Last month, Chicago’s first running gym opened in Old Town, and is now beginning to transform the studio fitness scene.

Jeffrey Levy, founder of Runner’s High

Jeffrey Levy, founder of Runner’s High Studio, said when group fitness took off a few years ago, he was an avid attender. As a marathoner whose favorite workout is running, however, he noticed there was no class that incorporated running in a group setting.

“There was never anything to make running more fun and less monotonous,” Levy says. “So I talked to my friends and figured out why they got bored or didn’t run, and created something to overcome those obstacles.”

Using Life Fitness treadmills, Levy worked with software developers to create a program to customize each participant’s workout. Before each class, everyone chooses a base-pace, or their comfortable mile time, and from there the treadmill will automatically adjust the speed and incline based on that.

At Runner’s High, participants can choose between five different classes. Zip Sprint is a 30-minute class that takes runners through one zip code in the country and works on flat, all out sprints. There are three 45-minute classes, including Weekend Getaway, a mostly flat with intervals of different inclines and speed run; We Got Hills which is all hill work and Elevate Your High which is a combination of the two. Finally, there is a one-hour distance run.

“Zip Sprint has been our most popular … Elevate Your High is my favorite with the sprint and hills,” Levy says. “There are no hills in Chicago, so for someone training for a race outside of Chicago, or any race really, it helps you build your legs and work on speed.”

I had the opportunity to try the Zip Sprint class; when I first walked into the studio, I felt at home – it fit right in with all other group fitness studios with a sleek and modern design, yet felt warm and inviting with a little café and lounge area. The treadmill room has about 30 treadmills all facing a wall where a projector plays visuals to mimic the workout.

During my 30-minute class, I ran through Argentina! It was pretty cool to “sight see” from my hometown, while still getting a good workout in. I was very impressed at how responsive the treadmills were, and appreciated the 10-second countdown warning before every speed or incline change.

Out of uncertainty of what to expect from this class, I did set my base-pace a little slower than I should have, which resulted in my sprints not as difficult. In fact, Levy says this has been a common trend, and encourages participants to be honest to fully get their best, personalized workout.

“People need to remember it is interval training, and not just running for 45 minutes, which is a huge hurdle for many to overcome because there is a lot of walking recovery, and that’s different,” Levy adds. “But it allows people to get individual work in a group setting – I did a class with my mom, while I did a 10k, she did 1.5 miles, but we were doing the same exact workout.”

I would definitely love to try another Runner’s High class, and actually be more honest with my pace to feel the full effects of the workout. I love that they offer so much variety within the class options, and my instructor, Cheryl, was super motivating and upbeat the entire time.

Levy says he has plans to expand this concept throughout the city and eventually elsewhere too.

“Old Town seems to be the fitness hub of the city, so I definitely wanted to start here,” he says. “We are adding a stretching room that will offer various stretching and yoga classes to help with recovery.”

Every runner receives a trial class for free, and each class after that is $25. Runner’s High also provides packages to purchase multiple classes.

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