don’t even think many WoRM runners know about it.

Matt Rayment

Matt Rayment

Family man, runner & former editor with GOOD PEOPLE RUN.
Matt Rayment

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