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Headshot of Karissa Johnson, founder and CEO of Moms on the Run

15 Years Running: Q&A with Karissa

April 12, 2023 marks the 15-year anniversary of Moms on the Run. It’s been an incredible run (literally) for our founder, Karissa Johnson, and the thousands of women who have intentionally given our “fitness, fun and friendship” a try.

Fifteen years ago, Karissa was simply a young, busy mom — with three kids under the age of 4 — trying to fit in her workouts. What started in a park in small town Forest Lake, Minnesota, has now grown to 48 locations in seven states. To celebrate, read on for more of our conversation with Karissa about Moms on the Run — past, present and future!

Karissa running with her youngest Kai in MOTR’s first 5K in 2008.

Q: April 12, 2023 marks the 15-year anniversary of Moms on the Run. Tell us how you were inspired to start Moms on the Run. 
A: I was just an overwhelmed young mom who needed to figure out how to get a workout in.  I also craved spending time with other women who were in a similar stage of life. My background was in exercise science, but being a personal trainer wasn’t keeping me active personally! I started teaching classes for moms and babies so we could work out together in the park. As a runner my whole life until I had kids, I also wanted to start a running group but didn’t know what that would look like. One day at our class, the other women were talking about training for a 5K race, and they were unanimously excited about this new goal. Our first 5K training program was born, and the rest is history!

Karissa, far right, with the first Moms on the Run group at their first 5K! This started a tradition of posing with local TV newsperson Sven Sundgaard.

Q: How many people were in that first class? How many women would you estimate have participated in Moms on the Run the last 15 years?
A: 26 women our first year, 54 the second! The third year we were in seven locations around the Twin Cities metropolitan area and the fourth year we were in 12. We grew quickly from there and now we’ve served more than 50 communities and more than 6,000 women.

One of the early year’s coach training events.

Q: What led to the idea of franchising Moms on the Run? 
A: I honestly was just trying to meet a need. I couldn’t believe how far women were driving to get to class. I felt bad for every person who called and said “we need a Moms on the Run near us!” So I just kept opening them all around the Twin Cities until I was at max capacity. We grew too quickly at first. I wanted to give more time back to my family and I didn’t want to squash a good thing, and that’s when I learned about franchising! I loved the idea of providing a business opportunity for other women that share my passions and want to encourage others and create community.
Q: You opened your first franchise in 2012. What has been the most exciting part of franchising? 
A: Being able to.make a difference in exponentially more lives through the franchise model is incredibly motivating. I’ve also found the greater franchising community to be the most generous, giving and supportive people. By attending events through the International Franchising Association, I’ve learned so much from so many, and I don’t think the company would still exist today if we didn’t have this involvement in the IFA, which allows us to continually learn how to do business better.

Q: What has been the most challenging part of franchising?
A: Definitely all the legal considerations of maintaining compliance in the many states we serve… I would rather spend my time on fitness fun & friendship! I’ve had to learn and do most of these tasks internally. We are an anomaly in the world of franchising because our business opportunity is part-time. This comes with unique challenges for our headquarters team, since we aim to provide the same high level of support without the traditional budget to do so. We will continue to be in the investing stage as we build our team, since we have been prioritizing infrastructure over growth. With our latest (and first) full-time hire, we’re ready to proceed on our strategic plan for growth!

Karissa, far right, with participants at our 2022 Run Clearwater destination race.

Q: A question we ask all inspiring members: At Mom on the Run, we talk about being #MOTRstrong. What does that term mean to you?
A: First, shout out to Toni Kohnke from Coon Rapids Moms on the Run, who I believe was the first member to ever use that hashtag, and how quickly it caught on! That hashtag to me means inspiration. It means women living their stories and sharing them with others. Being vulnerable and receiving support. Setting goals and meeting challenges. Starting new journeys and DOING HARD THINGS!
Q: Tell us your vision for the next 15 years?
A: I will be retired in 15 years (ha!), but not before getting Moms on the Run to an incredibly strong position where it can continue to thrive and influence women’s lives for decades to come. We look forward to making a difference for thousands of more women across the country and serving more than 100 communities by 2027.

Karissa with her family.

Q: Tell us a little about you personally (family, hobbies, etc.).
A: It’s a good thing I love to travel, because my kids are ending up all over the country!  I have a daughter at college in Texas, a senior son about to head off to Tennessee or Colorado, and a sophomore son who promises more of the same. They’re all eager to be done with Minnesota winters, and when the time is right we will do the same. I really don’t have time for hobbies so it’s a great thing I love my job!  I enjoy spending any time I can get with my husband Ben, my teenagers and my church community. My faith is what drives me every day to make a difference. We love family hiking adventures. In 2019, we visited 11 national parks in 14 days! And of course, we’re always up for volunteering at Feed My Starving Children.