There were butterflies in Roberto “Toby” Claudio’s stomach when he launched a new brand that aims to capture the growing running market.

But he didn’t run away from it — literally.

“To be honest, I was apprehensive. I was scared that it would fail,” said Claudio, the president of Toby’s Sports who bravely rolled out RUNNR, a running brand, in 2009 at the height of the marathon craze in the country.

“Since our sales in the running category at the time were less than five percent of our total sales, it wasn’t really a big thing back then, so I was so nervous. But we worked hard on it. For those six months, we prepared.”

To conquer his fear, Claudio carefully studied the market by joining races himself. Eventually, business became secondary as he enjoyed the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle while reconnecting with his passion and love for sports.

“So, literally, the running boom happened before my eyes, but even before it was really booming, I started running myself,” the 49-year-old businessman-sportsman said.

“I started joining races, and it was life-changing for me. Running really helped me a lot, not just physically but mentally, and even helped me with stress and anxiety.”

Claudio didn’t become a sportsman overnight.

In fact, he played baseball for University of the Philippines in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines from 1992 to 1995. He played shortstop and was also a goalkeeper for one of the top football clubs in UP. His father Bobby was an avid tennis player while his uncles, Jojo and Rod, who also helped build Toby’s Sports since its launch in 1978, were very active badminton and table tennis players.

“I’ve actually been exposed to sports for a very long time because my dad and my uncles were very active in playing sports. More than just playing tennis my dad loved watching any kind of sport — football, baseball, basketball, golf, etc.”

Claudio said he is drawing strength in running their business from his competitive character as an active sportsman. And he remains fit and active despite the demands of managing the largest Filipino-owned sports brands in the country with 68 stores nationwide.

That’s why when he rolled out RUNNR, he made sure that it would make its presence felt against the biggest sports brands in the world right at the hearts of Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City and Ayala Center in Cebu.

“I traveled to the best running stores in the United States, in New York, Boulder, and L.A. and even went to Tokyo,” Claudio said.

“I tried to pick up the best features of all the running stores that I saw, and I said, ‘This is something that could be a viable concept.’”

Rather than just picking out the design of running shoes, Claudio, who is also the president of Quorum International Inc. and Total Sports Inc. and founder of urbanAthletics, said the store is focused on giving the customer a personal feel for its shoes.

“I researched, and I found out that, you know, people normally buy shoes just by choosing the design that they think looks good,” Claudio said.

“But it may not necessarily be ideal for their foot type and especially their gait because everybody has different kinds of feet, the height of the arch, and the degree of pronation. Now we even have 3D foot scanning and high speed video analysis so that we can recommend the best shoe and new brands and products that will help people run better and enjoy running more.”

“Those who are flat-footed like me have a much harder time running because it’s more painful for them. Especially those who are just starting and have never had a running background or are sedentary. They need to start with the appropriate shoes so that their feet can get additional support.”

Still, there’s a bigger purpose behind Claudio’s persistence and determination to grow his business empire.

“I love it when we hold sports events because it is the embodiment of our mission: To help kids play,” Claudio said.

“Most of our sports events are for kids, for age-group tournaments. We had tournaments for volleyball, basketball, badminton, and so on. Now, we’re working on pickleball.”

“Simply put, we’re really promoting different sports and giving kids a venue for them to show off their skills and to gain recognition for all the hard work that they’re putting into their training.”

He added that Filipinos should have the passion to stay fit, not just for themselves, but for their loved ones as well.

“So, now everything’s really back to normal, and I think the big difference now is that people realize that health, wellness and fitness are essential. You can have everything, but if you don’t have your health, it’s useless,” he said towards the end of his lengthy telephone conversation with DAILY TRIBUNE.

“That’s really the most important thing.”

Yes, there were butterflies in Claudio’s stomach after realizing the toughness of the race he had gotten into.

But with the right attitude, intense passion, and crystal-clear vision of what he wants to achieve, Claudio had reached the finish line of success one stride at a time.

“I think one of the keys to our success really is that we have a deep, deep passion for sports and fitness and our mission is to share that passion with all as many people as possible,” he said before gently hanging up.