As more than one great philosopher has wisely observed, reaching the destination is not nearly as important as the journey itself. The St. Pete Run Fest, which celebrates its second birthday Nov. 16-18, is a prime example. Three races – a 5K, a 10K and a Half-Marathon – wind through some of the city’s most beautiful neighborhoods and awe-inspiring scenery.
“It’d be easy to go up and back, just close down one road,” observes Run Fest co-founder Ryan Jordan. “There are a lot of races that kind of do the same thing. Which is beautiful, but we made a conscious decision to say hey, let’s go highlight the city.”
Each run begins on Bayshore Drive, within eyeballing distance of the Dali Museum, the Mahaffey Theater and the Albert Whitted Airport – along with lots of lots of pretty yachts – and continues along the waterfront.
The 5K (3.1 miles) run begins at 8 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17. This is several hours earlier than last year’s start time. “Starting at 10:30, it was just too hot,” Jordan explains. “This gives them more time, too, to enjoy the rest of the day. There’s so much going on in St. Pete on the 17th – the Festival of Reading, Saturday Morning Market, the Craft Art Festival, Shopapalooza in the day and Chillounge at night. It’s a celebration of St. Pete. The good news is, we’ll have a good run in the morning, get everyone to enjoy downtown, and allow everyone to enjoy St. Pete afterwards.”
Continuing through Old Northeast, the 5K is more of a “fun” race, with walkers allowed and encouraged. It takes about an hour (depending on your speed). Limited to 2,500 participants, age 8 and older.
At 8 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, the 10K (6.2 miles) race kicks off. This one includes a literal dash through the interior of Tropicana Field (the JumboTron will be watching!) and visits the Grand Central, Edge and Warehouse Arts districts. Limited to 1,500 runners age 10 and over. Two hours.
The granddaddy of them all is the St. Pete Half Marathon (7 a.m. Sunday), a whopping 13.1 mile run through the waterfront, downtown, numerous sprawling urban neighborhoods, Tropicana Field, the EDGE, Grand Central and Warehouse Arts districts, Old Northeast and Snell Island and more. There’s a cap of 2,500 for this approximately four-hour run. Minimum age requirement is 12. This is a seriously up-close-and-personal tour of the city’s visual strengths, for the elite runner.
There’ll be entertainment – all local – along the way, as well as (of coursed) hydration stations and other necessaries.
There are a couple of Youth Runs, too, of various lengths. Check the website for details.
When he and Paula, his wife, moved here in 2000, Ryan Jordan was a career IT operative with more than 20 years’ business experience under his belt. And he has always been a runner. “Most of those years,” he says, “I was on a plane flying around. Wherever I was, if I had time I’d put on my running shoes and explore the city streets.”
As a newly-minted Floridian, “I just fell in love with St. Pete,” Jordan says. “We both did.
“Most of my IT buddies moved into South Tampa, but that wasn’t for me. I love the vibe, I love the people of St. Pete. And I still live in the house I bought when I moved here.”
A few years later, Jordan’s brother Keith and wife Claire followed suit. Austin-based Keith had built numerous successful endurance races, and sold his company to Ironman (the brothers are originally from New Hampshire).
One day in early 2016, Ryan and Keith were enjoying a morning run along the St. Pete waterfront.
“As the story goes, we were out for a run, and I said ‘Why don’t we put on a race here?’ In my mind, I’m thinking big – Atlanta has one, Chicago, Boston, New York, all these big cities have big running races that are community-inspired. ‘We should have one!’ And that’s why we did it.”
Since the Woman’s Half Marathon and the Rock and Roll Marathon vanished from St. Pete city streets four years ago, the time, they believed, was right.
This year’s event is bigger, and includes more events (the running expo and health and fitness expos, for example, are lodged on the scenic plaza between the Dali and the Mahaffey). “There are a lot of options for people to pay their money to go run – which in and of itself is kind of a weird concept,” Jordan says. “That proved to be more difficult than I thought.”
The answer? More inclusivity, more swag, more fun. More St. Pete.
“The City has been incredible, not only to work with, but the sponsors – Rollin’ Oats this year, Kahwa Coffee, TreeHouse Gallery, Outback Steakhouse, 3 Daughters Brewing, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater … the list is long. These guys just came in and said ‘How do we help?’ From that standpoint, it’s been inspiring.”
Partial proceeds will go to St. Pete Free Clinic and the Children’s Dream Fund (the St. Pete Run Fest is a for-profit business, Jordan explains, but expenses are high – the City doesn’t close down major streets for nothing – and they lost money in the inaugural year. This time, they’re hoping to break even).
Lessons have been learned, Jordan explains. “Year One, it was all unknown. So you go into it and you quickly realize you didn’t prepare for everything. And that’s when you quickly realize how great the team is. The team really came together.”
Both brothers and their wives work on the St. Pete RunFest, along with several highly-motivated teammates. “You learn really quickly who’s really capable of doing their job. I think that’s the thing we learned the most, that we had a really great team, and that we could actually grow a lot by leveraging their expertise. Putting them in the right roles and letting them execute.”
Jordan is expecting somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 runners this year.
And he’s already thinking ahead. “I sure hope the new pier is open by next November,” he says. “Because I’ve already come up with a course map that includes it.”