Humans have evolved to be one of the best running machines in the world. We can out-pace and have greater endurance than any other apex predator. Millennia ago, this ability evolved as a necessity, a way to survive. Nowadays, humans are running for fun. Running hasn’t changed much over the many centuries, but the technology surrounding it has. Most modern humans aren’t running barefoot wearing nothing a loin cloth and a smile, or at least they shouldn’t. So many products have been designed specifically for runners, whether they be sprinters, marathoners, or fun runners. With specialized equipment comes specialized stores. Entire shops are dedicated to running shoes, apparel, accessories, injury prevention, and so much more – some things you wouldn’t even think about! These running stores often develop a community as well, inviting groups to run together, forming friendships and getting healthy at the same time. The stores on this list go above and beyond, offering the best products and forming fantastic groups that inspire and support.
BackRoads Brews and Shoes is a new face in London’s running scene. Despite their recent appearance, they have made a huge impact on runners in the Forest City! In the far west neighbourhood of the Riverbend Community, BackRoads is bringing together two of London’s popular passions: running and drinking beer. Owners Aaron and Emily Hendrikx are both long-time (and long distance) runners. Aaron is a stellar athlete, one of just a few who have won two individual Canadian University Cross Country Championships. Emily spent much of her youth running on gravel roads and skiing. She hopes to spread the positivity and support that she felt growing up from her two sisters. Together, they opened BackRoads as a place for community, support, friendship, and health. BackRoads is a great place to go for long-time runners or someone who’s just getting into the activity. Their selection of shoes is varied, you’ll find the big brands you know and love – Nike, New Balance, and the like – as well as smaller brands, like On, a Swiss shoe brand dedicated to running performance that will have you feel as though you’re running “On” clouds. You can do must than just buy shoes and apparel at BackRoads though, you can also join the BackRoads Team. For the low price of absolutely free, you can attend running sessions, receive training programs and organized coaching. Anyone is welcome! From beginners to avid runners trying to trim seconds off of their marathon runtimes. The door is always open at BackRoads. They have group runs a few days of the week – for instance on Thirsty Thursday they offer 2.5km, 5km, and 5km loops that start and end at their store with food, music, and beverage specials available upon your return! But it’s not just about exercise at BackRoads: their storefront is also a taproom, offering both the finest in running apparel and local brews. The in-store taproom offers an assortment of beverages including local craft beer, wine, kombucha, cider, and coffee. They don’t just serve beer, they’re also looking to make their own! Aaron’s rural upbringing has come in handy as they began growing an acre of hops last year, which this past summer grew to 10 acres! They have yet to harvest the hops, allowing the plants to establish themselves in the soil, but it’s coming soon, and we can’t wait to taste the fruits of their labour! BackRoads has a whole lot going on, all driven by the passion of Aaron and Emily. They may be new, but they’ve already settled in and created a great community around them.
Runners’ Choice has been the choice of London runners since 1990. They have established themselves as some of the foremost experts in the city when it comes to finding and fitting shoes for runners. Combined, their staff have over 75 years of experience looking after the needs of runners, so you can be sure they know exactly what they’re doing. At Runners’ Choice, they know each shoe has its own character, just as people do. Runners selecting a shoe is not as simple as “that one looks cool” or “red is my favourite!” It’s a process to find pressure points on the runner’s foot and where they need the most support or padding. Even something as simple as a proper measurement of the foot to ensure the runner is wearing the right size shoe can have an immense impact on the runner’s experience. Once you’ve got the perfect set of shoes, Runners’ Choice will help you put them to work. They’ve got running clinics that run throughout the year, ranging from free fun runs (every Saturday at 8:30AM) to 18-week marathon training program which offers coaching, support from other runners, and a 10% store discount that’s easy to get excited about. After your training clinic has concluded, Runners’ Choice is still right there with you. They helped you develop and enhance your skills, now they’re going to give you the opportunity to show off! Runners’ Choice sponsors and supports a whole host of races through the year. They’ve participated in everything from 1K races to full marathons through the years, encouraging their runners to participate, and many do! They have helped over 1000 London runners complete their first marathon, and 1000 more qualify for the Boston Marathon, one of the most competitive races you can run. Previous to the fall of 2018, you would have found their store in the heart of downtown, just a stone’s throw from the Market Tower at Richmond and Dundas. However now you’ll find them in the south end of the city with a view of the beautiful Springbank Park. This new location has opened up a lot of exciting new opportunities for them, and we can’t wait to see what they do next!
Although it’s not local, the Running Room is a Canadian company. The Running Room was started in Edmonton in 1984 by John Stanton, who in the previous three years went from an out-of-shape two-pack-a-day food industry executive to an avid runner and health advocate. It began humbly, in an 8-foot by 10-foot room, and in the following years became one of North America’s most prevalent running brands. The Running Room is packed full of products that will aid your running. A wide selection of shoes, apparel, accessories, and running safety gear can all be found in the modestly-sized store on Richmond Row. Running shoes of all sorts line the walls, from Adidas to Saucony. If you’re paralyzed by all of the options, the staff are incredibly knowledgeable. They can point out the strong and weak point of each brand or model of shoe, as well as measure you for the right size, so that you get the support your feet need when running long distances. In some special cases, you can even take a pair on a run to test them out before you buy, though this appears to be typically saved for new brands to the store. Shoes aren’t the only clothing items that are made specifically for runners though. Grab yourself socks, pants, t-shirts, shorts, jackets, sports bras, even underwear that are designed specifically with the runner in mind. Offering support, breathability, and a wide range of movement that you will need while exercising. The Running Room hosts runs throughout the week – Wednesday at 6PM and Sunday at 8:30AM, distances may vary. They also run a number of training programs including 5K training, 10K training, and Walk or Run to Quit – a program dedicated to helping participants overcome nicotine withdrawals and cravings by getting active and learning to either walk or run 5 kilometres, just like the founder, John Stanton, did at the beginning. The Running Room may not have started in London, but this branch is doing great things in the city. Helping new runners get started, offering top brands for established runners, and creating a community to keep everyone motivated.
New Balance London is an full service, licensed store dedicated to, as the name would imply, the New Balance brand. They may only carry one brand, but that doesn’t limit your selection as much as you may initially think. Their store is still packed with athletic shoes, apparel, and accessories. The store is owned and operated by locals, they host events and have developed a community, they even have London-specific apparel! One strong-held belief that New Balance has is that a well-fitting shoe makes all the difference. You can schedule an appointment with their fitting specialists and they measure everything from your foot size to your gait to make sure that you’re walking out of there with the shoe that offers the right support and motion control for your specific feet. By booking an appointment, you can be sure that you’re getting the full attention of the specialist, totally one-on-one. Whether you’re training for a marathon, have a foot-related medical condition, or just want to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible on your feet, getting a professional fitting will do wonders. There are regular running clinics out of New Balance, including a 10-week “Learn to Run” program for those that are just getting started in the running scene. They also have running sessions every Tuesday and Thursday evening and Saturday mornings. Sign up for the running group that matches your ability, and you’ll be trained the fantastic Sheila Henricks and Joyce Park. It’s part of a 19-week clinic that builds week-by-week with the end goal of having you ready to race! New Balance may be a large brand, but their emphasis on locality and community is impressive. They didn’t just move in and start selling stock, they embraced the community, and have strived to better it through healthy living.
MEC is another big company with a strong community presence in London. The company originated in Vancouver in the early 1970’s as a volunteer co-op selling mountaineering, rock climbing, and hiking gear that was previously unavailable in Canada. Since those early days, they have expanded to include a plethora of outdoor activities, from camping to canoeing to, the thing we’re focusing on, running. MEC offers the full gambit of equipment that you could need as a runner. Shoes, both road and trail, apparel, packs that won’t slow you down, and electronics to monitor your speed and heart rate. Their selection of brands is also plentiful, from the brands you know to some more specialty brands that aren’t household names. The knowledgeable staff are more than happy to help you find the right pair for your running needs. MEC hosts a number of clinics throughout the year. They offer free group runs throughout the week, held by a few different coaches. Different nights emphasize different aspects of running, whether it be increasing your speed or training for hills. They also host multi-week programs for a low cost that will help you develop new running skills over time, like their “Transition to Trails” clinic, teaching you how to give up the sidewalk in favour of running on the many trails that wind through the city’s plentiful greenspace. MEC is also an active participant in many local races. They even are a sponsor for a few, like the MEC Race Five – the fifth annual race through Gibbons Park that they host. For the low entry fee of $15, you can run 5K, 10K or 15K on the road, or take the trails and run either 5K or 10K. Hosted in late October, running with MEC is a great way to end off a summer running season. The MEC brand began with a few Canadians that just wanted to enjoy the outdoors, and they never lost that spirit. Their passion for getting outside, getting active, and getting fit is infectious, spreading to the London community.