John Kern in 2014. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

John Kern in 2014. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Running club president steps down

John Kern increased club participation in five years at helm

Juneau Road and Trail Runners President John Kern is looking to move on from his post.

The volunteer position calls for putting together the annual race calendar, training and appointing race directors and sitting on the board.

“Three to five years is really a good term of service and definitely a time when it’s good to transition to somebody new and get some new energy,” Kern, who succeeded Tristan Knutson-Lombardo as club president in 2014, said by phone Wednesday. “I’ve got some other interests I’d like to pursue.”

JTRR — formerly known as the Southeast Road Runners Club — has been putting on community races for decades. This year the club supported 36 runs for over 1,000 runners and walkers. The Juneau Marathon and Half Marathon (formerly known as the Frank Maier Marathon) is the club’s most popular event and attracts several hundred participants. The typical Saturday morning 5K and 1-mile fun run, the club’s bread-and-butter, can see anywhere between 10 and 50 entrants.

“It’s a great group of people to work with and a great activity to be a part of,” Kern said.

As someone who wasn’t a runner for much of his life, Kern understood everyone is on their own unique journey. When he became president, Kern’s goal was to create a place where everyone — regardless of experience and background — could feel celebrated and welcomed. He made sure race directors kept the timer going until everyone made it across the finish line. When he was starting out around 20 years ago, that didn’t always happen.

“I think I can say some runs probably didn’t wait for the last person to get across the finish line if they were too slow,” Kern said. “But nationally, as well, there was this change in attitudes toward running, where you didn’t have to necessarily be the fastest in the race to still participate in the race.”

Kern attributes the shift in attitudes towards racing to John “Penguin” Bingham, a well-known writer for the “Runner’s World” who spoke in Juneau about the topic.

The club grew by 30 percent in Kern’s first year at the helm — from 1,090 individual participants in 2013 to 1,608 in 2014. The club experienced another record year in 2015 with over 200 more runners joining the fold.

“In 2015, 2016, participation really peaked,” Kern said. “A lot of that participation was from all the individuals that came to the club realizing that it didn’t matter whether you were competitive or wanted to win the race. It only mattered as to whether you wanted to show up and run. I think I can say that over the past five years I’ve seen a lot people at the events that wouldn’t have been considered runners in the previous sense, step up to the line and just have the greatest time, and really transform their lives through running.”

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