New athletic business venture helps runners hit their stride

Kendall runners gather before hitting the streets on National Running Day.

Business partners Jaime Vega, Ernie Mendoza, and Frankie Ruiz are perfect examples of how running brings people together.

Ruiz, as co-founder of the ING Marathon and cross-country head coach for Belen Jesuit Academy, knew Vega and Mendoza from his visits to running retail establishments in town. The three discovered they also shared a goal of opening their own running store. Today they are living the dream at SoleRunners, 11650 N. Kendall Dr.

Open just over six months, the store offers a wide selection of running shoes and athletic gear with complimentary videotape gait analysis for fittings. It also is headquarters to the popular social runner’s group “Run Club” founded some four years ago by Ruiz. Every Wednesday at 7 p.m. the parking lot is overrun with people of all ages stretching and chatting amidst the parked cars before getting started on a three-and-a-half-mile trek around the neighborhood. On Saturday mornings at 6:45 a.m. the group does a six- to seven mile course.

“The vision to start Run Club was to bring people together,” said Vega, who also is a Miami-Dade County firefighter. “Having the store makes it that much easier. We now average 200 runners every Wednesday here in Kendall, about 250 at Brickell Run Club, and the same at South Beach Run Club.”

“If we can get all of Miami running, every fitness store will have more business than we can handle,” said Ruiz, whose main job is CRO (Chief Running Officer) for U.S. Road Sports and Entertainment which produces 25 sporting events throughout the country, including the ING Marathon.

“The store is adding another piece to the puzzle to help build more community and serve the suburbs. Everything we do is to complement the efforts of others in the athletic business and to unify the running community.”

Business partner Mendoza is the operations expert with more than 11 years of experience at Nike.

“We understand the market and since we opened the community has accepted us pretty rapidly. We know how to properly fit each individual on site and explain the products. Through Run Club we also offer a stage for people to meet others looking to improve their lifestyle and stay motivated.”

Vega said he got hooked on running while working at The Runner’s High store on US1.

“I would see a 75-year-old signing up for a marathon or a 70-year-old doing Iron Man and witness that enthusiasm before race day. I fell in love with it then. My wife and I run together and she has done several marathons; it’s an incredible bond we are continuing to create together.”

Mendoza said running is a way for him to gather his thoughts and clear his mind. ‘“It allows me an escape from everything. It is also a meditation and sometimes I catch myself not thinking at all. It’s just me and the road, and before you know it I’m on mile five with three more to go.”

Ruiz, who has led the Belen Jesuit cross country team to win five state championships in the past six years, believes making running more visible in the community will help local leadership address quality of life issues for all residents.

Improving the conditions of parks, making sidewalks more pedestrian friendly, encouraging a “share the road” motorist mentality, and tackling obesity issues in youth and adults are just some of the ways the SoleRunners team intends to hit its stride.

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