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St. Petersburg gets new half-marathon as St. Pete Run Fest adds kids runs, year-round fitness to mix

By Sharon Kennedy Wynne
Runners make their way on the track as the St. Pete Running Company's running club meets to do interval speed work while training to run the St. Pete Run Fest, the first half marathon downtown St. Pete in three years, The group at the Northside Christian High School track has about 35-40 people. This evening they were doing a series of 800s during interval training. DIRK SHADD | Times

ST. PETERSBURG — You might be asking, how will this make me a better runner?" Cody Angell asked two dozen students at a recent running club session at Shore Acres Elementary as they performed an "A skip" with their knees high, followed by a "kick skip" with a high kick before running hard.

He was building up their muscles, he said, so they can be ready for the St. Pete Run Fest, bringing a series of kids’ runs and the return of a half-marathon through downtown St. Petersburg Nov. 18-19, the weekend before Thanksgiving.

"Everyone is talking about this race," said Angell, who co-owns the Tyrone area running store St. Pete Running Company with his wife, Janna.

It has been three years since downtown St. Petersburg hosted a half-marathon on the waterfront, and city leaders and race organizers said they have high hopes of turning the event into St. Petersburg’s answer to the Gasparilla Distance Classic.

Other races have stumbled in recent years. In 2014, the owner of the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon and the Women’s Running Half Marathon in St. Petersburg scrubbed both events, citing poor attendance. Organizers of the Rock ’n’ Roll race originally estimated 15,000 runners would compete in 2012. But that year, roughly 7,000 showed up, and the turnout was even lower in 2013.

Frustrated city officials went looking for a half-marathon that would lure runners from around the country. With a pretty waterfront at the start, it will have a path that takes runners through Tropicana Field, where the Tampa Bay Rays play. The kids races will trod through Al Lang Field, where the Tampa Bay Rowdies play.

Pinellas-based EndorFun Sports was picked to produce what organizers hope will be an annual event.

Brothers Ryan and Keith Jordan said their aim for EndorFun Sports is to make the community healthier all year long, not just for the big event, so they enlisted local businesses like St. Pete Running Company to host training runs and hired Christie Bruner, owner of StrollerFit and Baby Boot Camp, as the youth wellness director.

Bruner has signed up more than 80 kids at school running clubs and offered free running clinics partnered with Jump for Kids, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Rowdies. At a recent Saturday Morning Market, she had kids lined up to do some stretching and strengthening exercises on the grassy area beside the market.

"We have an incredible venue for an event like this so when Rock ‘n’ Roll left, I thought we had a big void here," said Ryan Jordan, 45, a computer expert who enlisted his brother Keith, 49, to get back into the fitness event game when the city put out a call for proposals.

Keith Jordan, 49, CEO of EndorFun, developed and produced events in New Hampshire and Texas such as Ironman, the 70.3 Timberman triathlon and the Gritty Goddess Women’s 5K Obstacle/Mud Run. He moved to St. Petersburg three years ago when his fitness event company was bought out.

"Our focus is to activate the running community and get this event to be the economic engine we think it can be," said Ryan Jordan, who sold his IT business and is now working full-time on the St. Pete Run Fest. "Our vision is to turn this into St. Pete’s version of the Gasparilla Distance Classic," which draws 40,000 every year to downtown Tampa.

If just 5 percent of the first 1,000 participants come from outside Pinellas County, it would have an economic impact of a quarter- to a half-million dollars, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater’s deputy director Tim Ramsberger estimated. The tourism marketing agency chipped in $15,000 and volunteer help for the event.

The city gave EndorFun up to $30,000, based on attendance, hoping to have 3,000 runners in the first year. So far, some 3,000 people have signed up for events that weekend, Ryan Jordan said and he expects to see 4,000 signed up by race day.

"They are off to a strong start," Ramsberger said, and he particularly likes the timing of a race the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Jordan said the aim is to make it a festive event, so there will be bands and a Three Daughters beach bar set up near the Saturday Morning Market, where the craft brewers will launch a lower calorie IPA called Floating Dock. The kids’ runs will take place Saturday and a wellness market will be set up in the Al Lang Stadium parking lot.

For Sunday’s 5K and half marathon, there will be more music, as well as massage tables and food stations set up in Albert Whitted Park for an after party running from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"We want to make this local, unique and festive," Ryan Jordan said. "We obviously want elite runners, but we want to entice first-timers and get more people involved in fitness and wellness."