321 Go Running focuses on first-class events, giving back to community

For the last five years, organizing the Cameco Step Up for Mental Health run and walk was one of the highlights of Jonathan Huntington’s work for Cameco, where he most recently served as vice president of sustainability and stakeholder relations. Earlier this year, Huntington left Cameco and now focuses full time on Step Up — and other events like it. While Cameco remains the presenting sponsor of Step Up, the race is now organized by Huntington’s new company, 321 Go Running.

This week, Huntington speaks to the Brainsport Times about why he’s passionate about putting on running events, the strong registration numbers Step Up is seeing and his most recently announced event: the Dog Jog and Stroll.

Q: Tell me about creating 321 Go Running.

A: My passion for years has been running. I’ve been chasing a goal of 50 marathons in 50 states for more than a decade. I’ve done 30 states and will hit 31 this fall if the schedule allows in Biloxi, Mississippi. So running is in my blood and I’ve always wanted to make the community better at the same time. So we ended up with 321 Go Running. The mission is to create amazing runs and walks to raise money for charity in our province and in Western Canada.

Q: How did you become interested in organizing races?

A: I was really fortunate to see behind the scenes of some of the biggest races in the United States and that put a bug inside me to someday want to operate the best possible races I could in my home province.

That bug really started in Virginia Beach. It was back in 2018 and the decision had been made at Cameco to start Step Up for Mental Health and we wanted to get to know from the best how to do events like that. I reached out to the organizers of the Virginia Beach Marathon and they were so kind to say: “Absolutely, come down. We’ll show you the magic behind the scenes.” They were amazing people, treated me like gold and showed me the ropes of organizing a massive American run. That just lit a fire under me and I wanted to try and tackle that someday.

Q: What was it about the Virginia Beach Marathon you want to emulate in your own runs?

A: Their commitment to charity, their commitment to giving back to their community. They operate a first-class event with tens of thousands of people and they give back from the very beginning to help the community. That’s always been in my blood and that’s something that is the hallmark of 321 Go Running. This company will not operate or create a race without giving back as much money as possible to charities and not for profits.

Q: What types of charities will you be supporting through 321 Go Running?

A: With Step Up for Mental Health the premise has always been to give back to charities and not for profits that offer mental health support programs. So we’ll do that again this year in partnership with the Saskatoon Community Foundation. The call for applications from mental health charities and not-for-profit organizations to request funds from Step Up will happen in October.

Our upcoming Dog Jog and Stroll on Sept. 7 will see all net proceeds going to the SPCA.

On July 15, the company will announce a third running event that will happen in Prince Albert. I’m not going to scoop that event, but I will say it’s going to be a great new event for Prince Albert this fall, with a tremendous partner who had the initial idea for this new run. All net proceeds will be focused on education. Watch for the launch on July 15.

Scenes from the 2023 Cameco Step Up for Mental Health.

Q: Step Up is happening Sept. 22. How has registration been going?

A: Early registration has gone exceptionally well. This might be the best response we’ve had to Step Up as we’re now into year six. We have almost 5,000 people already registered. We will sell out, and we will sell out this summer. Right now, we’re more than 80 per cent sold. We will cap the race somewhere between 5,500 and 6,000 participants depending on how many runners are in the 5km versus how many runners are in the 10km.

The number I’m probably the most excited about is we have people registered from more than 160 different Saskatchewan communities so far. We have people from more than 200 communities in Canada total signed up to do this event. It really strikes a chord with people, and that’s simply because of the importance of mental health.

Q: Registration has just opened for the Dog Jog and Stroll. Tell me more about this event and what makes you excited about it.

A: I’ve seen the benefits of the SPCA to community. And we know the power and the importance of dogs when it comes to therapy and mental health. It was an obvious tie-in for me to try and bring a spotlight to the SPCA, to raise money for them and also give a chance for people to bring their dogs out and have a good time, both the owner and the dog. I’ve seen a therapy dog in my own family. I’ve seen how well it’s worked, and I want to give back and shine a spotlight on the SPCA at the same time.

It’s limited to 500 dogs and I expect it to sell out quickly. It’s not an expensive race to enter. It’s a one-kilometre or two-kilometre loop course within Diefenbaker Park. We’ve put the swag all around the dog. When the dog crosses the finish line with the owner, the owner is given a set of stainless steel water and food dishes for the dog and the rest of the net proceeds go straight to the SPCA for important animal care.

Q: What else do you want people to know?

A: People need to register for Step Up before it sells out and if people want to support the other charitable causes we’re going to help, that’s wonderful, too.

This interview has been edited and condensed.