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There’s a running boom in Chicago, pandemic leads more people to lace up

It’s cheap. It relieves stress and improves health. And it’s cheap.

Manya Gupta, of Logan Square, is part of the new wave of runners.
Manya Gupta, of Logan Square, is part of the new wave of runners. The Rush University Medical Center physician held this belief for a long time: “I’m not a runner. I hate running.”
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Huffing and puffing — one foot after the other — in an old sweatshirt and gym shoes.

The people behind a running boom in Chicago are grabbing what they have in their closets and heading out the door to burn calories and stress. Or at least that’s what appears to be happening.

“This is anecdotal, there’s no data to support it, but it’s being observed, just the number of people you see running. It’s a visible change, and it’s being discussed by the entire running industry,” Chicago Area Running Association Executive Director Greg Hipp said Thursday.

Normal indicators, like a bump in race registrations (they’re off or on hold) or shoe sales (they’re down) aren’t accounting for the bump.

It makes perfect sense, though.

“When the economy is challenged, more people run because it’s affordable. People who can’t go to the local gym have taken up running,” Hipp said.

“They’re not running for sport, it’s for mental and physical health,” Hipp said.

“The running industry is in crisis. It will be interesting to see how many of these new runners will fall in love and turn to the sport side of it.”

Manya Gupta, 38, of Logan Square, is part of the new wave of runners.

The Rush University Medical Center physician held this belief for a long time: “I’m not a runner. I hate running.” But the stress of treating coronavirus patients became too much, and she needed a way to cope, so she laced up.

“I decided to go for a run one day last month and it felt really good. It was crazy, I just ran one mile, but I felt like I relieved a load of stress,” she said.

“I always discounted the stress-relieving effects of running, mostly because I just assumed I hated it so much. But I have to say it really does work, and it’s free.”

Dave Zimmer, owner of Fleet Feet Chicago, is keeping a close eye on the trend.

“We want to bring these people into the fold because we believe it will be great for us and them in the long run,” said Zimmer, noting injury prevention and reduction are Fleet Feet’s main goals.

Sales have gone down significantly since the state’s stay-at-home order kicked in last month, Zimmer said. His seven stores have pivoted to virtual shoe fittings, online sales and curbside pickup.

“The clearance section of our website is being shopped quite a bit these days, and those items are just as good, but may be from last season and present the best value in these challenging times.”