From English PhD to Entrepreneur: An Interview with the Founder of Runners Love Yoga by Jennifer Janechek

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When I started my PhD program in 2012, I managed the stress of the coursework by running every morning before my classes. Running gave me a clarity unlike anything I had ever experienced, dramatically reduced my anxiety, made me noticeably more alert and responsive during classes, and kept me focused during grueling research and writing sessions. Around the same time, I started taking hot yoga classes at a local studio. I noticed that doing yoga a few days a week really helped my running: I was able to increase my mileage without getting too tired or experiencing an injury. 

Ann Mazur, PhD, founder of Runners Love Yoga, recognized the same thing and turned her love of yoga and running into a successful business. An elite runner and yoga instructor, Ann uses her knowledge of yoga to help competitive runners train harder and avoid season-ending injuries and enable recreational runners to discover the emotional and physical benefits of complementing running with yoga. I talked with Ann over the phone to learn more about the inspiration behind Runners Love Yoga (RLY), her transition from academia to entrepreneurship, and her goals as a business owner.  

Can you tell me a little bit about your business? 

I started Runners Love Yoga in the middle of my PhD program. I was teaching yoga to runners, and my friend Louise suggested that I make a DVD so that she could do my yoga routines on her own schedule and not just when I was teaching classes. I happened to have a friend who was in film school at Emerson in Boston, and so I flew up to Boston and made the first DVD there. So, it started with a yoga workout DVD geared toward runners. We’ve since added a clothing line and online streamable workouts. It’s gotten a lot bigger through Instagram with the monthly yoga challenges I offer.   

What was the inspiration behind Runners Love Yoga (aside from your friend’s suggestion)? 

The worst part about running is being an injured runner. I had an IT band injury my junior year of college [Ann was a runner for Notre Dame], and it showed me what yoga could do for runners. I would do pigeon pose almost every night, and it was the only thing that kept the injury from reappearing. Yoga helps you achieve a balanced/stronger body in a way that supports your performance. It also really helps you understand your body so that you can train in the best way possible for you. 

How does your PhD in English literature (from UVa—super impressive, y’all!) shape how you run your company? And what skills were transferable from your degree program to the world of entrepreneurship? 

Having my PhD has helped me enormously. The time in the PhD program and when I was a lecturer after getting my PhD gave me the opportunity to grow my business more slowly, without the pressure of having to support myself entirely by it—because there is that time when it’s essentially a hobby, and so it’s really useful to have something else going on. But more importantly, my time in the English PhD program gave me so many skills—namely, writing and communication skills. One of the most important aspects of teaching yoga is being able to explain the positions in a way that’s understandable for everyone—from seasoned yogis to new students. Also, teaching yoga and teaching English classes are both a lot like improv: you have to learn to read the room and adapt your lesson accordingly. My PhD program taught me great time management skills, which is really important for the business side of things. Academia is emotionally and mentally rough on you—it’s very high stress—so now as a business owner I can manage stress relatively easily. I view my PhD program as having been like a boot camp for being an entrepreneur. 

What do you love the most about owning your own business? 

The flexibility it gives me in terms of how I spend my time, though there’s an irony with this—I don’t work a normal 9-to-5 job, so I have flexibility there, but I probably work more hours than someone with that sort of job. I like that I can stop work and go for a run if I need/want to, and I like that I’m not tied down to one physical location so I’m able to travel to races. I also really value being able to help and reach people globally. My favorite part of being a lecturer was working with and helping my students; now, teaching yoga I get the classroom experience, but I also get to reach people worldwide through Instagram and through my online streamable workouts. I love getting to help runners so that they can keep doing what they love to do. 

What is your favorite social media platform for business use and why? 

Definitely Instagram. Younger people don’t seem to be using Facebook as much as they once did, and there are limitations to what you can do with Twitter. But with Instagram—especially with the platform’s capabilities constantly expanding—it’s opened the door to teaching snippets of yoga in a way that’s easily digestible for people on the go. And now you can even have up to fifteen-minute videos with Instagram TV.  

What is in store in the future for RLY? 

I’d like to continue growing our library of streamable yoga workouts so that people anywhere in the world can have the yoga videos at their fingertips. Right now we have twelve full-length workouts that run anywhere from ten minutes in length to just over an hour. They are catered to runners, with workouts that target body parts that can become trouble areas like the hips, core, and IT band. In addition to building that library, I’d like to continue growing our clothing line, which is a lot of fun to work on (but harder than people might imagine!). I’m also currently working on a yoga book for endurance athletes. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to start his or her own company? 

First, having another job can be very helpful. It can take the pressure off and enable you to grow your business at your own pace. Also, surround yourself with supportive people, and find a good mentor. I was lucky to have guidance on the retail end from my now-husband Philip, who designs clothing for cyclists—and now I’m able to help him! 

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Be sure to check out Runners Love Yoga online at www.runnersloveyoga.com and on Instagram at @doyogarunfaster.