9.5 Years of 408k Dreaming & Scheming

By J.T. Service, 408K & Run Local Founder

I CANNOT BELIEVE IT HAS BEEN 10 9.5* YEARS SINCE THE INAUGURAL San Jose 408k “Race to the Row” in 2012. 

At the start of 2012 I was leading a skeleton -yet spirited- crew into the first production of our first owned running event. Soul Focus Sports was a relatively new venture, but we had already been hired to produce a couple of races including the San Francisco Giant Race and the Summer Scamper for the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. We had never started an event of our own. The pressure is on when it’s your name on all the permits, all the marketing, all the sponsorship, and you’re promising the world to numerous stakeholders. It’s a game changer. The buck stops with you.

I was 29 years old. I thought I knew everything, when in fact I knew nothing. I was telling everyone that we would have 3,000 runners crossing the finish line at Santana Row. I told sponsors that we would definitely have 3,000. I told SJPD that we needed all lanes closed on the course because we would have 3,000 runners taking over San Jose. In truth I had pulled that number out of thin air. 

The first year we willed ourselves to 3,146 registered participants. Freaking crazy. 

We partnered with the Pat Tillman Foundation. I convinced them that we would raise $10,000 for them through the event. We raised $10,035. Freaking crazy.

On July 15th, I received a text message from JT... no introduction, it simply read “The 408k ‘Race to the Row’.” And that was it, the race was born.

But back to the origin. 

Scott McConville. You can’t tell the story of the San Jose 408k without Scotty. Scotty and I ran track and cross country together at UCSB. He is like a brother to me. I remember it like it was yesterday. We were in my parents’ backyard in Capitola in late Summer of 2011. We had just finished a long run. We were having a beer in the sun. Scheming and dreaming. It was that day we came up with the idea for the 408k. 

We loved Wharf to Wharf. It was by far our favorite race. Uber local, music everywhere, point-to-point, fast course, and a big party after. For local runners, Wharf to Wharf is Christmas. So we’re sitting in my parents backyard after a long run and we start talking about creating our own Wharf. 

Scotty is from Santa Cruz, so he already had a Wharf. I wanted Wharf to Wharf for San Jose. I grew up in Willow Glen, and I still call it my hometown. I went to Booksin, St. Chris, Mitty High School, snuck down to Santa Barbara to run track at UCSB, but then ended up back at Santa Clara for law school. I love San Jose. So diverse, trails everywhere, niche neighborhoods, safe big town, and for me it’s just home. Everyone’s home is special. I wanted a Wharf for San Jose. 

I believe I came up with the name that day. The San Jose 408k. Repping your area code was cool at the time. At least I think it was cool. Remember how Ludacris had that rap song where he just mentioned a bunch of area codes? Anyway, I thought it was cool. An 8K in the 408. It made sense to me. I think Negra Modelos were involved.  

Anyway, once you get an idea in my head, good luck getting it out. Scotty was my right hand from day one and 10 years later he is still the race director of the 408k. Ironically, he is also now the race director of Wharf to Wharf. Dreaming and scheming.

I was with my sister, Elisa, sitting on a shitty empty warehouse floor making race signs with sharpies, highlighters and those smelly markers, eating chipotle for three days by the light of a single construction floor lamp.

So we went to work. We would need a website, a registration system, a course plan, shirts, permits, permission, a marketing plan, sponsors, and a staff. Not sure when we decided to finish at Santana Row, but it just felt right. When Collette Navarette and the team at Federal Realty approved the event…we freaked out. We actually went straight to Straits. Scotty had an IPA…I had a gin and tonic. Toasted to the future. Dreaming and scheming.  

For months leading into the first event I would wake up around 5:00am and I would check my email. Did they approve the permit? Did that sponsor say yes? I was so freaking amped to nail every aspect of the event.  

We certainly needed help. Help we got…

  • We had Scott Anderson (aka Big Scott…the other Scott is small), my original Soul Focus business partner. He taught me everything at the Silicon Valley Marathon when I was just a lowly intern at Evolve Sports. He tied us into the City of San Jose and reminded us not to spend all of our money on shiny things.
  • Gary Hafley was an ex-SJPD officer that managed the course for Rock n’ Roll San Jose. We got him on board. That was huge. Gary eventually retired but taught us a ton. 
  • Jill Ruppenstein was our volunteer coordinator friend from our days at Evolve Sports. She secured 150+ volunteers for year one. Crushed it. Jill and her mom still run in all of our events.
  • Justin Coburn jumped in to help with the course. He is now a cornerstone member of Soul Focus and just produced the HOKA Project Carbon X 2 event. Now he’s one of the best race directors in the country.
  • We had met the Melchiori sisters at the Mavericks Surf Contest and Icer Air. Angela and Elisa managed sections of the course and finish line by making signs out of cardboard and sharpie markers. Angela is now Run Local’s Director of Creative & Experience, while Elisa was stolen by Disney to manage Star Wars merchandise.
  • Professional Big Wave surfer, João De Macedo, was our lead aid station guy and wildly drove a box truck around town in the wee hours of the morning. He may or may not have had a driver’s license. 
  • David Monico was another teammate from college. He showed up with an iPhone. He filmed and photographed the whole day. Dave is now our full time Marketing Director.
  • The designer of our first year poster was my roommate Chris White, another UCSB track star. 
  • My mom brought 20 of her friends to run.
  • My dad was there to watch the finish and saw that the food line was clogging up. With a bad back, he started chucking around barricades and cones to unjam the food line. He might have even used a cone as an artificial bull horn to start redirecting the food line too.
  • Like I said “This is FAMILY business.”

Race week approached and we were working furiously. Somehow we found an empty office space on Winchester right outside of Santana Row. Now it’s a Thomas Tuxedo shop, but at the time it was race headquarters. 

Side story – when I was in high School I used to work at William’s Party Rentals during the summer. My first partner in the delivery truck was Danny Thomas…the heir to the Thomas Tuxedo rental empire. Danny ended up starting his own party rental company aptly called Danny Thomas Party Rentals. Guess where we got our tents, tables and chairs for the first 408k? That’s right. A big old discount from Danny Thomas. Family biz. Dreaming and scheming.

A few days before the race, it felt like we were missing something. From the first day we wanted to make it a Wharf to Wharf style event for San Jose. But that meant it had to have San Jose style. We couldn’t have trippy surf guitar riffs on ocean front streets. We needed the sounds of San Jose. We needed MARIACHIS! And not one just one mariachi band. We needed a MILE OF MARIACHIS.

But we didn’t have much money left. Doug Furano was a friend of a friend and was working with us to sell merchandise that weekend. I asked him how much money we had made on the “I Run SJ” sweatshirts. He said about $2,000. Okay, let’s spend it all. So we sent Doug to some guy’s house on the Eastside of San Jose. Apparently Rigoberto was supposed to be the mariachi guy in the South Bay. He had never heard of us, so he needed to be paid up front. Admittedly, it was weird to ask for multiple mariachi bands to show up at 7:00am on random street corners. Rigoberto had a point. We brought $2,000 in cash and we got three amazing bands. And thus, the Mariachi Mile was born. We never advertised it. When runners entered the final mile they were hit with horns, guitarra, and every sound of San Jose. Never stop dreaming. Never stop scheming. Rigoberto has added a new mariachi band every year. Last year we had 9. Next year we’ll have 10 bands. God bless Rigoberto.  

I don’t think we made any money at the first annual 408k. But I don’t think we lost any either. On the bright side Pat Tillman Foundation received a $10,000 donation. Then after permits, shirts, posters, paying my friends, paying Rigoberto, and just investing in the experience we had more than money. We had something. We gave San Jose more than a Wharf to Wharf. We gave San Jose the 408k “Race to the Row.”

* This year we are not going to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the San Jose 408k. We’re celebrating version 9.5. We can’t celebrate 10 years virtually. We need each other. The San Jose 408k is about the people of San Jose. It’s a family business. And to experience the real 408k, the real San Jose, we need to run in these streets. So please join us from a distance this year and keep our dream alive for 2022. Keep dreaming. Keep scheming. Run Local.