Local men turn their sport into a business venture

Two former East High School cross country runners are back in the business of running. Grant Johnson and Clint Agar are organizing a Thanksgiving Day run in Duluth. You may have seen the signs. The Gobble Gallop is on its way. "Duluth was in need...

Two former East High School cross country runners are back in the business of running.

Grant Johnson and Clint Agar are organizing a Thanksgiving Day run in Duluth.

You may have seen the signs. The Gobble Gallop is on its way.

"Duluth was in need of a big Thanksgiving Day run ... we're just filling a void in the market really," Agar said.

Agar came up with the idea for the Gobble Gallop because there are no major fall races for Duluth runners to enjoy, he said.


This race gets right to the heart of the city. Literally.

The Gobble Gallop 5k runners will head down Superior Street from the Plaza Shopping Center at 12th Avenue East to Fifth Avenue West where they'll turn around and end the race at Leif Erikson Park.

"When conceptualizing the race we wanted it to be a celebration of running," Agar said. "We wanted it to be an event, not just running in the woods. ... (We) wanted it to have a big race feel."

The downtown aspect of the race is something unique for a 5k, such races aren't run downtown in Duluth, Johnson said.

"That just seemed like an experience we could bring to the people that typically people wouldn't have," he said.

Agar suggested the race to Johnson in August, and the two men have been busy planning ever since.

Since the race is on Thanksgiving Day, they wanted to target the race toward families, not just runners.

Thanksgiving Day races are held across the country as annual holiday events.


"(We knew) faster racers would sign up because it's downtown," Johnson said. "We wanted families to come because Thanksgiving is for families."

To target families the men added a quarter-mile kids' race to bring the wee ones in on the action. They also recruited some friends to dress up the day of the race, and prizes will be awarded for costumes.

The event also includes a two-mile walk and a one-mile run.

To appeal to runners, they decided to use chip timers during the race for accuracy. Chip timers are an automatic timing device that is attached to the runner's ankle by a lightweight band. The devices time runners from the moment they cross the starting line to the moment they reach the finish line.

Besides planning the race route, they needed to purchase insurance, find race sponsors, work on advertising the race with a graphic designer and make countless other decisions.

To make the race a reality, Agar and Johnson also went to the Department of Transportation, the Duluth city clerk, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Duluth Police, to get the race approved and the roads blocked off Thanksgiving morning.

In making plans for the race, the men brought back knowledge from their cross country days at East.

In 2000, Johnson's and Agar's fathers organized a fund-raising race for the cross country team. Johnson and Agar helped out.


It was a small race on a trail by Lester River. About 40 people participated, but it gave them their first experience with race organizing, Johnson said.

This summer Agar directed the Duluth Duathlon and got experience with a large race.

His work on the Duathlon inspired Duluth Running Co. to be the title sponsor for the Gobble Gallop, said Kraig Decker, of Duluth Running Co.

Agar did a good job promoting the Duathlon, Decker said. Duluth Running Co. was also the title sponsor for the Duathlon.

Johnson and Agar purchased insurance for 700 participants, and with more than 300 signed up as of Tuesday, they said they're sure they'll hit 700.

People can sign up the day of the race. Children, especially, will sign up the day of the race, Agar said.

The turnout is amazing for a first year event, Decker said.

Agar said he attributes their success at getting racers to their marketing strategy.


He and Johnson have an understanding of effective marketing and how to target their audience, he said.

Agar is a communications major at the University of Minnesota Duluth and Johnson is a recent graduate from Iona College in New York with a bachelor degree in economics.

They started marketing the race this summer through posters and a Web site. They got their shoed turkey logo out early, so people would have a picture to associate the Gobble Gallop with, Agar said.

Even with 700 runners, organizing a race can be risky business, Johnson said.

He estimates that the Gobble Gallop won't be a profitable enterprise this year, but may in the future if it continues to grow.

"It's just a fun project to do," he said.

Johnson and Agar plan to make their Thanksgiving Day run an annual event in Duluth. They'd like to see Duluth families make the race part of their holiday tradition, they said.

News to Use:


The Tough Turkey one-mile race costs $10 and starts at 9 a.m. Thursday.

The Gobble Gallop 5k race and the Gobble Gait two-mile walk cost $20 in advance and $23 the day of the race. Both races start at 9:20 a.m. The Gobble Giddy Up, a quarter-mile kids' race, is free and starts after the Gobble Gallop. The Giddy Up is for children younger than 7.

To register visit or or stop in at Duluth Running Co., 1217 E. Superior St.

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