Running the running store

Photograph by Jessica Campbell
Ben Bartley, the owner of the Indiana Running Company store, assists a customer in finding a pair of running shoes. Bartley founded the store to fulfill the lack of running stores in Bloomington.

It was nearing 106 degrees, but Ben Bartley pushed the pace faster, flying over his first encounter of paved ground in a 7:15 mile. He wasn’t in the middle of a daily run on the B-Line Trail in Bloomington. It was mile 59 of the June 29, 2013, Western States 100-mile Endurance Race, and dark was approaching.

Bartley, age 29, is the owner of the Indiana Running Company with stores located at 121 N. College Ave., and East side store on 1567 S. Piazza Dr. The “father” of several running organizations in the area, Bartley’s store has helped establish Bloomington as a strong and diverse running community.

From Indianapolis, Bartley attended Pike High School and was a soccer player before altering his view on running from a conditioning tool to a sport he could participate in for years.

“I saw running as something people did their whole life,” he said. “I can go see 60-to 70-year-old guys running 5Ks or marathons, where I didn’t often see 60-to 70-year-old guys playing soccer.”

Bartley came to IU and walked on the track and field team as a freshman in 2002. After running as a middle-distance athlete, he was cut from the team, but he remained determined to keep running, he initiated the IU Run Club, a club team sponsored by the university.

“While I was coaching the run club, I was coaching my alma mater, Pike High School, all through the end of my senior year,” he said. “So, going into my junior year I had an incoming class of freshman that I had known through coaching. They wanted me to coach them to walk on the team, and that’s kind of how IU Run Club got started.”

As coaching became the path for Bartley’s future, he switched from majoring in the IU Kelley School of Business to an Education major. He then was offered to teach and coach at Pike after graduation.

“I taught and coached for a semester and figured out that it really wasn’t I wanted to do,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Okay, what could I do in Bloomington that I would really enjoy and wouldn’t hate going to work everyday?’”

In 2007, seeing an opportunity for a running store in the area, Bartley opened the downtown Indiana Running Company store and founded the Bloomington Area Runners Association (BARA), a group of about 40 to 50 committed local runners representing the city of Bloomington.

Sarah Foss, a graduate student at IU and employee at Bartley’s downtown store, said he is more than just a money-making business owner.

“Ben spends a significant amount of time developing groups like BARA, working for the National Intercollegiate Running Club Association, NIRCA, running with a wide range of local runners, helping out with track nights and IU meets, timing local races, etc.,” she said. “I think it’s really cool when people are able to give back to society doing something that they love, and Ben has seemed to master that pretty well.”

Over the last few years, Bartley began distancing himself from the coaching Run Club and BARA, to focus more on his own running. In 2012 he competed in his first 50-miler called Dances with Dirt in Nashville, Ind. After that race he was hooked, and returned in 2013 to win the race, setting a new course record.

“I had a blast, and it didn’t feel like it was mentally difficult to run for eight hours,” he said. “I was never in that pain of racing like you get in an 800. So, I was like, ‘I can endure things this long. The 50-mile wasn’t so bad. Maybe I can do two of them.’”

The sun was just setting at Western States and a twisted, swollen ankle forced Bartley to a power-hiking pace. It was the dead of night. His wife Stephanie was with him, and he still had 20 miles to go. He finished 164th out of 277 participants, crossing the finish line in 27 hours.

“It was a late night walk with my wife at Western States,” he said. “I wanted to finish. I wanted to take it in, and I wanted to do it again.”

Story and photos done by Jessica Campbell for IU Journalism 303 Class

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