As a seventh-grader living in the Bay Area, Joe Rubio was still a self-proclaimed nerd trying to figure out what he was good at.
“I rode skateboards. I was pretty stinky at that,” Rubio said. “I played baseball, and I didn’t like to get hit by the ball, so that doesn’t really work.”
Then he found running, and his life changed course.
“The fact that you have a sport that welcomes geeks and nerds and teaches geeks and nerds to channel their energies to build confidence so they can go on to be successful in other areas and learn that they are in control of their destiny and in control of their own happiness. It’s pretty powerful stuff,” Rubio said Thursday.
In the years since, Rubio has become a local fixture on the Central Coast running scene and owner of Running Warehouse. He will be inducted into the the sixth class of the SLO Marathon Hall of Fame on Sunday, the culmination of a career that continues to be all about the sport he loves.
Rubio had just one year of college eligibility left when he arrived at Cal Poly in 1986.
After running at a West Valley Community College in the Bay Area, then at UC Irvine, Rubio ended up on the Cal Poly track and field team, where he would become a Division II All-American in the 5,000-meter event. After graduating in 1987, he moved in with Mark Conover — current head coach of the Cal Poly track and field team. The two trained together, and Rubio watched as Conover went on to win the U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon and run at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
“It was pretty cool that the guy you are training with makes the Olympic team,” Rubio said.
Rubio didn’t fulfill his dreams of making the Olympics, but he was a two-time U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier (1992 and 1996), placing 26th at the 1996 trials. He never planned to stick around SLO, but before long he had a job at Promotion Plus.
Rubio was balancing long hours of training and work back then.
Soon, he turned his focus to business when he and some friends started what would become a long and successful business career with Venue Sports (now VS Athletics). In 2005, after 12 years with Venue Sports, Rubio said he met with Tennis Warehouse owner Drew Munster and COO Mark Sczbecki.
“They were looking to start a running portion of the business, and I had quite a few years in the running industry, so I knew some people,” Rubio said. “They know the back end, and I know the running stuff, so we combined it. So it worked out pretty good.”
Today, Tennis Warehouse and Running Warehouse share “a couple hundred employees,” with 65 working full- and part-time jobs exclusively at Running Warehouse. Rubio said Running Warehouse is expanding and will open a customer service and shipping center in Georgia this summer.
“Since I graduated from Cal Poly, I haven’t worked outside of this one block area,” Rubio said, standing on the front porch of the warehouse complex on Suburban Road.
Rubio said he owes everything to running.
“I would have never gone to college without running. I wouldn’t have my business. I wouldn’t have a lot of things without running,” Rubio said. “It has been very good to me.”
Still Going Strong
Don’t let his Instagram handle — MrRubioUsed2run — fool you. At 54 years old and with a successful business, Rubio still logs plenty of miles.
Whether it’s at the track at Cuesta College or at Montaña de Oro, Rubio said he runs about three to four days a week and has recently found a new challenge in mountain biking.
“When you can’t improve anymore, it takes the wind out of your sails. That’s why people get into different activities,” he said. “I really like mountain biking because I get better at it, even though I am old.”
Though his mileage has decreased, Rubio is still the head coach of the Hoka One One Aggies Running Club, a group that works with post-collegiate runners to help them elevate to the national level. The club has around 150 members statewide and about 20 to 30 locally. He’s also responsible for helping to organize a number of local fundraising races, including the Pozo Saloon 5K, the City to the Sea race and Turkey Trot.
Rubio feels fortunate to be a part of such a vibrant running community.
“I am getting honored, but there are all these people that are in charge of their communities,” Rubio said. “(Paso Robles High School track and field coach) Ivan (Huff) is the heartbeat of Paso Robles, (SLO High track and field coach) Steve (Boaz) is the heartbeat of San Luis High. We have these guys and gals that just do a fantastic job of building up the next generation of people.”
He hopes he can continue to be involved in the local running scene and pass down the lessons running has taught him, enabling him to be the newest member of the SLO Marathon Hall of Fame.
“Running teaches you that there is no immediate gains,” Rubio said. “Nothing is immediate in running, and there are not people patting you on the back every day saying this is great that you are doing it. It’s really a self-absorbed sport, but it teaches you self reliance, self confidence, independence.
“People that do it understand that when you do something that isn’t inherently fun every day, there is a huge sense of accomplishment that you got out the door and you did it.”
SLO Marathon and Half Marathon/Race SLO Festival
When: Saturday to Sunday
Where: Start-finish line at Madonna Inn grounds
Top competitors: Maggie Yount, San Mateo (2016 Marathon champion); Carri Arrieta, Moreno Valley (2015, 2016 Marathon runner up); Van McCarty, San Luis Obispo (2012 Marathon champion); Joe Thorn, Grover Beach (2013 Marathon, 2014 Half Marathon champion); Cal Poly grad Ben Bruce, Flagstaff, Arizona (2015 Half Marathon champion).
Schedule of events:
Saturday — 6 a.m., parking lot opens; 8 a.m., Kids 1 Mile start; 8 to 10 a.m., live music; 8:15 a.m., 5K start; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; festival hours; 9:30 a.m., Kids 1/4 Mile Race; 10 a.m., 5K awards; noon to 2 p.m., live music
Sunday — 5 a.m., parking lot opens; 7 a.m., Marathon and Half Marathon start; 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; festival hours; 8:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m., live music; 11 a.m., 2017 Hall of Fame induction ceremony; 11:15 a.m., Marathon and Half Marathon Awards; noon to 2 p.m., live music
Road closures: 3 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday. Various roads around San Luis Obispo. Closure times will vary. For a complete list, visit slomarathon.com.