Running Changes Everything®: Finding Your Why

There’s a new running boom afoot in America and everyone is welcome to join.

Two years after the world shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are running than ever before. When gyms, pools and yoga studios temporarily closed in 2020, millions of people discovered the freedom and fun of running for the first time, but it also encouraged many lapsed runners to lace up their shoes and renew their passion for hitting the roads and trails.

Industry estimates suggest there are as many as 20 million more “new” runners in 2022 compared to early 2020, plus about seven million returning runners that are back in the game. That group of 27 million newly engaged runners is larger than the estimated 24 million existing runners that had been running consistently heading into 2020.

This means there are more people running than ever before, and each in their own unique way.

“It’s an exciting time,” says Tim Carter, co-owner of Fleet Feet Burlington, Vermont, “because there’s a wider, more diverse range of people who can experience how running changes everything.”

As you’ll read in the stories below, so many people got started running simply by visiting their local Fleet Feet, either to get fit for running shoes or to show up for a group run. Visit your local store to get inspired and run with others who have similar goals and motivations, like the runners highlighted below.

Getting Started as a New Runner

Gina Kuntz

Gina Kutz, Fitchburg, Wisconsin

Gina Kutz is relatively new to running, having started in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic brought life to a halt. Prior to that she preferred going to the gym to work out and rarely went outside to exercise. When she started running, she admits it was a struggle to complete a 20 minute mile. “When I started running, it was more of a waddle,” she admits. But she stuck with it and it has changed her life.

Running every day for her physical, mental and emotional health, she discovered a new level of fitness and, in 2021, signed up for her first half marathon through a Fleet Feet Madison training group. She’s now part of the local store’s weekly Speedplay training group. Kutz, a 41-year-old stay-at-home mom, set a 2022 New Year’s Resolution to run at least one mile outside every single day. She also plans to increase her training to run her first marathon as well as some 5K and 10K races with her teenage son.

“I absolutely believe running changes everything.” she says. “Running is such a weird and wonderful mix. It can be extremely solitary, but also the running community is so special and full of so many wonderful and kind people. When I put my shoes on and start tightening my laces, I get this little flutter of anticipation knowing that no matter how tough the run is, no matter how hard it might be while I am out there, when I get back to this same spot and loosen these same laces, I will feel so much better than I do right now.”

Making Big Changes with Small Steps

Wilbur Vale

Wilbur Vale, Fort Worth, Texas

Eight years ago, Wilbur Vale ran a single mile in hopes that he could change his life. At the time, he says he wasn’t confident about his body and was dealing with mental health issues. Running consistently helped him make a monumental transformation, losing about 90 pounds and giving him long-lasting mental clarity and stability.

Now, he’s run more than 18,000 miles, completed the Dallas Marathon and participated in numerous half marathons and shorter races. Vale, a senior product manager for a technology company, consistently runs six days a week. He says running has helped him cultivate life-long friendships and inspire others to be a part of the global running community. “Running has created an outlet for me to express my thoughts, frustrations, dreams, and aspirations,” says Vale, who considers Fleet Feet Fort Worth as his go-to place for running apparel and footwear. “It is the consistent aspect of my life that allows me to create space for myself amidst the craziness of life. I use running as both a way to give myself therapy and reprieve from life, and also to stay active in my otherwise sedentary lifestyle.”

Sharing Running with Friends

Kyler Wilson

Kyler Wilson, DeLand, Florida

Kyler Wilson has been running for more than 10 years and says it has broadened his friendships and travel experiences and helped him live a healthier lifestyle. Although he frequently runs alone, he usually joins the Fleet Feet Orlando Wednesday night pub run. He also has a network of friends across the country who meet up for “runcations” where they hang out, enjoy nice meals and run a race, ranging from 10Ks to Ragnar Relays.

Over the past decade, Wilson has run nine marathons — including the Boston Marathon in 2022 — as well as 22 half marathons and 38 Ragnar events. He’s also run three 50K races and one 50-miler.

“Usually, running is my alone time, my thinking time. It’s my escape to get away from the distractions of life,” says Wilson, 43, who works as a graphic designer. “It’s also my source of friendships. Before and after group runs, it’s my time to interact with like-minded people and people who enjoy the experience of running. My running friends have become my extended family.”

Running for a Good Cause

Kelcey Buck.

Kelcey Buck, Lincoln, Nebraska

For more than a decade, Kelcey Buck enjoyed running occasionally in order to participate in races and stay in shape . But in the spring of 2020, six weeks into working from home with her husband and two preschool-age children, she began running every single day. She also participated in several of the virtual challenges organized by Fleet Feet Lincoln in 2020 and 2021. The pandemic subsided and life went back to normal, but her running has continued. She wound up running every day for a full year, logging 3,460 miles and raising more than $9,000 for non-profit groups in the Lincoln area. Buck did this through an organization called Mileage For, which she created with her running partner Katie King.

Her deeper immersion into running has inspired her to sign up for numerous half marathons, visit friends in other states and meet new friends in Lincoln. She’s also challenged herself to get faster, but mostly she says she’s training for life while enjoying the company of other working moms.

“I started running daily as my chance to get out of the house, clear my head and think without distractions,” says Buck, a 36-year-old communications specialist. “I figured I would do that until I got bored, then move on to some other workout plan. But I never got bored.

“My relationship with running changed completely because, for the first time in my life, it wasn’t about getting in shape physically, it was about taking care of myself mentally. Now, running is still my time of clearest thinking and my time for myself. It’s no longer something I do, but part of who I am. I still love my solo runs, but the opportunities I have to run with others fill my cup in a whole different way.”

Running can be whatever you want it to be, no matter how you fit it into your life. You can train for a marathon or local fun runs, meet new people in your local community or run alone. Find a Fleet Feet near you to get started.

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