While Amazon may have changed the face of shopping by offering convenient, low-cost alternatives to traditional purchasing, nothing replaces the care and attention you get when you walk into a store that is owned and operated by someone who is passionate about their craft. Online shopping cannot offer a dedicated staff who will tailor your shopping experience to your needs, or provide love and support or a community of like-minded people.
These running stores go beyond the shoes and the gear. These stores bring together a community of people. Men. Women. Fast. Slow. Elite. Recreational. As a vocation. As a hobby. No matter who you are, independent running stores open their doors, and their hearts, with open arms.
Running is an amazing activity that we can all do. Not surprisingly, women’s running has been on the rise for years. In the world of the professionals, running was one of the first sports to not only have the same events for men and women, but to offer equal prize money to both sexes. On the recreational side, women represent at least 50% of the field, sometimes more at any given event.
We are also seeing the rise of female owners and operators. Maya Angelou, civil rights activist, famously said, “In diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” Our whole is always greater than the sum of our parts. As Maya Anderson, owner and operator at Toronto’s BlackToe Running, says, “I think in all industries, it’s important to have women in positions of power.”
THE FUTURE IS FEMALE
We need to show the future generation of young girls—and boys, too—that women can do everything and anything they want. Fast and Female, an organization dedicated to the empowerment of young women through sport, believes that young girls need to see role models in the jobs they want in the future.
Across the country, women like Maya at BlackToe Running, Erin Pinder of Runner’s Soul, Vanda Borean of Rackets and Runners, Jennifer Estabrooks of Soles in Motion, Solana Green of Capra Running Co., Lynn Bourque of The Runner’s Shop, pictured below, and many other women across the country are showing our children they can build anything by chasing their passion and building the communities of their dreams. Vicky Siemon, another fierce female and account manager with New Balance Canada—who sponsor the BlackToe Running race team—reminds us that these women are improving our sport. “These women continue to pave the way for female runners by instilling confidence, fostering a supportive environment, providing thoughtful training programs and building meaningful relationships and support systems within their communities,” Siemon says. “A lot of women don’t know they’re runners until they’re runners, and we have store owners like Maya and Lynn to thank for that.”
CHANGES ARE AFOOT
It was not so long ago that the conversation was different. Forty years ago, women were sneaking onto marathon courses; women did not run marathons until 1967 when Kathrine Switzer had to “break” into Boston. Now, women outnumber men on the race starting lines and have more buying power in the shops. Today, we step up to that start line because women like Kathrine smashed that glass ceiling for us. In a way, the independent female running shop owners are carrying on the legacy of Kathrine Switzer. Don’t complain about the world, change it.
Not only do we step up to the start line, but we lift up our fellow female runners and encourage them to take the plunge and join this wonderful community of runners. The research tells us that women not only need to see themselves out there to take that deep dive into something new, but that they need a team of empathy, compassion and support around them. “Ladies of the Trails (LOTT), was born because I could see the need for women to have their own welcoming community to get started with trail running,” says Solana Green, of Squamish, British Columbia, pictured below, owner of Capra Running Co. “The group has since grown to 3,500 local women and is exactly what I dreamed of—a place for women to connect, to get advice and to make lifelong friendships. Many of my closest friends have come from running and from LOTT specifically, and I’m so glad that the resource exists.”
Make no mistake, women in running are chasing records, Boston Marathon berths and PBs every bit as competitively as the men are. However, women running shop owners aren’t just business people, they’re community builders. They sell shoes and sunglasses, but they also instill self-confidence and friendships. In short: we thrive because they care. Our sport flourishes because of their sacrifices, all towards building something which didn’t exist before them.
The future is owned by the pioneers and it is fearlessly independent. We women are still fighting the good fight for diversity, equity, and equality. Things are better than they were, but they can be better still. There are great men out there supporting us in our endeavours, but some men still need education on building up and supporting strong women. Maya Anderson makes it her mission to see that all of her customers feel supported. “The way I think about every customer is ‘You are special. I see you.’ No one is marginalized. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is important,” she says. “When a customer who is just getting into running or getting back to running, says to me, ‘Well, I’m not really a runner…’ I ask, ‘Do you run 500 metres? Less? More? Yes? So, you’re a runner.” Try finding that online.
In short: the world needs more women like Maya, like our shop owners across the country, people helping our culture and our sport grow. We appreciate the work of New Balance Canada in helping fund these run clubs and groups like Fast and Female: we are running, and can make it whatever we want it to be. In all facets of life, we need strong, fiercely independent women; supportive, confident men; and encouraging communities that foster environments that welcome our diverse cultures. So the next time you need a new pair of shoes, socks, shorts or a shirt, instead of sitting on the couch and searching online for that perfect piece of clothing, search for your local independent running store. When you go to make that purchase, I promise you that you are not just going home with a great new piece of gear, but you will go home with a full heart—you will have just been welcomed to a new running family.
Top photograph of Maya Anderson by Denise Militzer.