When Elizabeth Yetzer told friends and family that she wanted to become a professional runner, the response was nearly unanimous:

"Wait, I didn't even know there was professional running," the 23-year-old former Gophers standout heard.

Regardless of the sport's limited national exposure, turning a passion into a full-time job is a realistic possibility for 21 attendees of the first RunPro Camp, designed to educate distance runners on the prospects of turning pro.

The camp, held last weekend at the Hilton Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport Hotel, was developed by Team USA Minnesota, one of the nation's few distance training centers.

Nationally ranked times and All-America honors might hold weight in college, but becoming a sponsored professional is far more complicated than just having success on the track.

Believing otherwise is a common misconception, according to Team USA Minnesota coach Dennis Barker.

"A lot of them think that if they run this fast, they'll come out and get a shoe contract," said Barker, who estimated that just under half of the RunPro attendees, all recent college graduates, would get signed by training centers or earn sponsors in the near future. "It's not even about that. There are so many factors, things with the companies. It's not about how fast you run."

That's where RunPro comes in. The only athletic activity occurs on short morning runs.

Other than that, their minds were flooded with information on topics ranging from agent representation to a panel talk with current pros.

And then there was the candid discussion about salaries. While top American runners can earn up to $600,000 annually, a more realistic income for burgeoning professionals -- those who rank in the top 20-50 in the country -- is somewhere around $15,000 per year. Part-time employment outside of running is common.

"There aren't a lot of opportunities if you don't have an 'A' standard, which says you'll probably place in the Olympics right away," said Yetzer, an NCAA qualifier in the 1,500 meters with Minnesota after winning two high school cross-country state titles for Lakeville North. "I think so much of it is being willing to live humbly and maybe a little more meagerly and just being willing to give it time to mature and become better."

Transitioning away from what Team USA Minnesota runner Meghan Peyton called the "catered" lifestyle of collegiate athletics takes a certain degree of confidence to eschew job security for the thrill of competing professionally.

"It's breaking the traditional model of getting a job and making sure you provide for yourself," Yetzer said. "Right now I'm living with my parents, and a lot of people don't think that looks like an attractive lifestyle, but there's an aspect of faith to take that leap. It's a risk that requires patience."

Latching onto a distance training center, however, can lay the initial groundwork for a thriving career. During the panel, all six pro runners stressed the importance of finding a supportive environment in which to train.

"I finished school and I knew I wasn't done running because I knew what I was capable of and what I wanted to do," said Scott MacPherson, a runner for Team Rogue in Austin, Texas.

"I realized that the only way to get that work done was to surround myself with people who would motivate me and who shared the same dreams."

So are undergoing the trials and tribulations, not to mention the unstable pay and uncertain future associated with professional running, even worth the effort?

"I could say, without a doubt, it's worth it," said Peyton, a Team USA Minnesota runner who helped organize the camp. "Even if you're not one of the superstars of our sport, you have a certain amount of limelight and stardom. To be out there and pursue your dreams is not a reality for a lot of people. It's fantastic to do something you love every day."

For the RunPro campers, the race to turn love into life begins now.