Many people dream of getting paid to run, and for good reason. However, it’s a difficult task to reach that exalted status of “professional runner”. As I’m sure you know, the standards to become a professional runner are incredibly high. Not only does a runner have to be at the top of the sport but, increasingly, they must have an active audience. At the end of the day, professional runners are meant to promote brands of course. LetsRun posted a great three-part article series on what it takes to become a professional track athlete.
One of the many endearing things about competitive running is its parity. A professional from Bowerman Track Club, laden with resources and Nike’s latest technology, can race against a budding amateur fresh out of college and hoping to secure their first contract. Enter the semi-professional. A runner in the nebulous space between complete amateur and full-on professional.
A semi-professional runner is a runner that is competitive enough to earn a partial income from running, whether that is through small sponsorships or prize money, but does not make enough to support themselves without another source of income. Many semi-pros work at running stores, allowing them to continue their training around a flexible schedule and have access to gear. The archetype of a semi-pro runner is a runner straight out of college, that was incredibly fast, but not quite good enough to secure a contract from a shoe company that will allow them to live the full-time runner lifestyle.
Semi-Pro Runner Example
One great example of a runner that I would classify as a semi-pro is Charlie Marquardt. If you are unaware of his full story, I would highly recommend reading up on it. Charlie graduated Haverford College in 2016 as a 4:02 miler. Instead of giving up on his dream to break 4:00, he continued to train while working full-time. After two years of this situation, Charlie broke 4 for the first time by running a 3:55 mile. Inspirational stuff.
The reality is that few semi-pro runners ever make Olympic teams. This is obviously not a rule, as Molly Seidel qualified for the Olympics in her first marathon while working part-time in a coffee shop. However, most semi-pro runners know that it is a long shot that they will reach the same heights as their peers that went full-time professional right after college and signed contracts with established running teams. No, many semi-pros run for an unadulterated passion for the sport, hoping to push every bit of ability out of themselves while they still can.