It all started with a run. For Ryan and Pam Hess, the run is what brought the couple together, it’s what inspired many of the milestones in each of their lives, and it’s what ultimately drove them to open The Loop Running Supply Company.
On Friday, December 15, 2017, The Loop will open its doors with the goal of unifying and strengthening the Austin running community.
“What we’re driving for is to be a community, hence the name ‘Ring of Runners.’ We want to bring everyone together,” Ryan said.
“We want people to feel a part of it, and just get this elation and feeling of energy when you come in. You can build a great culture around your vibes, how you treat your customers, your training groups, and how they treat the city,” he added.
The Austin running community
With over 10 years of experience in running retail between the two of them, Ryan and Pam have learned what it takes to create an impactful business in a community with such a rich running history. But even with the history, they still feel that a void needs to be filled and they’re hoping that The Loop can be the answer.
“We noticed that there’s this running culture in Austin but a lack of running culture at the same time. It’s all there and we’re all obsessed with it and there’s so many runners, but there’s this lack of unity,” Pam said. “There’s groups, but the groups don’t necessarily intermingle with each other.”
Ryan got to experience the powerful effect of the Austin running community firsthand when he worked at RunTex in the specialty running store’s heyday. From 2006 to the store’s close in 2013, Ryan worked on and off as a retail associate for founder Paul Carrozza. As Sarah Thurmond wrote in a feature for Austin Monthly, “many people credit Carrozza for creating the running community that did much to build the city’s reputation as a haven for active lifestyles.”
“Opened in 1988, the store became the place for runners to purchase gear, train for races, and socialize. Paul was always the main attraction, with his movie star good looks, outgoing personality, encyclopedic knowledge of running shoes, and endless generosity,” Thurmond wrote.
For Ryan, the experience at RunTex began as a part-time job after graduating from high school, but turned out to be a life-changing experience. Working alongside Paul helped give Ryan an inside look at the positive impact a running store can have on the community. Even though RunTex was forced to close in 2013, Ryan was still able to witness the creation of a culture in the city. After the close, Ryan was inspired to open his own store in 2014. As a result, Ready To Run was born with several business partners during a time when there were 14 running stores in the Austin area alone.
“Everyone thought we were crazy. Nobody thought it was going to work. There’s Hill Country, there’s Luke’s, there’s Rogue, and they all have two stores, how are you going to be different? But I just knew from RunTex that their supply chain got cut off and that was the biggest issue….but all of the good will and everything that Paul did for the city — water on the trail, giving to the homeless — created such a culture and a market for loyal support from his customers,” Ryan said.
“Even though there was a lot of competition, I knew that if we just took it small and worked through grassroots and with the training groups in the community, that we would evolve into something that was a little bit bigger. That’s a very similar goal to what we have now with The Loop,” he added. “It’s smaller, but a good location. If we have the community support and the right inventory, all of that stuff is key. Working off of past success, that’s the goal we have in mind to make The Loop successful.”
Create, cultivate, congregate
With the experience of working at RunTex combined with the experience of opening their own store, Ryan and Pam were inspired to create The Loop. Their vision for the store is two-fold, it will be an entirely new take on the local running store but inspired by the culture that was created by retailers of the past.
With a downtown location close to the Town Lake Trail, an inventory that includes high quality brands such as Tracksmith and Satisfy, and training groups that meet for runs at the store, The Loop is aiming to be the destination for the Austin runner.
“We want this to be a place where people incorporate us into their routine. Even though the store is small, we want it to be a place to congregate, cultivate, have your own crew of runners and make runner friends. We definitely want it to be community first,” Pam said.
Alarmed by the lack of customer experience in many of the running stores they’ve frequented, Pam and Ryan want The Loop to provide a community-driven product and experience which isn’t available anywhere else.
“I felt like I couldn’t shop for running apparel in any of the stores. I didn’t want it. I just felt that everything was oversaturated and could be found at Dick’s or Academy or what have you. It wasn’t anything new or boutique or pretty. It was neons and just the same old stuff. I’m really excited about the shopping portion of The Loop and having a curated product that is original, beautiful, and on trend,” Pam said.
The Loop’s location along the Town Lake Trail is also the perfect place for anyone looking to go for a run. With 10 uninterrupted miles just a few steps from the front door, the store is situated along the trail that connects all runners in the city.
“A lot of Austin centers around the Town Lake Trail. You see it throughout the week and it’s booming. I’ve never seen a trail quite like that. People gravitate towards downtown and Austin falls into the trail. It’s like sitting on a trampoline and everything falls towards the center,” Pam said.
“Austin is just so active and centered around that focal point. People see that so many people are out there trying to be fit and there’s this natural desire to be a part of it.”
Together through the run
It was actually in a running store that Ryan and Pam met. After graduating from Texas A&M in 2012, Pam moved to Austin and started working as a retail associate and coach at RunTex. Ryan started coaching Pam in the marathon distance and the two began dating.
Just as running brought them together, running also helped facilitate their commitment to each other.
Ryan made a plan to propose to Pam at the 2014 San Diego Marathon, where he wanted to drop to one knee and pop the question at the finish line. He was making his debut in the distance and she was hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Things didn’t go exactly to plan when Ryan, who was aiming to run 2:38-2:40, hit the dreaded wall around the halfway point. Determined to finish the race ahead of Pam so he could propose soon after, Ryan willed himself to complete the race. He crossed the line in 3:18, just in time to rest for a few minutes before Pam met him at the finish where a photographer was ready to capture the moment.
Pam still laughs at the memory while recalling just how exhausted and sweaty she was from her effort in the San Diego heat. But despite the less-than-ideal photo conditions, she still said yes.
“They were the ugliest engagement photos. I don’t even think I own the photo [laughs],” Pam said.
Pam did qualify for Boston that day, which not only represented an important milestone in her relationship, but also a milestone in her running career.
A competitive cheerleader for most of her life, Pam didn’t start running until her sophomore year of college. A breakup with her boyfriend prompted her lofty goal of running the Austin Marathon in just 45 days. With a training plan that maxed out at 25 miles per week with the longest run being 17 miles, Pam completed the Austin Marathon in five hours. After the race, she slept for 35 hours straight and got sick with a fever. But despite the brutal toll the race took on her body, Pam was hooked.
She completed several more marathons in college and later joined the Gilbert’s Gazelles run club where she dropped an hour and a half from her debut time. She now holds a blistering personal best of 3:03. Looking back on her early days of running, Pam is still grateful for the gift that the sport gave her at that particular point in her life.
“I think that quality, precious time that I had to myself, to get right with myself was what kept me going. It’s evolved over the years as to why I run and what motivates me to run, but I think that’s how it started, and I think it also comes from my love of working out. I think God gave me running because I needed something stable in my life to be an outlet, and it’s been the perfect outlet,” Pam said.
For Ryan, running came into his life early on as a kid growing up in Round Rock. Through middle school and high school, Ryan competed on the track and eventually walked on at Angelo State University. But a devastating car accident in December 2005 nearly took Ryan’s life. Slowly, Ryan started to recover and used running as motivation to return to health.
In 2007, he walked on to Division II powerhouse Adams State. After competing for two years in Alamosa, Colorado, Ryan returned home where he finished his degree at Texas State and picked up shifts at RunTex. Back home, Ryan started to experience a resurgence in his love for running.
With the support and guidance of his coach Gilbert Tuhabonye, Ryan eventually progressed to his current personal best of 2:41, which he achieved at the 2016 California International Marathon.
Getting the most out of yourself
Pam and Ryan’s unique running stories are just two examples of the millions of runners with one of a kind paths to the sport. But as Ryan pointed out, those who find running are all seeking the same thing—to get the most out of themselves. And at the end of the day, that shared desire is what brings the running community together.
“That’s why I think running is so perfect for everyone. You get out of it what you put in. It’s such a self-gratifying achievement depending on what you’re trying to get out of it,” Ryan said.
“It could be as easy as trying to run a mile without stopping or trying to be as good as Ryan Hall running 2:04. The scope of the range is what I find so appealing about the sport. It’s so simple but yet so gratifying. And if we can help inspire people to do that then I think we’re doing something right.”