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The St Pete Run Fest origin story by co-founder Ryan Jordan

Ryan Jordan

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I was out for a run along our waterfront with my older brother, Keith, when he asked, “why don’t we have a big running race here in St. Pete?” I knew some of the story as to why the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon and Women’s Half left town, but was not intimately familiar why we don’t have “our own race.” All “major” cities, it seems, have a community-inspired road race: Boston, New York, Austin – even our Tampa Bay neighbor has Gasparilla. Returning from the run, Keith and I researched what it would take to create one. Eighteen months and a hotly contested bid process later, St. Pete Run Fest was born. It debuted in November of 2017.

I fell in love with St. Petersburg in 2000 when I moved here for a tech sales job; I got lucky and found my personal paradise on Snell Isle, where I live with my incredible wife Paula. For the next 17 years, the love affair grew – but my travel demands had me on the road most weeks. During this time, Keith and his family (wife Claire and son Ian) moved from Austin to St. Pete, after selling their triathlon series to Ironman. We’d always talked about starting a business together, and finally the time was right to go all in on Run Fest.

After spending 20 years in IT, making the transition to race director was scary. Each day ran the emotional spectrum from moments of bliss to feelings of terror at the possibility of failure (apparently this is normal). Motivated to build something great for the city, we kept running! My only advice for others looking to chase their dreams? Remove the safety net and go “all in.”

The running and events market is crowded, and a tough way to make a living. When we deciding to start this, we all agreed that we wanted to create a celebration of St. Pete, including the world’s greatest running event, that would make a positive difference in our community. To make this lofty goal a reality, we built our business plan on three guiding principles: create an incredible athlete experience, generate sustainable positive economic impact and do good (raise money and awareness for charities). Like training for a marathon, we then converted the vision into short term goals to track our activity and progress. The only way to achieve big goals is by accomplishing many small ones along the way.

It’s amazing working with such a great team, especially when they’re your family. Keith is the visionary and artist who’s always thinking of ways to delight the runners. Claire is passionate about sustainability, charity and customer service. Paula is a CPA and keeps us all in check on the finances. We were also so fortunate to add uber-talented teammates Christie Bruner and Kelly Kressel to fill in the gaps.

It’s powerful when the skills are so complimentary to one another: Just set the goals, define the roles and get out of the way!  Similar to any business, the strength of the team makes all the difference.

As newcomers to the running and business community, we had to come up with a way to get our message to the market. We took a simple approach. We started with businesses that we love and that would benefit from being involved. Keith and I both love beer, so we started with 3 Daughters Brewing! From there, the network grew across Tampa Bay with big assists from Visit St. Pete Clearwater, City of St. Pete, the Chamber – and our partner, Big Sea. It’s pretty easy to sell great beer, incredible restaurants, art, culture, unique local shops and an amazing waterfront … St. Pete!

When we started this journey, we felt like we were on our own and needed to do everything on our own. What we found is there are so many people that want to help, and can. It takes “showing up” and being passionate about your purpose, and opportunities will open.  St. Pete is a “big small town” with many resources; we started by presenting at the Greenhouse, identified a few key players in the business community, and then continued to show up.

Don’t over-complicate … work hard, do good.

Like any startup, we enjoyed many triumphs and failures along the road.  The failures keep us running to get better.  With all of our plans, people and processes we made many missteps (many of which were thankfully hidden from the runners and partners) that we’re working hard to improve for St Pete Run Fest 2018.  The changes will be felt with extended programming allowing for earlier race times, and defined vendor “zones” for improved partner activation and athlete experiences. We also will be increasing the course times to allow for athletes of all levels, including walkers.  For this to be St. Pete’s Race we need the community to get involved!

St. Pete Run Fest is a passion project that took a great team and community to make happen last November.  The journey to the finish line was filled with lessons, and when the final finisher crossed the line, we had built one of the largest running events in the area – in the first year.   Although “built” this event, the finished product was the result of a community of partners coming together to show off our city.

Thank you St. Pete – hope to see you at the finish line in November.

The 2018 St. Pete Run Fest takes place Nov. 16-18. Click here for information and registration.

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