ARE Event Productions first came into existence with the creation of the Albany Running Exchange (ARE) in the fall of 2002 in Albany, NY. The ARE was a member-centric organization founded by Josh Merlis with the intention of creating an online portal for University at Albany students and members of the community to find training partners.
While just a junior in college at the time of ARE's founding, Josh had grown up with running and races as a primary focus in his life. He ran his first 5K at age 6 and his first half marathon at 11. Guided by his father, a true 'weekend warrior', they spent years running in races nearly every Saturday and Sunday. They joined NYC's College Point Road Runners, for which they competed and also volunteered at events. Josh also became active with the Forest Park Rangers (USATF youth organization) before moving on to race all 3 seasons (XC/Indoor/Outdoor) for his school team.
His high school XC coach owned a running race and triathlon management company, for which Josh fervently got involved, assisting with countless races in a variety of logistical capacities. By the time he joined the XC/Track program at the University at Albany, he had crossed over 500 finish lines and worked dozens of events of all types, gaining extensive experience for someone his age.
Uniquely, Josh's middle school had a computer science (CS) department that was teaching HTML within 2 years of its existence. He took all of the coding classes, and was making websites and programming in QBasic before continuing with a focus on Math/CS in high school. The CS program was quite rigorous, in fact, his classmate Alex Wissner-Gross won the USA Computer Olympiad and National Intel Science Search.
After competing for the University at Albany for his first two years, and encouraged by some friends to create something more inclusive, the Albany Running Exchange was born. Josh built a comprehensive website enabling people to list their preferred running distance, pace, and availability and it would find matches for you. With a built-in running log, run calendar, race results database, and chat system, it quickly took off.
The club promptly also got to work creating its own events, and within 2 months of existing, the ARE was planning its first race, the Dodge the Deer 5K. Held on April 13, 2003, over 160 individuals participated, putting ARE on the map. At 21, organizing a group of mostly 18 year olds, Josh directed his first race. Between the daily group runs of the club and working on this event, they were becoming a family - many of whom are still part of the ARE Event Productions team today.
By 2005, ARE was holding daily group runs, a 12 week Summer Trail Run Series, took over the direction of HMRRC's Winter Series #4, and created the Brave the Blizzard Snowshoe Race and also its now nationally-recognized Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon & Squirrelly Six Mile. Registration for all these events was occurring online on a custom platform Josh built in the fall of 2003, which ultimately would lay the groundwork for ZippyReg.com.
At the start of 2006, the race director of the St. John's/St. Ann's Spring Run-Off solicited ARE to time their event. She had participated in several ARE races, which ARE timed themselves, and strongly encouraged that they time her race. ARE was not advertising itself as a for-hire organization, but with her persistence, ultimately agreed to do it - timing its first contracted event on April 29, 2006.
The St. Rose College XC coach contacted ARE to time a meet for them that fall, which was ARE's second contracted race. Both events would continue to work with ARE annually for the remainder of their existence, including 13 more years of the Spring Run-Off.
Gradually, and organically, more events began contacting ARE, learning of their involvement in race timing by word of mouth and also seeing results on ARE's website. By the close of 2007, ARE had timed another dozen events, launched another new event of its own, and formally created ARE Event Productions (AREEP) as its own entity.
In the spring of 2008, as Josh wrapped up his 3rd year of teaching HS CS, he requested to go part-time for the following school year to meet the growing demands of AREEP. During his first few years teaching, Josh's school district had also contracted him to build their custom elementary report card system and its district-wide technology management system. As 2008 continued, he was also hired by the NYS Police to code their online communications platform along with other software projects for local organizations and companies. With his ultimate passion being a merge of technology in sport, he used the proceeds from his programming contracts to invest in the burgeoning timing and production company, purchasing transponder equipment and related computer/electronic needs, vehicles, as well as production items like barricades, cones, trusses, and related event equipment.
By the summer of 2008, AREEP switched fully to chip timing, providing live projected results their first time out. As the year came to a close, the growing team was working concurrent events, including the full direction of client events, and significantly expanding the scope of what they could do.
AREEP's entire staff consisted of runners, and, for that matter, a group of friends from the ARE who primarily had all just attended college together. Many of them had lived together on and off campus post-graduation, enabling a unique bond and trust to develop within the team.
AREEP quadrupled their client-list in 2008, jumping to over 40 events, including NY's Capital District's highly respected Gazette (now MVP Health Care) Stockade-athon 15K and the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon & Half Marathon. In early 2009, Pacers Events, based in the VA/DC area, reached out to AREEP to have them take over the timing and data management of their venerable 7,000 person George Washington Parkway Classic. Some 5+ years after building the initial infrastructure of ARE's online race registration system, Josh re-programmed it as a full CMS, laying the modern day infrastructure for what would quickly blossom into the full-fledged online registration and event management platform called ZippyReg.
Josh and his team adeptly and robustly built and executed the registration and timing of the event, providing live tracking text messages and also live map tracking on their new scoring software called Pinnacle Timing. Within the coming weeks, Josh and his team would find themselves coast-to-coast, assisting nationally reknown triathlons in California and Maryland (Wildflower and Columbia Triathlons respectively) as well as several more running races in the nation's capital. In June, at the conclusion of the school year, Josh resigned his teaching position to pursue AREEP full-time.
All told, AREEP was contracted for over 80 events in 2009, adding photo integration as another offering. That fall, they released this fun video demonstrating their attention to detail, technical applications, and light-hearted side too. By 2011, they were offering live video at events, contracted by Ironman to provide the timing for their Ironkids series, working numerous events throughout the country in the process, and also contracted for the 2012 Bermuda Marathon, several races in Canada, and the NJCAA XC National Championship Meet.
2012 was a year of considerable growth for AREEP in numerous ways. Until that point, the company was operating out of Josh's home, with each of the 3 bedrooms that once housed his teammates now serving as an office, equipment room, and supply room. By that fall, his detached garage was demolished as construction began on a new 2-story building to serve as their base of operations. Since ARE's very first event back in 2003, Paul Mueller had been a stalwart member of the team, in many ways the backbone of all of their events. He had lived with Josh during college and for a few years after, and in late 2012, Josh invited Paul over to that same house, imploring him to take the leap and join Josh as a full-time employee of the company to expand on his existing weekend presence. With construction running late on the garage, Paul's first few weeks were back in a place he was very familiar with: his old bedroom.
In early 2013, Nike announced its inaugural Nike Women's DC Half Marathon, and AREEP was selected as the timing and data management company. The unique and custom scope of the project was what AREEP specializes in, and by 2014, AREEP was also providing a full suite of timing and related technology and data services to Nike's already well-established and ubiquitously known 25,000+ participant Nike Women's Half Marathon in San Francisco.
The start of 2013 also marked the formation of RunWashington Timing, a partnership between AREEP and Pacers Events. AREEP was also brought on board by TriColumbia to time most of their 2013 triathlon series, as well as the timing and custom scoring of the 10,000 person CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge, the latter of which would ultimately move to ZippyReg.com for registration upon which AREEP built a customized team management page used by the over 500 company captains at this annual sold-out event.
By the summer of 2014, AREEP had hired 2 more full-time employees to assist with the day-to-day needs, on top of their dozens of staff members who worked events regularly. In addition, Josh and Andy Allstadt, former college teammates and housemates, formed the company In Focus Timing operated by Andy in Madison, WI. Needless to say, within barely 1 year of being built, the new building was too small and it was time to look for a new space. By early 2015, AREEP was in its current location at 21A Railroad Avenue, with ample room for everything a race could need.
2020 was to be AREEP's biggest year yet, with more races, including some major new ones in CA and DC, and more staff to make it all happen. In early March, AREEP invested substantially in expanding its equipment just a few weeks prior to the scheduled send off of a team to time the All American Marathon in North Carolina that would then drive straight to Los Angeles for the debut Nike 13.1 with 20,000 participants. Just days before departing, everything came to a halt.
While all of societal interaction was shutdown at the very start of the pandemic, even as different aspects of indoor retail and commercial activity returned, outdoor running races remained effectively barred through the remainder of 2020 and the first half of 2021. 192 of AREEP's roughly 194 scheduled client events canceled in 2020, a devastating impact to the realities of any business.
Believing in the importance of events as a key motivation for so many of us in pursuing physical activity and a commitment to health, AREEP quickly got to work building a comprehensive virtual event hub for its clients and also launched its unique Social Distance Running Challenge and Capital District Challenge, the latter of which had members of NY's Capital District overwhelmingly heat map the entire region.
AREEP was also closely following the developing situation, science, and guidance, and was a leader in redesigning the live race experience that earned them permission to physically host all of their own events throughout the pandemic's impact on group activities, as well as create their (November) Upstate Classic, (March) Electric City 5 Miler, and (May) Miles on the Mohawk. Their meticulously planned events successfully brought together a combined 2,000+ runners along with hundreds of spectators and volunteers, and there was not a single incidence of a pandemic-related concern brought forward by any health agency about any of their events. AREEP's efforts were featured by the event industry group Running USA and AREEP would serve as a consultant that assisted events throughout the country in the reimagining and safe deployments of their own races. Learn more about that here.
We continue to be guided and inspired by what started us all those years ago: genuine passion for our sport. We love what we do, we cherish the opportunity and privilege to be creative in performing these tasks, and forever desire to see that your race participants find happiness and fulfillment in being part of your event.