Jenn Leonard is the voice behind local running blog RunsWithPugs. She has lived in Northeast Florida for almost ten years, with her husband, son and grumble of pugs.
It all began in 1978. Husband and wife team Doug and Jane Alred, dedicated runners themselves, decided to become business partners and take their passion for the sport to the next level. Hoping to appeal to the running community, they opened the first 1st Place Sports retail store on Baymeadows Road.
“Once we had the first store open, we needed a way to attract runners to our new business, so we thought a running event from our store would be the perfect way to accomplish that goal,” Doug Alred remembers. “Little did we know that this was the beginning of a perfect business model for success.”
Now, almost 40 years later, that dream has taken firm root in the Jacksonville running community. There are six retail locations (five in Jacksonville and one in St. Augustine), offering everything from running and walking shoes and apparel to GPS watches and recovery aids. Individual stores host complimentary group runs, clinics on good running form, and regularly bring in different industry professionals to discuss products, recovery, nutrition and injury prevention. In addition, staff members visit local health fairs to share information on the benefits of running.
The 1st Place Sports Race Division is responsible for the management or timing of almost 100 events a year across the northeast Florida region. Races range from local 5Ks with a few hundred runners, to such nationally renowned races as the Gate River Run, touted as the largest 15K in the country, the Ameris Bank Marathon, the oldest in Jacksonville, about to celebrate its 35th year.
Doug Alred is thrilled at how the locals have responded. “The Jax running community has really been very supportive of our stores and races. The community seems so close. It is wonderful to be able to help runners with their sport and to provide a way for them to pursue being physically fit. The running events have become very large social events. It is very pleasing to see so many smiling faces on race morning.”
1st Place Sports has earned its reputation as one of Competitor’s Top 50 Running Stores in America through the relationships it prides itself on building. Long-time runners and those new to the sport are always welcomed and encouraged in their efforts. Staff is trained in an extensive fitting process to help match runners and walkers with the shoe that best fits their gait, training goals and lifestyle, and stays up to date on the latest industry updates and technology. More importantly, the Alreds’ employees are happy to offer advice on training plans, suggestions for great races, recommendations on nutrition, and any other words of wisdom in which their patrons might be interested.
The Alreds believe this is what makes the difference. “Our commitment is what sets us apart. Sure it is a business, but it is a labor of love.”
As to the future? Doug and Jane Alred are pretty clear on their direction in the years to come. “We hope that 1st Place Sports will always be the headquarters for running in North Florida.”