Story by Charlotte Gallagher
Images courtesy of Big Dog Fleet Feet
“…running was mankind's first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle--behold, the Running Man. Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn't live to love anything else.”
-Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
It all started 10 years ago with two business partners – John Teeples and Reggie Luther. Both avid runners, they agreed one day that Columbus needed a running store….and then they “ran” with it.
The original name was Big Dog Running Company, named after Teeples’ dog at the time “Big Dog.” Then in 2017 they partnered with a running franchise called Fleet Feet and combined the names. Fleet Feet is the largest franchisor of locally owned and operated running stores in the country.
Big Dog has been in the heart of Uptown Columbus for 10 years now providing a welcoming and motivating outlet for many runners and non-runners. They have had six store locations, two free weekly group runs, 9+races throughout the year, a monthly Good Form Running Clinic, a Porch Dog Program for beginners, a partnership with the Columbus Roadrunners and Project 42 Running, and have sold over 100,000 pairs of shoes.
“We set out to build a running community, and I feel like we have been relatively successful in doing it," said Luther. "I think we have helped change some lives through running and that makes owning a small business worth the effort. Personally, I always feel better after a run and it has helped me stay positive and optimistic.”
The first Big Dog opened in 2010 on Broadway in what is now the Salt Life store. The other store locations were in Auburn in 2011, Fort Benning and North Columbus in 2013, and 12th and Broadway in 2016.
Teeples and Luther eventually downsized to just two stores – North Columbus and 12th Street – until they decided to consolidate to just one location in 2018. Teeples also has his own construction company here in Columbus and has been the man behind the scenes reconstructing all of the Big Dog locations plus many of the buildings you walk into every day on Broadway such as Iron Bank Coffee and the Simple Greek. In Fall 2018, Teeples and his team began construction on Big Dog’s newest and 6th location on 12 W 11th Street that is now connected to Iron Bank. A year later in the Fall of 2019, they opened its doors to the public.
“I’m always trying to push the ball forward and make a difference," Teeples explained. "Helping people improve their lifestyle by getting into exercise, spaces like coffee shop where people can eat, relax, enjoy, and build community and create buildings that will help grow and develop Columbus. If Columbus isn’t growing and improving then we aren’t doing the right thing.”
Also an entrepreneur, Luther owns multiple small businesses including TracSoft and Lightning Sports Racing, which works out well for providing the timing equipment for all the Big Dog races.
Before his timing business, they used to manually write down the runners’ BIB number as they crossed the finish line!
Because of the need to get outside and exercise after months of being cooped up, Big Dog is surviving the pandemic. All year, memes such as Running is Never Canceled were being thrown around the running community. Early on in the pandemic, gyms were closed and people needed to socially distance, but still stay healthy. Answer: RUNNING. Simply grab a pair of shoes (and a mask) and out the door you go.
It is no surprise anymore that exercise such as running is beneficial to our health. This past year has shown that more and more people are retreating to the outdoors as running shoes, bikes, kayaks, and RVs are being sold out non-stop. Running has been shown to help people lose weight, build lower body strength, boost the immune system and increase lung capacity (hint, hint), boost confidence, reduce blood pressure, and increase an overall sense of well-being by completing goals like running up hills, crossing finish lines, and making a PR (personal best).
“Perhaps all our troubles - all the violence, obesity, illness, depression, and greed we can't overcome - began when we stopped living as Running People. Deny your nature, and it will erupt in some other, uglier way.” -Born to Run
Free group runs have taken place every Wednesday evening and Saturday morning throughout the lifespan of Big Dog. That’s a lot of running and probably thousands of conversations between humans that will stay between those runners. The stories of running in the heat of summer, in storms, in the cold, in the early, dark mornings, the secrets that have been told – only the runners will know. When the pandemic hit, Teeples and Luther reluctantly canceled them to ensure the safety of everyone. Once the restrictions started to lift, appointment slots started filling up because non-runners were getting antsy sitting at home all day and looking for something to do. Realizing, “oh, I have time now. I have the time I’ve always wanted to finally take care of myself.” People started realized that while running, you’re outside and can easily social distance yourself, and it’s good for your health and overall well-being. Why WOULDN’T you keep running?
You’ve probably tried to walk by Big Dog on a Wednesday evening or early Saturday morning and the sidewalk is filled with runners antsy to start their run. If you’re an early riser, you might have caught glimpses of runners gliding across the streets and sidewalks of Columbus like ninjas between the hours of 5 and 6am. They call themselves the “Awesome Runners of Columbus.” Any day of the week, you can always count on a group be with you as you get in your miles.
When asked about the changes that occurred during COVID-19, the manager of Big Dog, Cheyenne Greenside, responded, “As a small business, surviving a pandemic has been both a challenge and a miracle. From the start it was very confusing, and hectic, but Teeples and Luther really supported the team and made sure we were all comfortable. From our point of view, things have definitely gotten easier as we have figured out how to navigate social distancing, new levels of cleaning, and ensuring the safety of both our team and our customers. As of right now we are not requiring appointments and we are accepting all walk-ins. Masks are suggested, but not required for customers.”
Other ways they’re taking precaution during this year are an outdoor fitting area for those who are uncomfortable walking into the store, curbside pick-up, and by spacing out the runners in waves during races.
Greenside began working at Big Dog in early 2019 and says that she loves being a part of the Big Dog family as well as the Columbus Running community.
“My favorite part of this community though is the acceptance of all people and running abilities," Greenside shared. "When I first started working at Big Dog, I was in a serious rut when it came to running and this community really helped me get back to a place where I wanted to run and they were all so welcoming when I first moved here. I am honored to be the manager at Big Dog and blessed to be a part of this community!”
One of the unique features of Big Dog Fleet Feet is that they offer each customer a free foot scan on a device called the fitID and will also video your gait to help suggest which shoes would be most beneficial for your feet. They will also ask questions about your previous running experience or any injuries you’ve had to then suggest any other items you might need such as insoles or specialized socks to prevent blisters. If they do not have an item in the store, they can put in a special order for you.
A pre-pandemic Fleet Feet group run.
Another prime benefit of running is creating a deeper connection with others. If you’ve ever run a race before then you’ve probably felt those goosebumps rise on your skin and the beating of your heart as a race is about to start followed by the heightened energy of everyone completing the same goal together. With just a look we’re all saying out loud or silently, “Man, this is gonna suck, but I’m still excited for some crazy reason and we’re doing it anyway.” Maybe you’ve also seen clips of runners crying as they cross a finish line for the first time. There’s something to that – crossing a finish line. We can say with a strong sense of pride and happiness, “I completed something. What else am I capable of?” If you were to browse Big Dog’s social media pages you will find endless amounts of pictures filled with smiling faces.
“The reason we race isn't so much to beat each other,... but to be with each other.” – Born to Run
Teeples says, “Running does remarkable things for you mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Once you realize those benefits. It’s therapeutic, relaxing. There’s nothing more peaceful than getting outside and connecting to the environment and it’s cooler/more peaceful doing it early in the morning because there aren’t as many cars or people. It’s a time when I solve problems before the day gets started. Gives you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Sleep better and better appetite. All those things combined are a great experience to me. Things you see and do, the people you meet. It’s natural and easy. All you need is a pair of shoes. You can do it any time of the day, you can go anywhere you want, weather doesn’t really make a difference unless you let it. I’ve never been stopped by rain, snow, heat, cold. How easy is that? You can squeeze it in to be 10 minutes or it can be 10 hours.”
If you don’t blink, you might catch Teeples and his dog Kevin running around Columbus in the wee hours of the morning or through the Pine Mountain trails together.
Teeples is also responsible for creating the famous Run Across Georgia (RAG) event in 2008 on Memorial Day as well as raising more than $1.2 million for House of Heroes and Mercy Med over the 10 years of its success. That’s right. You run the length of Georgia solo or with a team from Savannah to Columbus over the span of 3-5 days. The total mileage is 260 miles. This would be considered an ultra-marathon which is any race over the traditional marathon which is 26.2 miles.
When asked how he came up with RAG, Teeples answered, “I had done a bunch of 100 mile runs and wanted to do something different. It gave me focus and sense of purpose. I love to help soldiers so I chose House of Heroes as one of the beneficiaries. It’s a local non-profit and has something to do with construction, which I love. I also wanted to help kids and MercyMed offers free healthcare to Fox Elementary students.”
Kena Yutz took over RAG this year which was canceled due to COVID-19, however, a virtual version will take place on November 4th- December 31st and will hopefully resume again Memorial Day weekend 2021.
Yutz is a woman’s ultra-marathon champion and owns her own coaching business called Project 42 Running. 42 was her age when she broke the women’s record at Across the Years in 2012 by running 254.05 miles in 72 hours. Her business is partnered with Big Dog where she leads half-marathon, marathon, and Speed Series training programs here in Columbus for beginner, intermediate, and advanced runners. She fully customizes training plans to fit her clients’ needs and goals. She also hosts the Southern Singletrack Series which is a collection of trail races in and around the Columbus area and a free group run on Monday evenings at 6pm that begins at Big Dog.
Teeples and Luther also came up with the Soldier’s Marathon in 2010 that took place by the National Infantry Museum and on Fort Benning. Early on, they handed the baton over to Cecil Cheves to keep it going, but they would still volunteer to help out with the race as it was a strenuous undertaking. The Soldier’s Marathon was a favorite amongst runners, a Boston qualifier, and has donated over $250,000 to military beneficiaries. November 2019 was the last Soldier’s Marathon.
The non-profit and volunteer organization Columbus Roadrunners is run by Luther's wife, Carolee. She says that it began years before they moved to Columbus and used to be called the Columbus Track Club. Luther was President of CRR before Carolee was, but she has now been the President for almost 12 years. It started with 40 members and has currently grown to 450 members. Carolee and her board members have helped create the Summer Series, Winter Series, Distance Series, Run for the Roses, and Red Nose Half-Marathon.
Carolee has also been leading the Porch Dog to Big Dog program for beginner runners on Monday and Wednesday evenings since 2008. It used to be called the Couch to 5K until they changed the name in 2016. The program is usually 8-10 weeks long where beginner runners can build to running a 5K (3.1 miles) together. She also organizes a free, monthly half-marathon on a Saturday morning at 6am that begins and ends at Big Dog. Once completed, you’re most likely to receive a hand-made prize or medal of some sort from Carolee herself. She is known for being super creative and thoughtful by adding her own personal touch to the medals.
Reggie and Carolee Luther.
“My favorite memories are watching and experiencing with so many the joy of that first accomplishment whether it is a mile, a 5K, a half, or a marathon," Carolee explained. "It has been my pleasure to help many reach all of those goals! Training together, the ups, the downs, all of it together to accomplish crossing that finish line! Helping others, running together, encouraging and giving the running community the opportunity to do what they love is what makes my running heart happy.”
“It’s not where or when you start, it’s just starting! Runners are every shape, size, height, color, age, pace! One run can change your day, many runs can change your life. I have met some of my best friends through the running community! Together we make Columbus a Runner Friendly Community!”
“Know why people run marathons? …Because running is rooted in our collective imagination, and our imagination is rooted in running. Language, art, science; space shuttles, Starry Night, intravascular surgery; they all had their roots in our ability to run. Running was the superpower that made us human — which means it’s a superpower all humans possess.” -Born to Run
Running is never canceled.
For more information, stop by the store for a free fitID scan and gait analysis to find out which shoes are best for your feet! From there, ask about upcoming beginner programs, group runs, and races to start your running journey! Follow Big Dog Fleet Feet, Columbus Roadrunners, and Project 42 Running on Facebook and Instagram and/or browse their website at www.bigdogfleetfeet.com. ◼︎