Maybe you mellow it out with cream and sugar. Or maybe for you coffee is an expression of high art, a search for the sublime in a single cup. However you regard coffee, what is indisputable are it’s inexhaustible qualities and seemingly endless variations. If a fresh idea comes along, even its newness feels vaguely familiar, like it already exists, and has existed forever.
When Tom McGinn and Jenni Guerriero began developing what would become the electrolyte-infused Long Run Coffee, they strongly questioned the originality of their idea. “Step one was figuring out if it existed already or if we were wasting our time,” says Tom. They scoured social media and Google, typing untold keywords in myriad variations, but kept coming up empty. “We really tried to find it,” says Tom. But there was simply nothing to find.
“There is no one else selling this,” says Jenni.
Looking for ways to make a distinct impact in the running community, fortifying coffee with electrolytes seemed both practical and potentially beneficial. Most runners consume caffeine in some measure—either prior to and/or during a race—why not boost it with minerals essential to maintaining performance? It just made sense. So one morning, while cooking breakfast, they finally began toying with the idea. Tom scooped two hefty spoonfuls of pink Himalayan sea salt into his coffee, stirred it, and took a sip. “It was terrible,” he remembers. “It tasted like seawater.”
Still, it was a start.
“We immediately began tinkering with it and testing it,” says Tom. Over a period of months, every trial was recorded—every tweak in the measurements, every powder or granule used, everything on down to taste was logged on an Excel spreadsheet. “Part of the problem we faced was figuring out the actual source of the electrolyte,” says Tom. “The big ones we struggled with were sodium and potassium.” Initially, they experimented with potassium citrate, which tastes nearly indistinguishable from salt and, when paired with certain sources of sodium, has the potential to blow out your palette. “There was so much trial and error,” says Jenni. “We had friends try it and other runners. We kept wondering, ‘Does this taste salty to you?’” Over time, they settled on sodium bicarbonate and potassium gluconate, both of which are easily dissolvable and have a flat, neutral taste that doesn’t interfere with the natural flavor of the coffee.
This, however, proved surprisingly difficult. “We had to go through five or ten different manufacturers, calling their customer service lines and sending emails,” says Tom. “Basically, they all responded with, “No, we’re not doing that.” Some companies said they wouldn’t add electrolytes, but they’d add CBD.” In retrospect, Tom and Jenni may have thrown off manufacturers with their explanation of the product. “If we had just said sodium or salt, instead of electrolyte supplements, maybe we would have gotten more traction,” says Tom. “I think companies got scared even though it’s pretty simple stuff. I don’t think they wanted to put any of it through their machinery. They wouldn’t have, but we didn’t get the chance to explain that to many of them.”
Eventually, they found a roastery in Spring Grove willing to partner with them. “They were like, “We’ll do whatever you want,’” says Tom. “They’re local, basically in our backyard, so it’s good. They aren’t a giant conglomerate. I can basically pick up the phone and call someone whenever.”
Offering four signature roasts, they established footing rather quickly. Among their earliest supporters were the hosts of the popular Ten Junk Miles podcast, who also happen to host events in southern Wisconsin. “We went to Sugar Badger in May and the Badger Trail Races in July,” says Tom. “We had a booth and were handing coffee out to runners. It felt like we were running an aid-station. We enjoyed that.”
As summer progressed, Tom and Jenni continued developing Long Run’s mission and reach. They sought inroads and partnerships, local and otherwise, gauging interest and honing their pitch. “A lot of great communities exist in the running space,” says Tom. “We want to make custom label coffee for different brands and communities that are already out there.” Forging relationships with race directors, neighborhood organizers, and charitable foundations, they created two lines of brand-specific custom coffee—the Race Collection and the Community Collection. In late August, they began offering those collaborations for sale on their website. ”Part of our hope is that people will come to our website and get coffee that means something to them, then see some different brands and races that they haven’t heard of yet,” says Tom. “We would like to create a little network. That might sound ridiculous to build a network on a coffee site, but I don’t think it is.”
“What happens happens,” says Tom. “Obviously, any opportunities that arise should be looked into; likewise, if things that we put a lot of time into end up not working out, that’s okay too.” Attending this year’s Hennepin 100, they brought with them a new collaboration with event host Ornery Mule Racing. Dubbed the “Flat and Fast French Roast,” Long Run set up shop at the race, offering brewed samples and selling bags of this latest custom label made specifically for the event. “We would like to start going to more races,” says Tom. “Mainly because they’re fun, but it also makes sense from a business development perspective.” Looking to establish a broader race-day impact, Long Run is also looking into developing single-serving coffee packets as a unique twist on the usual assortment of swag bag giveaways. Being that they are still a young company, however, the priority for the foreseeable future is to continue growing while clearly conveying their mission to both the running community and prospective partners. “If a Race Director reaches out to us, we’re making him a label for free,” says Tom. “We don’t need any financial investment whatsoever; we just need their approval. End of story. You don’t need to buy $600 worth of coffee. We’ll just list it on our site and fulfill it all.”
Big picture aside, Tom and Jenni want more than anything for Long Run Coffee to be that extra encouragement that propels you, the athlete, forward. “It could be a daily reminder that you’re signed up for a 100-miler,” says Tom. “Something that will be there in the morning, waiting on the kitchen counter next to the coffee pot.”
It’ll be waiting for you like so many training miles and hill repeats. It’ll be waiting for you like a belt buckle at the finish line.
“It will just be there,” says Tom.
An inexhaustible little bean, perfect for the long run.