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
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
"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
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 blog SportsDivas.com argued passionately against
Wilson's comments about only certain women fitting in to the retailer's
Zimmer said she noticed the change when companies like Nike
and Asics started investing money not only into marketing towards women, but
also in the technology and design of their women's products. This has just
increased as companies like Oiselle, a completely female owned, operated and
focused apparel line, has come in to the running world.
"You get more and more women who are putting money into the
sport and getting more involved," Zimmer said. "There's product now, it's
beautiful product. Women are now living in their running clothes."
Sunday's events are aimed at nurturing that line of thought
and bringing it into the next group of female runners. In addition to pacing
the group, Fleshman will be leading a shake-out run on Saturday followed by a Q
and A session. She will also be at both the expo and the post-race party.
Even the race itself should give the elite runner an
opportunity to show her support for her fellow female runners. Fleshman said
the pace she will be leading should allow her to talk and motivate runners
around her for the majority of the 13.1 miles. While it's not the speed
Fleshman said she hopes to regain, it is a competitive pace and expects many
women to be pushing for it.
Zimmer said she plans to stay busy with various functions
throughout the weekend as well as running with her training group "Run Like a Mother". Most importantly, Zimmer said, she plans on
giving a few words of encouragement to the runners immediately before the race
starts. Included in that message will be support for the race's charity partner
Girls on the Run, of which Zimmer is a co-founder.
Following the Magnificent Mile Half Marathon, Fleshman said
she is diving head first in to training. She will be training both for the U.S.
Cross Country Championships in February and eventually the Rio Olympics in
While space is still available in both the half marathon and
5K, it is expected to fill up by the start of the race. Fleshman said she
expects all of the women on hand to continue their growth in the sport.
"It's about making these races what we want for ourselves,"
Fleshman said. We have these focuses on sisterhood and fun and comradery and
also competition. Women are driving the industry. Having a race like this in
your city that's doing this for women is really cool."