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More than a race, Run Fest is a ‘passion project’

Mark Parker

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The St. Pete Run Fest returns to the downtown waterfront this weekend. Photo provided.

St. Pete Run Fest is much more than a bunch of people strapping on bibs and running; it is a community-inspired, multi-event festival that also includes running events.

Run Fest is also a family affair, founded by brothers Keith and Ryan Jordan and their respective wives, Claire and Paula. Ryan Jordan said St. Petersburg had some “pretty good-sized running events here that left town,” creating a void in the market. When the city issued a request for proposal (RFP) to fill the gap five years ago, the Jordans jumped at the opportunity. They won the RFP and are now St. Pete’s official running event.

“The goal of this whole thing is to create something that the community really rallies around,” said Jordan. “It’s certainly about running and wellness, but it’s also very much a celebration of St. Pete.”

With last year’s event canceled due to the pandemic, this year will mark the fourth time Run Fest has brought its unique mixture of entertainment, philanthropy, health initiatives, and running to the downtown St. Pete waterfront. Scheduled for Nov. 12-14, Jordan expects over 10,000 people to attend, with many coming from outside the area. He said that over 20% of those registered this year are coming from 100 miles away or more, giving the city another chance to show outsiders what makes it special.

“We started this thing five years ago to build something special, and the good news is it has grown every year,” said Jordan. “And this should be the biggest yet.”

Jordan said it is a big responsibility to put on a destination city’s half-marathon, mentioning how the Boston Marathon and even the Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa have become “big parts of the fabric of the community.” Around 30,000 people participated in the event across the bay, and Jordan believes St. Pete is “certainly worthy and has a beautiful venue to have something that would rival that.”

Run Fest has a close partnership with the city and is a big part of the Healthy St. Pete initiative. The organizers go around the community to get people comfortable with fitness, wellness and health. Their work extends to the children in the community as well. Jordan said there is a shortage of materials to keep kids active, so they bring “recess packs” to all the elementary schools in St. Pete. Recess packs include things like jump ropes, kickballs, chalk and whatever can keep kids active in a digital age.

“Humana, Healthy St. Pete and Run Fest are sponsoring and distributing those, so it’s really a kind of year-round type of engagement,” said Jordan. “It’s about really trying to do good things and celebrate what makes St. Pete awesome.”

Uplifting the community is the main goal of Run Fest, and Jordan says it also works closely with St. Pete Free Clinic to provide meals for the hungry. With its Miles for Meals program, Run Fest donates money to the free clinic for every mile run. Jordan said the goal this year is to raise enough money for 5,000 meals, a feat he said would be “badass.” There is also an event to raise money for pediatric cancer from Nov. 12 -14, with all proceeds going towards the Gold Together cancer research foundation.

“There’s a bunch of causes in this thing (Run Fest),” said Jordan. “It’s inspiring people to get out and be comfortable while being uncomfortable and doing good.”

Although Run Fest is only five years old, with one year taken away by Covid, it is already receiving national recognition. BibRave, which ranks races of all categories, recently named the St. Pete Run Fest Half Marathon its fifth-best half marathon of the last decade. Jordan said most of that recognition is due to the city that holds the race.

“The star of the show is St. Pete,” said Jordan. “We just do our best to highlight what we think makes St. Pete great.”

Jordan said he has lived in St. Pete for 20 years but still was not prepared for the level of support the surrounding business community has given to Run Fest. Jordan said he approached the businesses in the city he already loves and frequents and asked them if they would like to get involved with the event. “The answers were a resounding yes,” he said.

Jordan mentions 3 Daughters Brewing, Green Bench Brewing, Rollin Oats, Kahwa Coffee, the Mahaffey Theater, the Dali Museum, the Treehouse Gallery, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Tampa Bay Rays as all contributing to the continued success of Run Fest.

“We quickly realized why the city is so unique and special,” said Jordan. “That’s our goal – to make this a recurring long-term event that the city and community really gets behind, supports, and is proud of.”

“It’s a passion project, and I get emotional just thinking about it.”

For more information on Run Fest, visit its website here.

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