Celebrating 10 years with RunTheBluegrass

January 28, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Keeneland sunriseKeeneland sunrise

This race has brought out the good, the bad and the brilliant! 

By Abby Laub

A lot can happen in 10 years. At J.A. Laub Photography, we believe good business relationships should be long-lasting. It is rewarding for us when we can grow alongside our clients. This could not be more true in the case of one of our biggest clients, RunTheBluegrass! 

As year 10 of this amazingly beautiful half marathon happens in March, I want to give you background on how we got involved in that race and what that behind-the-scenes journey looks like. In some cases it’s involved tremendous amounts of stress, technology failures and triumphs, and many sleepless nights of racing the clock to get photos to runners. More than 100,000 RunTheBluegrass photos have rolled through our system. 

RunTheBluegrass race director and owner of its parent organization, LeXenomics, is Eric Patrick Marr. Through an article that I was writing for Business Lexington some 10 or 11 years ago, we met several months before he launched RunTheBluegrass with no money but limitless aspirations. 

“RunTheBluegrass and LeXenomics have grown leaps and bounds in their first ten years,” Marr said. “Both literally started with $0. And funny enough, that first year of the race is when I first met Abby. Every race needs official photographs, right?! Abby and her husband Jeff were brand new, too. J.A. Laub Photography was getting off the ground right at the same time we were. And we've been together ever since, every step of the way.”

At the ripe age of 26 I had just left my full-time, stable job to launch my freelance writing and photo career, and was taking any opportunities I could find. Never had I photographed a half marathon, but I spent a few years as a newspaper sports photographer and had run a couple 13.1s so I knew enough. We’ve since rapidly expanded into the race photography world and hire other photographers all over Kentucky. We are beyond grateful for this partnership with RunTheBluegrass that truly helped kick things off at a time when I had taken a huge career gamble. 

“RTB helping launch J.A. Laub into the race photography world is my No. 1 bragging point,” Marr said about 10 years in the business. “It’s the fundamental reason I started LeXenomics, to begin with; to help other good ideas get off the ground around Central Kentucky. Of course Jeff and Abby's own hard work accounts for 99 percent of their success these first 10 years, but I also think that new startups need customers...eyeballs...and it turned out, RunTheBluegrass had begun to tap into the 17 million runners that sign up for races every year in America. So plenty of eyeballs!”

Starting out, it was an uphill battle to find the services and technology we needed. And the data management; a nightmare. But we prevailed! 

“I personally love working with Jeff and Abby because their work ethic is second to none,” Marr said. “Even back in the beginning, when the race photo technology available was very poor, Abby would stay up into the wee hours getting our thousands of photos uploaded as fast as possible for our runners to enjoy. It was a monumental task. Without question, the top trait I look for when hiring or partnering with someone is how hard they work and whether or not I can trust them to get the job done on their own. Jeff and Abby are the epitome of great entrepreneurs. They produce results, no matter what.”

Let me tell you…there were a few years where we got results by the skin of our teeth! Here is a recap:

Year 1, 2011: Let’s do this!

Eric at our Business Lexington interview. “You’re a photographer, too? Hey, maybe you can come take pictures for this race!” Me: “Sure!” All ignorance aside on my part, it went well and was a lot of fun!

Year 2, 2012: Slow pokes

Eric: “Hey, so this is really becoming a thing, do you want to shoot this race again?” Me, to myself: It’s possible this guy is homeless, but he seems legit and this event is really cool. To Eric: “OK, sure! Let me see if I can round up a few other photographers to help.” Race went great. We uploaded photos in 5-minute finish line interval folders so runners could actually find their pictures. It was time consuming, but I loved the pictures. I thought, We need to figure out a better way to do this. I was shooting the race, about 6 months pregnant with our firstborn and was tired out. I hopped on a plane immediately after the race to fly to New York for a family visit. My husband was completely swamped at work (and watching UK win the Final Four) and unable to touch the photos. Eric: “When will the photos be ready!?” Crap, we have to actually do these FAST! Noted! Now other races were starting to ask us to do this!

Year 3, 2013: Photo chaos

We were happy this year to have unseasonably warm weather and a growing team of awesome photographers. It was a lot of fun, and we again used the 5-minute interval system - still no bib tagging. Inquiries to companies about bib tagging were fruitless, and I was busy being a mostly stay-at-home mom to a baby while juggling many other professional projects. It was pure chaos, but the race got done.

Year 4, 2014: Sleet and tagged photos

The year of the weather from hell. It was bound to happen after years of perfect weather. In 2014 it sleeted sideways. It was unbelievably nightmarish weather; really couldn’t have been worse. My fingers were frozen to my camera, and we had to pull photographers off camers to hold umbrellas and provide backup for photographers who turned into popsicles. Runners had the benefit of at least moving to keep the blood flowing. And I was in my first trimester, pregnant with our second child, trying not to puke on runners. (Usually they're the ones doing the puking!) But this time, at least, we had a better tagging solution. The photos were tagged by timing data that synced up to our cameras, and it was all done by a local software developer. Worked pretty well, but the photos were not yet free for runners and the technology wasn’t hosted on our website, which was no good. The job got done but the search for a better solution continued.  

Year 5, 2015: New solutions…maybe

For year 5 we planned to use this company again, only to find out that it was no longer operating. So after some frantic research, phone calling and emailing, we finally found a company whose technology took our photos from camera automatically to Facebook and tagged to runners who opted-in prior to the race. We set up a separate untagged gallery on our site, and Eric made the smart decision to make all of the race photos FREE as a clever marketing move. This year's solution allowed for photos to be distributed quickly but it was bumpy, expensive, and the photos were not truly “bib tagged”. Back to square one. 

Year 6, 2016: Finally, real tagging

Old pros, feeling great. And finally we had secured and tested in advance a reliable bib tagging service. Humans in India tagged the photos that we uploaded to our site and the process worked like a charm! Runners got great photos, quickly. I held my breath…but it worked. The only downside was that the platform wasn’t the prettiest, and we had to wait for the human bib taggers with runners chomping at the bit for their free photos. 

Year 7, 2017: FAIL

This year Eric decided he wanted to use RunSignUp’s Google vision tagging service. It was economical, yes, but I stressed over the many unknowns and less-than-ideal facets. But I agreed and we had our previous platform on backup because my gut just was not happy with the new solution. Alas, it was a bonafide disaster. The technology simply was not ready. While our team and Eric’s team dealt with unhappy runners (“These are NOT MY photos!”) we pulled an all nighter getting photos uploaded a second time to our old, human tagged, reliable system. It was a stressful mess, but the day was saved. I gave Eric a friendly “I told you so” but agreed with him that we needed a faster and more affordable way to get these photos done on a more attractive platform. 

Year 8, 2018: The best solution yet

Finally. We have arrived. We switched our entire website to a new platform, one where we can seamlessly integrate our many events including bib tagging, print retail, and affordable digital distribution. I worked directly with the bib taggers in India – no middle man, money saved. Another beautiful race. The only downside was waiting on the taggers to complete the tagging.

Year 9, 2019: Actually, there’s an even better way! 

I’d been making calls, sending emails, thinking there had to be a better and faster way to tag. One day I got an email from an old colleague. He was working for a startup that could electronically tag the photos right off of our site. Me: “Well, does it work? Show me. Prove it.” (Told him the RunSIgnUp disaster.) It worked brilliantly. It’s what we’d been looking for. Sold! I held my breath after the race – which is when the hard part starts for us. Lord please don’t let this flop! I’m getting too old for all-nighters! Success! We got photos to runners faster than ever before; 20,000 delivered in less than 48 hours with 100% control of the entire process.

10. Year 10, 2020: Celebrate

We look forward to serving RunTheBluegrass participants yet again in 2020. Happy 10 years, everyone! Cheers to photography, technology, and runners! This race is about the best possible experience for runners, and we aim to play a small part in that. We hope you enjoy your free race photos come the end of March! 

SIGN UP TODAY, and if doing business over the long haul is how you operate, give us a call!


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