What is Claim Your Journey?
I started the Claim Your Journey Brand as a personal training blog for a trail running series that took place throughout the state of Louisiana in 2011. I decided to compete in the series as part of my New Year’s resolution. What was the resolution? To start running again for the first time in years. Growing up an only child in a single parent home, running was always there for me. I named the brand Claim Your Journey because I wanted it to be something inspiring. Together, the words are just that. While participating in the series, I wore a Run Louisiana t-shirt to the races. It became pretty popular and tons of runners began asking about the shirt. I started printing the shirts and selling them out of my 2004 Chevy pickup truck everywhere I went. In 2012, I decided to quit my job at LSU to pursue sharing my vision to inspire runners around the world through clothing. I’ve built a company through sharing my personal journey with incredible runners that inspire me everyday. Founder, Brandon M. Williams
I grew up as an only child with my mom in Baton Rouge, La., but it wasn’t always that way. My parents got divorced when I was only 9-years-old. Both parents were employed on the outskirts of the city and they were really hard workers. When I was younger, I’d never recall them saying, “I had a great day at work” or “I really love my job.” Honestly, they really seemed stressed about having to go. I recall my dad saying once saying how he never wanted me to work that hard to making a living. He would say to work smart, graduate college, and get a good job. Your mom and I are no longer together, but we work hard for a better future for you. We just want you to be happy.
I stayed busy with sports such as basketball and baseball, but the one thing that really stuck with me was running.
(Obviously I could’ve used a burger…or 3)
I ran competitively in high school at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, but decided I that I wouldn’t pursue it as I attended Louisiana State University in the fall. I loved running, but I knew being on the track team would take up a large amount of time. Other than track, one of my interests at the time was fashion, specifically the world of collectable sneakers. I would wait in line for hours to buy a pair of exclusive Jordans or Nikes. It was because of this interest that I started a clothing company with a friend of mine in college. Though it was a great experience, I decided it wasn’t for me.
After leaving the clothing company that I helped launch and taking a six year break from running, I felt like I was at a bit of a crossroads in my life. I was 24-years-old and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I had finally reached a point where there wasn’t a road map laid out for me anymore or a clear direction to take; it was completely up to me and that was scary.
By chance, one day I saw a flyer for the 2011 Forge Trail Series at my local gym and it was the first time I had ever heard of the event. It turned out to be a competitive race series that comprised four races throughout the year in four different cities in Louisiana. Each race was between five and six miles on some of the toughest trails in the state. This is where it got a bit tricky for me because I usually only ran three miles at a time. Not to mention, those three miles were noncompetitive. I had to decide whether this would be a fun, new challenge for me to take on or just cruel, unusual punishment for my body.
Since it was the beginning of 2011, I decided to make completing the Forge Trail Series my New Year’s Resolution. It was something that would be mentally and physically tough for me to complete. I openly admit, I’m one of those people that says they will complete “such and such resolution” at the beginning of each year, but rarely see it through to the finish. One year I was decided to take up skateboarding and that never quite came into fruition, as all of the falling ended up not being that appealing to me. I have much respect to the skaters out there. To keep myself accountable during 2011, I decided to document the entire journey on a blog. I created it so that I could share my experience with others, provide some good information, and see my resolution through. I was once told, “If you have a village supporting you, you’re more likely to succeed in reaching your goal.”
Claim Your Journey
After participating in the Forge Racing Series and traveling the state, I began noticing how active the running community was in Louisiana. I also realized that I was unable to find one place that really showcased information about all the running events. So, I decided to reformat my blog, Claim Your Journey, into a one-stop new source for runners in the state. I recruited some guest bloggers for the site and a friend to help with producing the content. It was this new direction that really increased the popularity of Claim Your Journey. We were everywhere, visiting as many races in the state of Louisiana as we could. To generate revenue, we started selling shirts with the simple words “Run Louisiana” across the front. Everywhere we went, people knew who we were and wanted a shirt. We sold them online, out of my truck, or wherever there were people willing to buy them.
Around the time of my 24th birthday, I decided to approach the year very different from what I’d ever done before. I took two sheets of paper, one would have the hedgehog concept questions and one of them was simply titled 24, which specifically read, “This will be an amazing year, make it happen.” Every morning before I left my house, I read them. True to that statement, 24 had become an amazing year. I started running again, developed Claim Your Journey, met some amazing people, and joined some great running committees, as well. So, for the most part of the year, it seemed as everything going my way, but a single phone call can change everything.
Dad’s Colon Cancer Returns
Without a doubt, I believe that I was the most guilty of not appreciating time. I might take that a little further and say the I wasn’t appreciating the value of time. Often, I’d carelessly go through my day-to-day life without necessarily appreciating the “small things.” My parents divorced when I was younger and my father later remarried. After that, I never really had what would be considered a close relationship with my father. It was very much just an off and on relationship. Though he lived in town, I would only make it over to see him every other month, if that often. It just wasn’t high on my priority list, which sounds bad but keep it in mind that I was an only child for most of my life, I have issues. One day I received a phone call. The voice on the other line said, “Your dad’s in the emergency room.”
At that moment everything stopped and nothing aside from getting to the hospital as quickly as possible mattered. The whole ride, all I could think about was the time I’d wasted being very stubborn and selfish. I kept asking myself, “What if he’s in coma or worse by the time I arrive?” Thankfully, he was alive when I arrived at the hospital. I wish the news I heard was that he fell and broke a hip, you know…something non-life threatening. Unfortunately, we found out that his Colon Cancer had not only returned but spread. On top of that, he had a major infection near his kidney and his vitals were highly unstable.
For the next five weeks, I spent just about every other day at the hospital. I had no idea what was going to happen or what sort of time window we were dealing with in terms of his illness. So, as it turned out, 24 was going to be much more complicated than I expected. Claim Your Journey had developed really well since January, requiring constant attention, and my dad’s life was at risk. Little did I know, mine would soon be, as well.
Bad Car Accident
Last year, my best friend J and I planned to visit Miami to celebrate our 25th birthday, his being three days after mine and our friend C planned to come along, as well. On September 4th, I was on the interstate heading back from Lafayette. For the majority of the drive, the drive back to Baton Rouge was very typical, unless you count driving through the tail-end of Tropical Storm Lee. Nothing interesting was happening on the interstate and there was no traffic. As I drove down the interstate I could see the bridge crossing the Mississippi River, which was always a good sight, as it meant I was near home.
As I was driving over one of the last overpasses, the back of my Chevy pickup truck lifted off the ground and I began to spin in circles at approximately 65 mph, which is something I haven’t shared with many people. As the truck was spinning, a red Honda and an 18-wheeler managed to dodge me, as I freaked out on the inside. I was certain that my truck was about to flip, but thankfully it didn’t. Instead, the truck managed to land facing the rail on the opposite side of the two-lane interstate.
I contacted the police department and a state trooper arrived at the scene. By the grace of God, I got out of my truck without a broken bone or even a scratch. The trooper told me he’d seen similar situations and I was quite lucky to be alive. He went on to tell me that I shouldn’t take the situation lightly and that perhaps I was here for a greater purpose. Throughout the entire ordeal, one thing remained consistent in my thoughts: This. Is. Not. My. Time. I knew I had too much work to do before I left this earth.
Meeting Bart Yasso of Runner’s World and Brooks CEO Jim Weber
A couple months after the accident, I was invited to a conference in Austin called the Running Event. Prior to the invite, I had no idea what this was, as I had never been to Austin. Honestly, I was just happy to get away and treated it like a small vacation. One of the main things I was looking forward to was hanging out with my buddy Juris who worked at Saucony. At the time, Juris was a tech rep for Saucony and we met when they came to Louisiana during the summer for a promotional tour. When he found out I was coming to Austin, he insisted that I stay with him and he’d show me around.
As we arrived at the Running Event, I heard that a lot of big names in the industry would be attending, but I never thought I’d actually get to meet any of them; I was wrong. I got the opportunity to meet Bart Yasso (Chief Running Officer of Runner’s World) for breakfast, but definitely almost blew it. I reached out to him on Twitter jokingly asking if he wanted to grab breakfast before things got kicked off and to my surprise I got a response. Of course I immediately just thought it was a Social Media Manager tweeting for him.
A couple of hours went by and I received another message saying to meet for breakfast at 9 a.m. So, decided I would go and see what happened. I arrived and there was Bart Yasso of Runner’s World. We had an amazing breakfast as he shared some of his experiences and amazing advice. One of the things that stuck with me was when he said, “It’s great when young leaders like you are interested and invested in running. It gives hope to the future of the sport and industry.” Lesson learned – sometimes celebrities do manage their own social media accounts.
The awesome experience didn’t end there. After walking onto the conference floor, I met the man responsible for leading the successful Brooks Running, CEO Jim Weber. To my surprise, he was the most down to earth person I could have imagined meeting. He was interested in what I was doing and encouraged me to stick with it.
Dad Passes Away
About a week before Christmas in 2011 we realized my dad had only a matter of days. I remember a lot of people coming by the hospital to say their final goodbyes. At this point, no longer responsive, my father was only breathing and was unable to recognize anyone. I’m aware that our parents have to pass away one day but I never thought I’d lose one of my parents so soon. He’d never see what would become of Claim Your Journey; he’d never see me get married or even get to meet his future grandchildren. Although he passed away, I continue to use his loss as a source of inspiration, as his spirit was too bright to be dulled by sadness. My father was one of those people that smiled a lot and spoke to everyone. He would have wanted me to continue pursuing my dreams.
Over the next several months, me and a dedicated team worked tirelessly to launch what many of you may now know as the Run Louisiana Tour. As with most projects, when we put the first proposal together, we thought it was the best thing in the world and that sponsors would be begging to jump on board.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite the case. In the past year, I had been fortunate enough to meet some amazing people, some of which work at major footwear brands. So the hard part was essentially taken care of – getting the contacts. All we had to do was show them the proposal and boom, sponsored! Right? Not quite. Not one of them agreed to sign on. To say that I was crushed was an understatement. I knew that this was the project of a lifetime and couldn’t understand why no one would support it. In the end, most said that it was because the project’s focus was too narrow and only spanned one state.
“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” – Paulo Coelho.
After failing several times, a little light began to show at the end of the tunnel. We secured a meeting with Mockler Beverage Company/Michelob Ultra. The meeting went extremely well and they are one of the main reasons the 2012 Run Louisiana Tour actually took place. When no one else would, they saw an opportunity and stepped up to the plate to sponsor the Run Louisiana Tour.
I arrived at a fork in the road in my life where I’d continue doing what I was currently doing and splitting time to do Claim Your Journey or I’d just go full time. The decision to pursue Claim Your Journey full time was completely risky, especially considering there wasn’t any security at that point. I’d no longer have a steady income, benefits, etc. Considering the demand that the Run Louisiana Tour would come with, there was no way I could pull off both jobs, even with the team of support.
Despite all the hurdles I’ve jumped and challenges I’ve faced, I’ve come to tell you that I’m currently working full time for Claim Your Journey. The main source of revenue for Claim Your Journey is through shirt and merchandise sales. We will continue to focus on building this brand and working towards becoming a profitable business.
I’d like to say thank you for your support up to this point, as itt truly means a lot to have so many people support my dream.
We used the tour as a way to get the word out about Run Louisiana Day, but we knew we needed to do something a little more creative to get people’s attention. So, we released a rap video…yes, a rap video.
You know how you joke with your friends about making a video or a song? Some may even take it as far as to record it on a computer or on their phone. Well, we took this “joke” to the next level. After hounding a producer for weeks that our song was good enough, me, my friend Beaux, and my girlfriend Katelyn actually landed in a recording studio. We had finally convinced Matt Tortorich (also know as Crackatrax) that our song, Run Louisiana, was solid enough to record.
The “Run Louisiana” video was filmed in Louisiana by Tommy Talley, featuring me and friends Beaux and Katelyn. The video also includes every day runners from different local running clubs telling the story of a day in the life of a runner.
First Half Marathon
While promoting Run Louisiana Day, I took a small break to run my first half-marathon. I know what you’re asking yourself, how can this guy encourage people to run if he hasn’t even run one a half marathon or marathon? It comes down to me making excuses and letting time get in the way. I finally decided it was time that I committed and decided to run the Jazz Half Marathon in New Orleans. I remember the weeks leading up the race and being nervous that I wasn’t prepared enough. The summers in Louisiana get very hot and humid, making it incredibly difficult to train.
Along with the difficulty of training in the heat, I was dealing with the mind games that come with running. In 60 degrees, you feel as if you can run forever, but with humidity and temps in the high 90s, those runs leave you defeated mentally and physically. Training wise, I didn’t do much except about three long runs, which included a 7-miler, 9-miler, and 10-miler. I decided my goal was finishing my half in just under 1:40.
When race day arrived, I felt surprisingly good. Like, better than I felt on any training day for the race. Before the race, my buddy Jason agreed to pace me to finish at my goal time. I’m not sure if it was the GU or the adrenaline, but when we got to the line I told him I’m just going to race it and not worry about time. Starting with that mindset, I surprised myself and crossed the line with a time of 1:29:45. I was thrilled, surprised, and excited.
Director of Happy’s Running Club
When I started running again, I began frequently attending a running club in Baton Rouge. It wasn’t your average running club, but it was very, very interesting. Every Tuesday a group of hundreds would run the streets of downtown Baton Rouge and return to Happy’s Irish Pub for…beer? I had never heard of such thing, but I can tell you I was definitely on board. I was a regular every Tuesday and got to know a lot of the runners really well.
One day I received a phone call from the Director/Co-Founder Scott Higgins. He told me that he’d be moving away for a while and the club would need a leader while he was gone. I thought he was asking me to find someone, but he was actually asking me to take over the club. I couldn’t believe it. I truly loved Happy’s, so I was completely open to the idea and after a few weeks of training, we announced in October 2012 that I would be taking over as the Director of the Happy’s Running Club.
Visiting Girls on the Run
How many of you are familiar with Girls on the Run? As a runner, we run for a lot of reasons, such as therapy or stress. We also run for charities and causes. When I found out about Girls on the Run, I immediately fell in love with the program. I remember my first meeting with the Executive Director, Hydie Waglborg, in Baton Rouge. I could instantly sense how passionate she was about the program and it rubbed off on me, as well.
I decided to make a trip to one of the less fortunate schools that hosts Girls on the Run in Louisiana’s St. Helena Parish. The experience was incredible, to say the least. They treated me as if I were some sort of a celebrity. I was signing autographs and they even knew the words to the Run Louisiana song. I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in the workout with the girls and was able to share with my passion for running. If you ever have an opportunity to become involved in Girls on the Run, take it. It’s an experience you’ll never regret. The joy on the faces of these young girl will truly humble you.
2012 Forty Under 40 Honoree
Every year, the Business Report in Baton Rouge selects and recognizes individuals under the age of 40 in an effort to highlight personal and professional accomplishments of the younger professionals in the community. Prominent members of the business community were involved in the annual selection process of Forty Under 40, which began in 1994. It’s a pretty big deal. You are featured in the magazine’s special issue and honored at a banquet.
In November, I received a call from the publication that I was one of the 40 people selected. I’ve never been crazy about awards, but I will tell you that I was completely honored and excited. It was really great to be recognized and appreciated for the work that I’ve put in to Claim Your Journey and the running community.
One of my favorite parts of the experience was the photo shoot. The photographer emailed me and though it would be cool If I could come up with something creative, since I’m not just a lawyer or doctor. I brainstormed and when it was finally the day of the shoot, I put on my favorite J.Crew suit and Saucony Kinvara 3s. If I had to suit up, I was going to do it my way. Apparently doing things my way payed off in this specific instance, as I ended up on the cover. This was the first time I’ve been on the cover of anything and I thought that was a great way to close out the New Year. Here’s a link to the other honorees.
Those two words simply aren’t enough to expressive how appreciative I am of the support I’ve received. There are many people to thank for their guidance and support. I’ve been through so much in the last couple of years and I wouldn’t be here if not for people loving and guiding me. I’m going to try and give a quick shout out and I’ll probably update this because I’m sure I’ll forget some people.
My Mom, My Dad, My Girlfriend Katelyn, My Family, Robert Guasco, Wayne Arena, Theresa Overby, Rivers Hughey, Kevin Hughey, Hydie Wahlborg, Beaux Jones, Jason Jeffirs, Kyle Wilkinson, Craig Sweeney, Danny Bourgeois, Patrick Fellows, Lisa Evans, Denver Benton, Jeff Beck, Susan Hayden, Jenni Peters, Scott Higgins, Michael Lang, Jane Swift, Ed Lang, Hugh Weber, Matt Manning, Katherine McCoy, Whitney Mitchell, Jenni Norris, Fred Ruckert, Jonathan Kastner, Adam Rabo, Amy Alexander, Jeff Roedel, Travis Euggino, Matt Tortorich, Tommy Talley, Jay Ducote, Jarrett Cohen, Courtney Howells, Anthony Williams, and many more.
How will you Claim Your Journey?