Running is humanity’s oldest sport. Yet modern runners have the added perks of modern sports science, experts’ insights on how to improve and communities that support their growth.

That was partly why Terrell Johnson founded the Half Marathon Guide in 2006 as an online resource for half-marathon runners. In July 2022, Johnson sold the content company to entrepreneur Michael Mazzara, an executive for 6AM City, for six figures.

The Half Marathon Guide featured half-marathons across the U.S. and around the world, providing training information and inspirational stories for folks training for a 13.1-mile race. 

In his 16 years running the Half Marathon Guide, Johnson saw the sport of running — and specifically the number of people running half-marathons — grow significantly.

The sport’s increasing popularity offered benefits and drawbacks, he said. While it meant more people were coming to his site for information, it also meant a lot more work to keep up with the surge in races.

“When I started, there were around 700 half-marathons in the U.S. alone,” Johnson recalled. “That number has since ballooned to more than 2,500 as the popularity of this race distance has skyrocketed over the years I’ve been running the site.”

The Half Marathon Guide grew through a community focus

To cope with the increase in demand, Johnson employed a strategy that helped him scale.

He began to proactively reach out to online running clubs around the U.S. and asked their leaders to post links to their races on the Half Marathon Guide. That outreach freed him from chasing down information on races and running groups — and additional content and back-links that resulted from it also beefed up the site’s search engine ranking.

The Half Marathon Guide’s reputation among pro and novice half-marathoners also caught the eye of international media, Johnson said.

“I don’t know how they found me, but the New York Times reached out for an interview and linked to my site in one of their articles, which was huge for search rankings and legitimacy,” Johnson said.

With only a freelance web editor as support staff, Johnson grew the site’s reach to about 240,000 visitors and roughly 900,000 pageviews per month. The site generated revenue through Google AdSense, an online advertising program. Johnson estimated that the Half Marathon Guide generated roughly $1.2 million from AdSense during his 16 years operating the site.

That success surprised Johnson, who set out with modest goals in 2006.

“I thought then, if I could create something that made $1,000 or $2,000 a year, I’d be overjoyed,” he said. “There were a couple of years it made more than $130,000 from AdSense alone. That just goes to show you, things can grow way beyond where you thought they could.”

Over his 16 years running the company, Johnson occasionally worked full time on the Half Marathon Guide, he said. Most of that time, he worked as a UX designer for either The Weather Channel or State Farm.

How Johnson Sold the Half Marathon Guide

After a decade and a half, Johnson was ready for a new challenge. Over the years, his enthusiasm for the company had waned, so he sought help to find a buyer.

That’s where They Got Acquired came in, playing a tiny role in this sale. We referred Johnson to a brokerage, Quiet Light, which specializes in selling online businesses. He sold the company a few months later for about a 3.7x multiple of revenue — a 6-figure sale, he said.

Working with a broker gave Johnson more confidence in selling the business, and he’d recommend that any first-time seller follow the same route despite having to pay a broker commission. (We’re happy to recommend a broker if you need one.)

“There is so much going on in this world of selling businesses, especially digital businesses, that you never have a chance to learn unless you do it for a living,” he said. “If you sell to the first buyer who comes along, you can bet they know a lot more about the market than you do, and are likely trying to use that information advantage in a negotiation with you. A broker can create a market for your business that will help ensure you receive the best price possible, and can serve as a sounding board throughout the sales process.”

Johnson also encouraged sellers to be patient through the potentially lengthy process of hammering out a deal.

“Know that selling your business is a marathon, not a sprint. It will likely take longer than you think it will,” Johnson said. “I realized how much more my broker knew about this process, how many more times he’d been through it, so I trusted his advice — and it worked out much better for me than if I’d gone it alone.”

Going forward, Johnson plans to focus on writing his newsletter, The Half Marathoner, which he retained through the sale. The newsletter — which has more than 50,000 subscribers, including several hundred paid subscribers — allows Johnson to continue sharing his insight on running.

“When I moved it to Substack, it became something else entirely, really its own thing, and its own business,” Johnson said. “I realized how much I loved writing again, and loved interacting with readers, both in responses to the newsletter and in the comments to each issue. It’s been so much fun, and I’ve learned that that’s what I want to focus on, that’s where my heart really is, and not on managing the Half Marathon Guide website.”