APTOS -- Russ Coillot may be built more like a wrestler than a runner but don't let his stocky frame fool you.
Coillot and his wife Tina took over Fleet Feet Sports in Aptos three years ago. Both passionate runners and inspired coaches, the Coillots have grown the small running store into a hub of exercise.
The Coillots organize weekly group runs and offer training programs through the shop that have drawn 2,000 runners since 2010. Russ likes to cook piles of pancakes for the 100-member Aptos High cross country team after Saturday runs in nearby Forest of Nisene Marks State Park.
"We are amazingly lucky to be doing this," said Russ Coillot, 45.
Coillot admits he's not a natural runner. A decade ago, he weighed in at 340 pounds and had a three-pack-a-day habit.
His family connected with a Fleet Feet franchise in Sacramento, where they lived at the time, because his wife and older son, Jake, wanted to train for a 5K. Jake was "a short, fat kid in grammar school," but learning to run propelled him into a prep athletic career as a varsity cross country runner and two-time captain of the swim team. Jake's now on a full-ride ROTC scholarship at Cal Poly.
Tina, too, became an accomplished athlete. Tina Coillot can reel off a list of the marathons she's run: the Nike Women's event in both San Francisco and Washington, the California International Marathon, the Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon and a 50K run.
As his family logged miles, Coillot ditched his cigarettes and attached a trailer to his bike so he could tote younger son Ben along while the rest of the family ran. Coillot lost weight and, eventually, caught the running bug. He trained for a marathon in 2007 but wouldn't finish the 26.2-mile distance until 2009.
In the midst of his new-found fitness, Coillot lost his job. When Fleet Feet offered him a position fitting shoes -- nothing glamorous -- he found he loved it.
"It was a blast," he said. "We help people achieve goals and be more comfortable."
Nine months into his work at Fleet Feet, Coillot applied for ownership of one of the 120 Fleet Feet franchises around the country. After an arduous interview process, he and Tina took over the Aptos location.
He has less time to run these days. Instead, Coillot is in the shop, interacting with customers and fitting lots of shoes.
"Our sincerest hope is, somewhere down the line, one kid gets inspired to change their life," Coillot said. "It happened to us."
Getting to know
Family: Wife Tina Coillot (neé Hill), a Soquel High graduate; and sons Ben Coillot and Jake Means. Ben, 12, attends Valencia Elementary; 19-year-old Jake is a business major at Cal Poly.
Races: Russ started the California International Marathon in Sacramento in 2007 but dropped out because of an injury at mile 20. He finished the Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon in 2009 in approximately six hours. His goal is to complete an Ironman Triathlon.
Favorite run: The single-track trails in Nisene Marks
Giving back: Fleet Feet Sports in Aptos donated $15,000 to local charities in 2013. Beneficiaries include the Corralitos Boy Scout Troop, the Butler-Baker Scholarship Fund and Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks.
Fleet Feet races: The husband-and-wife duo put on three community fun runs in 2013: the Thanksgiving Day Run For Pie, the Off-Road Ramble at Pinto Lake in Watsonville and the Niense Marks anniversary race in August. They plan to add a fourth to the 2014 race schedule.