You know when someone refers to, say a restaurant, as a hole-in-the-wall and they mean it as a compliment? Well, as far as running stores go, Run N Fun in St. Paul is a hole-in-the-wall. Any occasional visit starts off by wandering around the store and looking at vintage photos, old race results, classic magazine covers, etc. For me, there’s no such thing as a “quick stop” at RNF.
I was first introduced to this store while in college at UW-EC. We'd cross the border for the Griak cross country meet and afterwards swing by Run N Fun because owners Perry and Kari Bach were generous enough to offer discounts to poor college kids - even if they were from Wisconsin. Below, Perry talks about the store, his own running and much more.
When did you open the doors to Run N Fun?
We opened for business at the end of 1991 with Wigwam socks and Insport clothing. I think we sold about five items that day. We had a tiny 500 square foot store in Apple Valley. We had one employee, Paulette Odenthal, the Get in Gear race director, and we were open noon to 7PM. It was a very modest start.
It seems like a dream job, however, I’m sure there have been many long hours and financial uncertainty along the way. Is it everything you dreamed it would be when you started the company?
I could write a novel about creative characters that have wanted to be my partner, banks that held checks for me, and lots of financial struggles. The goals my wife Kari and I had were:
Serve high schools and colleges in person via our trailer.
Build a strong race team.
Expand women’s clothing line and shoes.
I think we have accomplished most of those goals to date.
What has been your biggest business challenge throughout the years?
My biggest challenge is to stay current, but not be complacent. We at Run N Fun are good at the service/supply end. We need to be more up-to-date with newsletters, emails, electronic ordering – updating our website more than twice per year, etc. That is an area we are addressing this year.
What would you tell someone who asks, “Why should I shop at Run N Fun?”
There are plenty of great local stores that sell the same product we do. But usually we stock more product, to ensure your shoes will be in stock. We will do special request orders, take returns, and generally have the lowest price. Our biggest draw is our women’s clothing. Most stores neglect that area a bit. We have at least a thousand bras in stock. Our staff is top notch also. We hire good runners with great people skills. They tend to stay at Run N Fun for years. We get to know most of our customers on a personal basis. My motto is “give the customer a reason to come back”.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
I love dealing with the track and cross-country kids. They have so much energy. It keeps me feeling young. I’ve even seen some of them grow up and start families of their own.
I’m not positive, but I’d guess you’re a low-mileage runner. Is that true? What does your typical training week look like?
I’ve always run low mileage. 40-50 miles per week will get me fit. 30 mpw in the off-season is pretty standard. It’s not great training for long distance, but it will get me a quick mile to 5K.
My week is usually a 3-day rotation:
Monday: AM 3 easy miles with strides, PM 3 miles
Tuesday: tempo or speedwork
Wednesday: long and easy for about an hour
Thursday: tempo run with lots of hills
Friday: long and easy from the store with Kevin Hanson
Saturday: 3-5 easy miles, then 200 times the stairs at work
Sunday: long and easy
That’s an ideal week. I cut down a bit when I’m tight, injured, racing, etc. It works for me. But, my long runs are usually 50-70 minutes, which is just a warm up for lots of other people.
Your training seems to work well, as you’re always in the top 2-3 in your age-group and you even set an age record at the Brian Kraft 5K. How do you feel about your spring races?
Most of my spring races were personal worst. I ran Get in Gear with Adam Lindahl and we laughed most of the time at how out of shape we both were. The Brian Kraft 5k [where Perry tied Doug Bell’s age record of 16:31 for 50-year-old men] was a shocker, as I had just started training in April. I think I have god-given fast twitch muscles, but not much durability. Short races are pretty easy for me even out of shape. But I struggle with 10k (and longer) races, no matter how hard I train.
Did entering a new age-group help motivate you this season?
To be honest, I don’t really get caught up in age group too much. I start each year with a clean slate and run my spring races. Then, I try to improve my times by fall. That way, I’m competing against myself. I try to do some of the team races to help us out a bit against the Molar Milers in the grand masters division. It’s more of a celebration, that we 50 plus guys are still around to compete.
What are your PRs?
My PR’s are all twenty years old.
400 48 seconds
5K 14:36 14:51 on a certified course
What are your goals for the rest of the year?
I’m a bit banged up right now. Anything I run this fall will be a plus. I’d like to break 34 minutes at Victory 10K, sub-2:50 at TCM, and sub-16:30 at Gray Ghost 5k.
What is your fondest running memory?
My first race ever was the first TCM in 1982. Some of my softball buddies had bet me that I couldn’t break three hours. I took the bet. After all, I could run a 4.5 40-yard dash and had run a 5-minute mile in a college fitness class. How hard could it be to run 7-minute miles? I started training three days before the marathon and I showed up on race day in $10 K-Mart shoes and softball socks. People stared at my socks, so I took them off and ran barefoot in my tennis shoes. The first half was pretty easy for me, 1:27 as I recall. I was ahead of pace even though my feet were killing me. The second half wasn’t so pretty. I got dizzy, fainted, sat on a park bench for twenty minutes. I walked and jogged the last eight miles. My shoes were red with blood and every muscle ached, but I would have crawled in so I could get that finisher shirt and medal. My time was 3:42 and I couldn’t walk for weeks. My buddies were impressed enough to let me go double-or-nothing at the following year’s Grandma’s Marathon.
For 1983 Grandma’s, I actually trained about three days per week. It was a terribly hot and humid day. I had even done a couple of hour runs to prepare, but again hit the wall at mile eighteen. As I was walking in, a fellow runner convinced me to finish it with him. We had to sprint the last couple blocks, but I ran 2:59:59. I got my pride and my money back. Becoming a sub-3 hour marathoner was the proudest day of my life. I actually was coherent enough to notice the great crowd support that day. I decided then to quit all my other sports and take up running.
Do you have a favorite local and/or national race?
My favorite race was always the Hibbing Mile. They closed down the town, set up bleachers, and ran age group races all day long. The people were supportive and loud. The medals were handmade and the race paid prize money. Back then, there were only a couple of races a year that had cash prizes. The elite race was the finale of the day. I had promised my fiancée, Kari, that I’d win enough money to purchase a wedding band. After all, who would drive all the way to Hibbing to win $300?
I was the oldest in the elite race, and one of the few not running for a shoe company. I did manage to lead the first half before falling to 6th place with 400 meters to go. I somehow willed myself back into the lead. I looked at Mark McGonagal (of Athletics West Nike), who was a 28-minute 10k’er) and decided to kick it in. All I saw was his feet pulling away from me. I did manage to overachieve and hang on for third place. It’s the greatest feeling to know you’ve run as well as physically possible. That’s still my favorite race to this day.
If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
I’ve been around so long that I’ve run with most of the guys I’ve wanted to meet. Steve Hoag, Ron Daws, Nick Mancui, Pete Wareham. Steve Jones and Alberto Salazar were nice enough to run and chat a bit after a race. Characters like Dan Frusher and contemporaries like Bob Paxton and Dan Morse. Now, I can run with some of our race team guys, but usually just for their warm-up.
My favorite runner would be Lindsay Brown. He trained alone on the hills of Stillwater. When he showed up, every one else was running for second. He set a national record at City of Lakes, ran a 2:15 marathon, and ran a 4-minute mile. One year, I had the good fortune to run the Ed Fitz 100K relay with him anchoring. I think he averaged sub-5 minute pace for his 12-mile leg. He retired way too young.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
I wish I’d have stretched and had a decent diet. Back then, we figured once you hit thirty, it was time to hang it up. I trained hard and quick. I didn’t really enjoy running, like most people today do. Training runs were just another entry in my logbook. Back then, we didn’t stretch, taper, drink much water, etc. I also wish I would have trained in decent shoes instead of glorified racing flats. At least now I know where I can get a deal on shoes