“My biggest lesson I learned right off the bat—just because a position isn’t posted doesn’t mean you can’t create one for yourself.” This go-getter attitude is exactly how Joanna Reuland turned her passion for running—one that she discovered in high school—into an internship and eventual dream job as Marketing Director for The San Francisco Marathon. At just 26 years of age, Joanna has been with The San Francisco Marathon for five years and within that time frame, she has created an Ambassador Program, two running blogs, and a stronger a social media presence. She has propelled The SF marathon into a national event while maintaining its strong sense of community.
Even when Joanna isn’t racing around, planning a marathon, she’s running. Not only has she completed marathons and a 50-mile trail race, but she has also made running part of her everyday routine as a way to decompress. That dedication, endurance—both physical and mental–, and ability to balance life are why Joanna is an exceptional role model for women. Today, Joanna shares with us how she takes life on and runs with it.
Full Name: Joanna Reuland (Nickname Jojo)
Current Title/Company: Marketing Director, The San Francisco Marathon
Educational Background: BA in Sports Management and Minor in Marketing from University of the Pacific
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land it?
The San Francisco Marathon! It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been here almost five years. I started as an intern after my junior year of college, and was hired on full time after I graduated.
Tell us how your internship influenced your current career path. What was the biggest lesson you learned during your time interning?
My biggest lesson I learned right off the bat—just because a position isn’t posted doesn’t mean you can’t create one for yourself. I emailed The SF Marathon in the spring of 2008, looking for an internship. A woman from the office called me back, saying that they didn’t accept interns. I knew the race was coming up in just a few months and figured they could use my help at some capacity, so I thanked her and told her to give me a call if they can find a way to utilize some extra support. About a week later, she called back and offered me a position they had created, and I was the company’s first intern. That’s not always the case, but I always say if there’s a company or organization you’re really passionate about working for, just send your resume and be patient and persistent.
What/who first influenced you to start running? When did you first take up the sport?
Growing up, my dad was an endurance runner. He didn’t race, but he loved hiking and would run during the week to stay in shape for his big hikes. I quit my high school volleyball team around the same time that the my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer, so we started running together after school. He would bribe me to run a little bit longer every day, but I think even then, running was so therapeutic for me. It strengthened my relationship with my dad, and gave me a way to decompress.
What inspired you to take the leap and turn your running hobby into a full-time career
I chose University of the Pacific based on their Sports Management program. Initially, I thought I would focus on charity events like Race for the Cure. When I started running longer distances it kind of naturally redirected my career goals towards those events, which led me to The San Francisco Marathon.
The Wall Street Journal refers to the San Francisco Marathon as “the race even marathoners fear,” and is considered a must-do destination race for runners of all levels. How does the San Francisco Marathon differ from other marathons around the country?
Ahhh, that article. It’s true, San Francisco is such a unique race both for it’s incredible, iconic scenery but also for the challenge. Our course is hilly, but it rewards runners with some of the most surreal, spectacular views from the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio district, and Golden Gate Park. Unlike other big city races, all 26.2 miles are within city limits. Runners are routed through all of the colorful neighborhoods with local musicians and cheer stations. The flavor of San Francisco is infused into every aspect of the race. I really believe it’s the best marathon out there.
Tell us a little bit about the behind the scenes work that goes into planning the marathon. What are your major day-to-day responsibilities as director of marketing?
It always surprises people that we spend the whole year planning 1 race. Really, it’s more like 3 months of planning and 9 months of cleaning up the mess! Every day is different; one day I might be planning a community run or promotional event, the next day I’m stuck in spreadsheets assigning bib numbers or projecting the year’s registration patterns. I think my favorite part of the day is working on social media. The running community is hugely invested in social media, so it’s a lot of fun to engage with those athletes and follow their training, share little bits of inspiration and be a part of the conversation and excitement leading up to race day.
Your team conceptualized a successful 30-member Ambassador Program (which you oversee) with local runners across the United States. When did your team first conceptualize this unique program? How has this team of ambassadors Tell us a little more about this unique program.
When I joined the team in 2008, it was already clear what incredible support we already had in SF and in other major cities. We had athletes who would volunteer to help spread the word just for fun because they’d had such a great experience at our race. In 2010, I ran with that idea and decided to create a team that we would honor for their commitment to us. It was very grassroots and we just asked that each runner represent us in their communities online and off in whatever capacity they could leading up to race day. Since then, the ambassadors have been critical in helping spread race news, supporting participants in the training process, and giving us feedback to continue improving the event each year. My favorite part about the team is that once an ambassador has joined the team, they’re in our SF Marathon family for life. They spend the year working together and collaborating, so when everyone flies in from all over the country for race weekend, it’s like a big family reunion.
The San Francisco Marathon is an extremely social media friendly race, with several different active platforms and a blog as a way for runners to interact with other participants and race organizers. How do you believe that social media affects both the marathon and your personal training journey?
Social media is probably the most significant part of our marketing efforts and our branding. Even though we’re one of the largest road races in the country, we’re very focused on making it possible for every runner to feel like their experience is personalized and unique. Our blog features all different voices—from new runner to experienced elite—so it appeals to a wide range of readers. We try to translate that approach on our social networks as well, recognizing that regardless of what journey has led a runner to The SF Marathon, they make up an essential piece of our community. Social Media has given runners a space to support one another along that journey. I’ve gotten all kinds of tips and encouragement from more experienced athletes in my running career through social media, and I also love to share the things I’ve learned along the way with newer runners. The biggest reward for me has been the ladies I run and train with on weekends that were introduced to me in some way through social media or blogging. It’s given me lifelong friends.
Tell us about the creation of WanDirtLust. What first inspired you to start blogging?
I started blogging on The SF Marathon blog as a way to document and share my training cycle for my first 50-mile race. I knew it would be something I’d want to remember-the good, bad, and ugly days. After the race, our Executive Producer was really impressed by how many athletes were actually reading and following my story, and we talked about what I wanted to accomplish next as a runner. For the first time, I didn’t want my running to be defined by time, pace, or distance. I just wanted to explore, to use my feet as a way to see the world. We decided to launch Wandirtlust to speak to those runners who view running as more than exercise, as an end goal, or as a medal hanging in the garage. I wanted to write about running as a vehicle for travel, exploration and adventure. The real victories in running are the places we see, the people we meet, and the power it has to transform our world views. So, I went frolicking in hopes of sharing that story.
What has been the most rewarding experience that has come since starting your blog?
I can’t say there’s been any one experience, but endless smaller ones. I get messages from friends, family and strangers who have started running or changed the focus of how they run because they’ve seen how it’s shaped my life. I really believe everyone can benefit from a daily dose of fresh air, so being able to inspire other athletes is the ultimate reward.
On WanderDirtLust, you share your running experiences from marathons all over the United States. Besides the San Francisco marathon, what race that you participated in has been your favorite and why?
Ahh, that’s hard. Every marathon has its own story. New York is the ultimate big-city race with spectatorship that’s unmatched anywhere else. Boston is incredible for the prestige and history. But I also love the smaller, hometown races. Napa Valley is another incredible race for its local feel, sunshine, and pretty rolling hills.
On marathon day in San Francisco, are you working behind the scenes? Or are you running?
Normally, working. Marathon Day is always full of all kinds of unexpected challenges, ups and downs, and we’re working around the clock to pull the event off. I did run once, last year, for charity. I ran the marathon twice, back to back, on race day and carried a cell phone and radio with me, and took phone calls from coworkers along the way. It was crazy, so this year I’ll stick to just working.
Take us through a typical day in the life of Joanna Reuland.
Ha! Well, I wake up early, 5 or 6am and meet up with some combination of local running ladies for an hour or two. We stop a lot, instagram, and talk about life. That’s the best part of my day. Then I usually go straight to the office to shower, throw on more running clothes to work in for the day- I can’t remember the last time I wore anything fancier than jeans. The work day is pretty unpredictable, some days are mellow with not too many meetings, others are jam packed with meetings or some off-site project. The office is full of energy with 10 ladies who I consider friends and coworkers. We take outings in the middle of the day to stay sane. In the evenings, I’m either meeting up with college girlfriends (who all, miraculously, live in my neighborhood) or cooking dinner at home with my roommates and cuddling up with my dog.
You recently blogged about your experience of running your very first Boston Marathon, and ended with the sentiment, “good people run.” Tell us how you think the running community has influenced your life and how it’s different from other groups.
When I started running, I did it mostly to be healthy. Now, running has snuck its way into every aspect of my life and most of my relationships. Runners have an unspoken bond that’s unmatched in any other sport. We’re trusting of complete strangers. In every other group I’ve joined in my life, trust is earned gradually—it has to be proven. With most runners I’ve met, trust is assumed. We support each other immediately and without hesitation. More than any other group, my running friends are fiercely loyal. I don’t know why “good people run,” but I have a guess. We build relationships outside in nature, forcing us to leave the stress, anxiety, and societal pressures behind for just an hour or so. We leave the drama at work, family stress, and we just focus on the run. All we need to have a good time is a pair of shoes. I’m just really thankful that running has given me such a supportive network of friends.
In the next five years, how do you hope to see the marathon grow? How would you like to see your career advance?
In the past five years I’ve seen a lot of internal growth with the company, and The San Francisco Marathon started to shift from a local event to one with national appeal. It’s an iconic race in a beautiful city—so I envision SFM becoming a must-do for international runners, an event that sells out, has substantial media coverage, and more spectatorship. We’ve been a little more underground for a while, so I’m looking forward to seeing the race grow. My scope of work is so broad and covers so many areas of responsibility that I’m still learning every day. I’m excited to focus on further evolving our brand and social strategy.
What has been the biggest goal you have achieved in running?
Last year I switched from running on roads to running more trails and trained for my first 50-mile race. It was a really big milestone, mostly because of the lessons I learned throughout the training process.
As the weather continues to improve, many girls are taking advantage of the warm temperatures and starting to move their workouts outdoors. Do you have advice and encouragement to give to first time runners?
Yes! So many of my college girlfriends are getting into running, and my advice is this: slow down! Learning to run doesn’t mean you have to sprint until the run feels painful and uncomfortable. Slow down your running pace, bring a friend that you want to catch up with, and agree to run at a “conversational pace”. If you’re able to talk while you’re running, that’s the perfect pace to build endurance. You’ll be able to run longer without feeling defeated.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Learn how to decompress and “shut down” at night. It’s possible to be passionate about your job without working crazy hours and bringing work home with you.