How did Sound Running Get Jakob Ingebrigtsen? A Chat with Founder Jesse Williams
May 5, 2022
Since 2019, some of the best distance track meets in the United States have been put on by Sound Running. Sound Running has upped its game in 2022 as Grant Fisher ran 26:33 to destroy the American Record at The TEN in March. This weekend’s Sound Running Track Meet presented by On Running is loaded and the men’s 5000m is the highlight with Olympic 1500m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen headlining. He’ll be taking on a stacked field that includes Olympic 1500 bronze medallist Josh Kerr, 17-time NCAA champion Edward Cheserek, and current NCAA phenom Abdihamid Nur, among others.
What is Sound Running? How does such a low-key meet with a limited budget get some of the best runners in the world? We reached out to Sound Running founder Jesse Williams to find out. Williams was the Head of Sports Marketing at Brooks for 13 years before starting Sound Running in 2018. The highlights of our talk with Jesse related to Sound Running are typed up below.
If you want to watch the full talk with Jesse (he also talks about leaving Brooks and more), we’re embedding video of our talk below. If you would like to hear our talk with Jesse as a podcast (21 minutes), you need to be a the LetsRun.com Supporters Club member. Supporters Club members get all the LetsRun.com content, bonus podcasts every week, a free summer training program, huge savings on running shoes, and a lot more. Join today or listen here if you already are a SC member.
LetsRun.com: Let’s talk about the Track Meet this weekend. The 5ks loaded. Jakob Ingebrigtsen highlights, but you got King Ches, Abdihamid Nur, who I think could run who knows how fast? Nico Young, Josh Kerr, it’s stacked. How do you get these guys for the fields?
Jesse Williams: I would say the one thing we had going for us, right from the get-go was my old position at Brooks. I worked with a lot of the agents and coaches in this world. So when we put on our first meet in 2019, it started with me texting a bunch of agents and coaches, and just saying, ’Hey, if we put this on would you come?’ and everybody was all-in right away.
So getting the athletes has always to some degree, and I don’t want to take it for granted, been the easier piece of the puzzle. Now getting somebody like Ingebrigtsen or getting the stars to align where everybody’s in one event [is harder], we just try to set up the schedule and our meets to serve the athlete as best as possible, and in the season, just knowing, people highlight [different events at different times of the year].
When we did our Ten (the 10k meet where Grant Fisher broke the American record) in March, we knew that was starting to become a trend where people wanted to get these longer distance qualifiers at the end of the indoor season, rest up and then open up maybe in May. So we thought, okay, let’s do that. So when we’re looking at [a meet in] May, well, people are probably trying to get a good 5k qualifier in because some of those people are going to run the 10k at Pre which is [the] US champs this year. So we kind of knew this 5k would be good from the get-go, even back in like February, March when we’re talking to people. I had talked to Dathan and the On crew and I knew they were targeting it.
Once you have a kind of a good start with a couple people [in the field], it comes together. I think maybe with The Ten and people running so fast there in March, maybe that opened a couple of eyes as far as like, ‘okay, we want to run fast, this is where we do it.’ So I like to say it’s a bit of luck, but the athletes trust us. That part of it as well.
LRC: So does Jakob Ingebrigtsen just reach out to you and enter your meet? Or did you reach out to him?
Jesse Williams: Neither. It was actually an agent who works with other athletes. Jakob’s agent had reached out [to the other agent] and said, ‘Hey, we’re coming to the US, is there a place we can run a good 5k?’ And this agent had said, ‘Yeah, you want to go to Sound Running.’ So it fell into our lap.
I’ve gotten a bunch of texts and emails the last week about, ‘Oh my God, how’d you guys do that?’ And to be fair, the quality of the competition, and then the fact that people have run fast [in the past]. I think those two things play in our favor to a pretty large degree in these situations. So, I would like to say we did something special, but I guess what we did special was people ran fast at our other meets.
Our sport is very unique, right? Stars will go compete in Diamond League events for prize money, require appearance fees for marathons, but they also want to run fast.
Then they’ll go compete for free if they have good competition, good weather.
There’s the [shoe contract] bonuses [for fast times] and a lot of those bonuses are as good or better than the prize money they could win in most competitions. So I think that’s a big carrot as well. And also the way the sport is set up by World Athletics and USATF is you’ve got to get some pretty lofty times to get either the World or Olympic standard, even to make it to USAs now. So you’ve got to fit in a fast race somewhere.
This 5k, everybody wants to know what are the rabbits targeting. Are they’re going to be rabbits? Is there Wavelight technology?
There are rabbits. We do not have the Wavelight technology this time. That was a very nice gift from TrackTown [for The Ten]. We borrowed that from the Eugene TrackTown crew for one event. Uh, we had talked to them about, hey, basically everybody [that] is going to qualify for your 10k is going to qualify here.
So Ollie [Hoare] on the OAC crew is going to rabbit the 5k. He himself obviously ran 13:07, 13:08 indoors [editor’s note: he ran 13:09.96], so he’s plenty capable of rabbiting right now. We’re setting it at 13:10 pace.
What people do with that, we don’t know. Most of the people, their goal is to get the World Championship standard, which is 13:13.5. So we’re setting it at 13:10. Now what [do] people do with that? I mean, a lot of the races we’ve had, we’ve seen negative splits off the pace…
So I think setting it at 13:10, you could still see a 13:00 with the level of competition we have here, you could see sub-13, even off that pace.
That’s crazy, but I think we’re gonna see a sub-13.
It’s never happened in California. The California state record is, I think we set it with when Grant Fisher ran 13:02 [last year].
You have this unique model, pay-per-view, is it 80% of the money that goes back to the athletes?
Right now the pay-per-view is like $5.99. Basically, there’s a dollar transaction fee. When you figure out all the costs, basically $4 out of the $6 goes directly into the prize purse. So you can watch that build as it goes. And then even during the broadcast, which is really cool, fans can get into it [and add more money].
When Elise [Cranny] was out there solo in the 10k, just crushing it, fans are adding to that [prize] purse…
What I love about it is it puts the fans in charge of the prize purse and it helps the athletes promote the event because they themselves could benefit from that. So I think if we see that really come to fruition in the right way. there can be paydays like athletes have never seen if they get their fans involved.
And then on Saturday, you’re part of the American Track League.
The American Track League has 8 to 10 events this year, and one of them comes to LA. We’re happy to [say] ‘Hey, we already have a track on Friday. Why don’t we do this on Saturday?’ So two action-packed days where the distances are all on Friday. Saturday, we have some really great sprint and field event fields.
We’re sharing that resource and hoping to get all the fans involved here in SoCal. For us, everything we do in Southern California leads up to LA 2028, trying to create a fan base here in LA that will follow us.
Let’s talk a little about the history of Sound [Running]. You started in 2018. I think your first event was 2019. You guys kept going during COVID, which I think was great because there weren’t opportunities to compete…But Sound Running itself. It’s not just putting out events. Right? Talk a little bit about what Sound Running is.
We started in 2018 and we originally started trying to build what we thought were better training plans for athletes…anybody that runs anything from your local 5k to the Boston Marathon or whatever, thinking that we have a unique approach — how would a pro athlete train for that? Well, those same principles apply to everybody, right?…So we started with that [the training programs].
Then, there was a big gap in 2019, where there was about a month where the normal domestic competitions ended and USAs was late because Doha [the World Championships] was in September.
So we kind of put out the word to a bunch of coaches and agents and said, ‘Hey, if we put on a meet would you guys come down?’ And it was purely just something I thought would be fun to do and right when we did it everything just kinda clicked.
When I was in sports marketing, when I was at Brooks five years ago, the mode was you got to the summer season and you sent everybody to Europe and they ran in Belgium or someplace over in Europe, but if they were lucky to get to a Diamond League, they got into one or two Diamond Leagues. That’s fairly rare, not that many people get into the Diamond League, so they usually can compete in B and C level events in those countries, and [all the Americans] they’re all racing each other. 8 out of 12 people in the field are Americans and you’re like, what are we doing?
I remember complaining about that at my former job and as soon as we did that meet in July in 2019, I thought we can do a summer series here and bring in sponsors, bring in prize money, keep athletes here domestically. I think a lot of the sponsors they value these domestic competitions.
The publicity, TV of the Diamond League…you’re not going to match that. But some C-level meet in Europe where eight of the 10 guys are American, what you guys are doing [at Sound] makes more sense.
And I think financially it’s better for the sponsor. It’s better for the athlete, their travel budget…
Maybe Sound Running, could have a little bit to do with at least trying to…create a summer season [in the US]. So we started with the Sunset Tour. Since then we’ve created a couple more events.
Now our full calendar is we do The Ten in March, which is a 10K-only event.
It is 100% a copycat of the Night of 10,000s they do over in the UK. I just thought that was such a cool event. Why can’t we do something like that here?…
Then we have our May event, which is kind of our qualifier. Everybody goes and gets the US standards or World standards or Olympic standards. It’s a nice piece of the track circuit leading up to USAs.
And we have our threesome Sunset Tour meets and then to culminate the end of the year, we have our new event, which is The Cross Champs. The idea is we have all these teams now, all these professional teams, how cool would it be for them to square off, in a cross country meet head to head with their full teams?
NCAA [XC] is obviously one of the coolest events in our sport. Why does cross country end there? So that’s something we’ll be doing this year down in Austin, actually as part of The Running Event.
Well, I’m sure you’re busy this weekend, so I’ll let you go…Our former intern, the LetsRun intern, Karl Winter is in the “B” 1500… and he’s going to interview people afterwards in the 5k. So we’re happy for that.
He’s in a really good 1500. It’s the B section, but it’s full of 3:37, 3:38, 3:39 guys. And it’s going to be paced well, so knows?
And [high schooler] Colin Sahlman. So if he loses to the high schooler, he’s in trouble.
Well, I can’t imagine you guys all let him come in [and work] after that.
[Laughing] Good talking to you.
Thanks. Appreciate it.
The highlights from our talk with Jesse are all related to the Sound Running Track Meet this weekend and the Sound Running pro events. If you want to watch the full talk with Jesse, we’re embedding it as a video below. He also talks about why he left a dream job at Brooks to go out on his own and more. If you would like to hear our talk with Jesse as a podcast (and get bonus podcasts every week, savings on running shoes, and a lot more), join the LetsRun.com Supporters Club.