Over the last half decade there has been a drastic change in running. Women, a demographic that has been growing amongst runners for years, has become the dominant group in races of all distances across the country. Now events like this weekend’s The Magnificent Mile Chicago Women’s Half Marathon and 5K focus on women and have brought in one of the women on the forefront of the movement to run this year.
National champion, Olympic hopeful and running entrepreneur Lauren Fleshman will run the half marathon and lead the 1:45 pace group. The pair make a natural fit, over the last two years Fleshman has taken a break from competitive running while pregnant and raising her first child. During that time she has become heavily involved with women in the running world and has participated in a number of women’s only races. In addition to being a world-class runner, Fleshman is also the co-founder of Picky Bars and works closely with the apparel company Oiselle both on the athletic and business sides.
“I was involved with Oiselle and I heard about the event from women who live in the area and I was contacted by Fleet Feet and asked if I want to come out,” Fleshman said. “It was right up my alley. I’m kind of at the end of being able to do trips like this before getting back into serious training and it was the perfect thing for what I’m passionate about right now. The mag mile half and 5K are really one of those unique races at the junction of having fun and competition.”
Fleshman said she hopes to be able to interact with the other runners as much as possible and talk with them about all of her running experience. This won’t be Fleshman’s first time sharing her highs and lows in running. The 33-year-old runs her own blog,asklaurenfleshman.com, and isn’t afraid to use it to speak her mind. Her most popular post came nearly a year ago when she documented something many, especially runners, are often afraid to approach. Fleshman’s post, titled “Keeping it Real” compared two pictures of herself, one during a fashion shoot while she was on the runway and the other just one week later while training. The post has been shared thousands of times across most social media outlets. It also helped Fleshman embrace something she felt was missing in the world of women’s running.
“Before I started my own blog and I was an aspirational runner, I looked to the voices of older women who had been there before for tips on how to be successful,” Fleshamn said. One of the most disappointing things for me was searching everywhere and seeing people hiding the truth.”
Fleshman said that the people she talked to would only announce their accomplishments while ignoring their weaknesses and failures. However, it’s the failures that are crucial, Fleshman said and should be talked about. “I’m going to cover the crappy stuff and the good stuff,” Fleshman said.
It’s that honesty and straightforwardness that seems to have made the perfect fit with the Fleet Feet event. Co-owner of Fleet Feet Sports Chicago Lisa Zimmer has had her own battles as a female runner and said that’s one of the things that makes the Fleet Feet stores so special.
“18 years ago when we opened the store there was no place for women to go to feel comfortable to buy running shoes or fitness apparel,” Zimmer said. “No one really catered to women. I was not an elite athlete growing up. I struggled with weight, I was a swimmer and a little bit of a runner but not top of the crop. So when we decided that this was our calling, Dave (Zimmer) and I sat down and said •this is really important, we need to make our store a place to be a place where women can feel comfortable and learn about fitness.”
Over the years that desire has grown and, in many cases, come to fruition. This weekend’s race has grown from a weekend women’s only 5K to a destination half marathon that will now be held on one of the busiest shopping days on the iconic stretch of Michigan Avenue.The store also hosts a weekly fun run for women named Chick’s Night.
That growth, while now seemingly coming quickly, has taken a long time and many other women to help. Fleshman said while doing women’s only events like these she has had the opportunity to talk to some of the pioneers in women’s running, including Joan Benoit Samuelson and other women who took part in the first ever Olympic marathon trials in 1984. Those women, Fleshman said, should be celebrated for all they have done for the sport. She has been told by many of them that the young runners now are incredibly lucky to have been born in this generation.
The change can be most dramatically seen in the marketing of shoes and apparel towards women. Fleshman said at first the fight was to get to the same ground as men, now it has become a thing of its own. It’s easy to tell, Fleshman said, which companies put in the effort to sell to women.
This hit close to home last year for Zimmer when she gained a bit of press coverage for her OpEd piece on Lululemon’s then CEO Chip Wilson. Her story, published on the blogSportsDivas.com argued passionately against Wilson’s comments about only certain women fitting in to the retailer’s clothes.