My Journey as an Entrepreneur – How it Started

Happy 14th anniversary to me! My entrepreneurial journey began in November of 2009! 

If you don’t know this part of my journey, I promise you did not expect this! I hope you read this and realize that you too can do things you never would have even imagined! But keep reading to the end for tips on what I wish I would have done differently.

In October of 2009 I had my first child. In November of 2009 I bought my first business. And not just any business, a couch-to-marathon training franchise! And just to be clear:

? I had no knowledge of running a business (my degree was in Anthropology! My resume to this point included AmeriCorps, the JET Program, and working at our state agency of volunteerism for 2 years)
? I had very little experience with running and had never been an athlete
? I had never even participated in a 5K much less a marathon
? I knew nothing about marketing
? I am innately extremely shy and hate selling anything
? I definitely did not look like a “marathoner”

Even people closest to me did not understand what I was doing.

So there you go. Talk about IMPOSTER SYNDROME.

Here was my very first bio as an entrepreneur, this gives you some insight on why I even wanted to do this at all.

Bio from November 2009

Jennifer Clark’s interest in running began while living in Japan.  As a teacher in Japanese high schools, she was impressed that schools had annual group runs for either the entire school or certain grade levels.  Having gone to a high school herself where physical education was not a requirement, she was amazed that all the students were fit enough to complete the runs.  Many of the teachers ran, too!  This inspired Jennifer to try running out for herself.
For several years she had a very insecure relationship with running.  She felt too intimidated to run with other people, so she went out alone without a plan.  For several years, she ran off and on, always wanting to do a race, but couldn’t imagine entering one by herself. After returning to the United States, she found out about Marathon Makeover while living in Vicksburg.  She joined the program there thinking it was just what she needed.  It was!
Marathon Makeover helped Jennifer learn more about running in just the first few weeks than she had ever learned on her own, from the kind of shoes to wear, to running safety, and so much more.  Plus having the group for support and a clear training plan made the program work for someone like her with a busy lifestyle.
After having her first baby in October of 2009, Jennifer knew she needed a program like Marathon Makeover, with its support and tangible goals, to get back into shape.  However, her husband’s job brought them back home to Hattiesburg, where Marathon Makeover had not expanded to yet.   Jennifer asked Mark and Robin Simpson, the directors of the program, if they intended to bring it to Hattiesburg any time soon.   They were very interested in having a program in the Pine Belt, but they would need someone to run the program there. So Jennifer decided to do just that!
Jennifer is extremely excited to be bringing this amazing and proven program to the Pine Belt.  2010 is going to be a great year!

Now, let me tell you what went RIGHT.

The program was turnkey. I look back at the program even today and see how beautifully it was laid out. Mark and Robin Simpson created Marathon Makeover. It was a small franchise they started in Clinton, Mississippi and spread to a few other cities in Mississippi during the years of its existence. It was a brilliant and meaningful program. All I had to do was simply follow the instructions that were carefully curated and laid out for me, implement the marketing training and marketing materials they provided, and I would have all I need for a successful program. And it worked! For the most part.

I recruited members, sponsors and partners and launched the program with about 40 members in January 2010. My daughter was now 3 months old. We met every Saturday morning for 40 weeks. The first 10 weeks we watched videos created by Mark and Robin that discussed everything from proper shoes and clothing, to nutrition, hydration, injury prevention, cross training, etc. We brought in nutrition and fitness experts, medical professionals, Mark and Robin and other Marathon Makeover veterans. We took cooking classes and yoga classes together, we had Girls’ Day Out events where we got pampered and talked about women-related running and marathon issues. We heard unbelievably inspirational stories from our members. We shared our lives with each other while out on the long runs. We did potlucks, met up outside of the group to gather on our own, and all in all went from 1 mile to 13.1 or 26.2 miles together.

For 2 years and almost 80 Saturday mornings I snuck out of the house (often in the dark) trying to not wake up a sleeping baby. We met in rain, snow, heat, and even in a tropical storm! Each week I filled up water and powerade coolers, mapped out and laid out running courses and dropped water coolers and directional signs, and ran with the group. I brought in a baby pool of ice water and hired an EMT for our longest days. I look back fondly on those days, with a lot of exhaustion, too! But the group was filled with amazing people, whose stories I may otherwise have never known.

You can learn alot about people doing hard things together. And I will forever cherish the memories of seeing more than 70 people cross the finish line to their first half or full marathon and being able to celebrate both mile 1 and miles 13 or 26 with them! I also finished my first two half marathons and first two full marathons during those two years. I will never forget crossing the finish line to my first full marathon a week after my baby turned one year old, and seeing her in a onesie the team had given her that said: “My mom ran 26.2 miles today, what did your mom do?”

It is easy to look back on life with rose-colored glasses and sometimes forget how difficult things were in the moment. As much as I loved this program, I did not run it in a sustainable way. It was hard. Very hard. Training for your first marathon is hard. Running your first business is hard. Having your first child is hard. Journeying with other people as you guide them on this couch to marathon journey is hard. Doing all of that at the same time was a lot. And on top of that I have a huge fear of self-promotion, selling, imposter syndrome, and I also have to deal with paralyzing procrastination at times.

Looking back there are two specific things I would have done differently:

1. Be more BOLD! I needed to market the program more boldly. I was timid and let my imposter syndrome and fear take over.

2. I should have brought in a partner. I needed someone with different strengths than I had (especially in marketing and selling). It also would have been good to have someone to share the actual physical load and time commitment of the program with.

So my tips for you from this time in my life that I am still trying to work on myself:

1. Be bold.
2. Get help.

I still have a lot of difficulty in these two areas. But I am committing to being more bold and getting more help in the areas I struggle. 

Now, in case you are curious, I did continue to do marathons for several years after that. The last one was the Hattiesburg Half Marathon in 2020, but virtually all alone in my neighborhood since the world shut down during the pandemic. It is time to sign up for another one!