Female store owners and brand executives aren’t the only women making an impact at run specialty retail in 2024. In fact, it is the girls and women on the floor who are the real driving force behind the success of shops across the country. They are often the face of the store to customers – female and male alike – and bring the diversity and enthusiasm on which the run specialty business thrives. Here are the stories in their own words from nine of these women from all corners of America.

Lisa Gardner

Medved Running and Walking

Rochester, NY

I have been part of the management team at Medved Running and Walking for two years. Technically I am one of the assistant managers, but internally we call each other “keys.” Prior to my employment I was a long-time customer. I accepted this job simply because it seemed like a fun and positive place to work.

I do what I do because my co-workers are amazing. I also love the feeling that comes from helping nudge people towards a healthier lifestyle.

My role really matches my personality. I like helping people and I’m a social creature. I lead group runs with a co-worker and each time we do it it’s the highlight of my week. It’s awesome to suffer together! It’s also a joy to witness the growth of the group participants.

Being in a male-dominated workplace is challenging, but I’m used to it. I’ve had customers who don’t want a female fitting them for shoes — but they don’t get a choice. I just need to prove I can hang with the boys. Respect is not assumed, it must be earned. 

In 2023 I completed my first 50k. In 2024 I’m backing off longer trail events and focusing more on different races with new training partners. There’s a 10k trail run in Ithaca called Lucifer’s Crossing. I want to see how much time I can knock off from the first year I did it.

I aim to keep forward motion throughout my life. What inspires me most are older folks who are still out there looking great. I find peace in hitting a trail that will be a part of my life forever. I try to live my life with that goal in mind.

Mary-Rose Wilson
Naperville Running Company
Naperville, IL

I am a sales associate and the director of visual merchandising at Naperville Running Company. This February will be my 13-year anniversary at the store.

When I started working at NRC I had very little knowledge of run specialty — I was a beginning runner and needed a part-time job. Over the years I have learned so much and now enjoy passing this knowledge onto others. I am inspired by customers and fellow staff, whether they’re running their first 5k or trying to qualify for Boston.

One thing I enjoy most about my job is that it’s an outlet for my creativity. I am allowed a certain amount of free rein with merchandising and I get to play in that space when I am not on the floor helping customers. 

I don’t find it challenging to be a woman in the running industry. Perhaps when my children were younger it was harder as a working mom juggling both responsibilities. But I believe NRC has fostered a friendly environment for myself and other female coworkers (although I can only speak to my own experiences). 

I’ve got some big goals. In the past I’ve done half marathons, but one day I’d love to do a full. Mostly I want to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle so that I can live until I die.

I am especially inspired by my partner, Matt, who continues to encourage me. We are active together, cook together and grow together. He doesn’t let anything stop him, so I find it hard to make excuses when the weather is bad, or I’m tired or I’m sore. He’s the reason I commute to work when it’s below freezing or run outside in the hottest part of the day!

Gabrielle Terry
Fleet Feet Nashville
Nashville, TN

I am an outfitter and cashier at Fleet Feet Nashville. I’ve been here for just over a year. Prior to my arrival, my job search was not geared towards run specialty. I am not a conventional runner — my affinity lies in HIT and weighted workouts. Mostly I sought a relaxed work environment that values employee input. 

Fleet Feet Nashville has a strong sense of community. Working here is like being with friends who are passionate about running. I have a platform to voice my opinions and collaborate with the team leads and management. I appreciate open communication where voices are valued, friendships fostered and mentorships created that transcend differences.

The recurring challenge, perhaps related to being a woman, is the struggle to be heard. Whether responding to customer queries or discussing sport-related products, I often encounter dismissive reactions. 

Customers regularly re-direct conversations to my male colleagues. I strive to overcome it wherever I go. How? I actively work to amplify my voice, consistently deliver high-quality results and foster open communication. I engage in proactive discussions about gender biases with colleagues and management. I trust this raises awareness and contributes to a more inclusive work environment.

While actions play a crucial role in driving change, I believe effective communication is paramount in facilitating meaningful transformation.

Alycia Geary
North Wales Running
North Wales, PA

I am the general manager at North Wales Running Company. This new year finds me returning to my duties after maternity leave. Employee training, communication, community outreach, yearly planning and so many other day-to-day tasks. I’ve been here for 13 years. 

I work in run specialty because it makes me happy. I love sharing my passion for running and wellness with others. Working with staff and meeting new customers inspires me. I love feeling like I’m making a difference and doing good in our community. Also, having a job to look forward to going to each day is a blessing. I genuinely enjoy what I do, even on challenging days. 

And really, it’s all about the people. I have the absolute best co-workers. They are such an amazing, unique, kind, intelligent, caring and talented group of people of all ages. I learn something new almost every time I’m in the store — a new recipe, parenting tactic, facts about ultras, new hiking trails, where to road trip, etc.

Being a woman in any predominantly male industry comes with challenges. One is maternity leave and benefits. I’ve been fortunate to have been supported through multiple pregnancies, but I think a lot of small businesses may not be willing or able to offer maternity leave to staff. 

And this isn’t just in the running retail environment. Over the past few years, elite-level athletes and professional runners have been more outspoken about the lack of support they experienced during pregnancy and their return to fitness. This is clearly a hot topic. And honestly, why wouldn’t you want to try and keep a mom on your team? Moms get things done. 

On that note, right now I’m working my way back from baby number three. My goal over the last few months has been strength training while adding in miles when I can. In 2024, I’d like to get back into 5k shape and see if I can set a new post-partum PR. We’ll see how that goes!

I’ve been fortunate for an opportunity to grow in this field. Which is why I’m still in the industry. Thank you Scott Tantino (owner of North Wales Running Company).

Additionally, I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a village of strong women. From co-worker moms who find time to pursue their goals (shout out to colleagues Mary and Stacey), to a core group of women with whom I train (Christy, Tara, Jenn). They all have made running so much more meaningful. Also, big thanks to my husband, Dan, who has supported my career since day one. 

Alexis Wilson
Lucky Road Run Shop
Richmond, VA

I started working at Lucky Road Run Shop in 2016. At that time I was finishing up my senior year of high school. I worked here through college and the pandemic. 

My official title is area manager. I make sure all our policies are streamlined throughout the stores. I help keep managers on track with their day-to-day duties, I facilitate staff training and I assist with client interactions. My duties are not limited to this — I can run the store from bottom to top.

My family owns Lucky Road Run Shop. We have served the greater Richmond area since 2012. We have been through ups and downs over the years. But ultimately it has been a pleasure to help everyone who has come through our doors seeking help.

I’m most motivated to work with people who don’t identify as runners, even though they are out there running a mile or two. It is fulfilling to help someone along their journey, no matter how small or large their goals might be.

I am a woman, one of color, and one who does not have a so-called  “runner’s body.” This poses the greatest barrier in this space. Sometimes people don’t take me seriously. They often want to work with co-workers whose appearance is more of the “classical runner” type. That isn’t me.

But for many people, who I am has helped them better identify with me. During one of my customer’s first visits to our store, she said was happy to find someone who looked like her. 

No matter who is in our space, I strive to make it easier for them to tread their path. I am happiest when I can make someone feel like they’re accepted for who they are.

Lizzy McCadd
West Stride
Atlanta, GA

I am a fit specialist at West Stride in Atlanta. I’ve been there since October 2023. I previously worked at Naperville Running Company for a little over a year.

Running is a huge part of my life. Both of my parents ran in college and were able to guide me through my running journey. I’ve been running for about 18 years — starting at age six. I went on to compete as a collegiate level sprinter at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. The warmth the running community brings fills my heart and feels like home. 

One of my main goals in life is to help people better themselves. I enjoy being able to enhance people’s running experience by giving them a thorough fit analysis and providing options for their needs.

As a woman of color in run specialty, it can definitely be a bit unsettling at times. I mainly work the sales floor, so I am many customers’ first contact. I love smiling and creating a welcoming space for others. It is heartbreaking to think that someone would walk past me to seek help from someone else because they assumed I was not knowledgeable enough — or, even worse, because they couldn’t accept help from a woman of color. 

Microaggressions and mistreatments are common in a white- and male-dominated world, but I continue to bring peace, positivity and knowledge into my workplace. 

Last August I started Free Flow Fitness, a personal training business that caters specifically to women. My goal is to help women get into a better routine by creating healthy habits while keeping space for peace. It’s important to me to help other women find their flow in life.

I am blessed to have a strong woman as a mother. My mom has been my number one fan. She shows up no matter what. I could always count on her being in the stadium cheering for me. And just like at those track meets, she continues to cheer me on throughout every aspect of my life. 

Zelinda Cruz
Fleet Feet Bonney Lake
Bonney Lake, WA

I joined the Fleet Feet Bonney Lake team as an outfitter in March 2023. I never imagined myself doing this type of work — I am fairly new to running and never played any sports growing up. My closest encounter with athletics was in my early twenties when I worked as an administrative assistant for the Puerto Rican Volleyball Federation. 

My journey as a runner started later in life and it was slow to progress. It took me a couple years before I could run three miles without stopping. 

My job at Fleet Feet was offered to me, unexpectedly, by the store manager, Kristin. She believed in me more than I did. Truth be told, I took the job out of necessity and I’ve doubted myself so many times along the way. This job is not easy. There’s so much to learn, especially for someone like me with barely any experience in the world of running. 

But what keeps me coming back are the customers. I love when I help customers find that perfect fit. Or when I get a hug or big words of appreciation at the end of their experience. Knowing I truly helped someone is what I love most about my job.

My job allows me to take care of me — and sadly sometimes doing this feels like I’m neglecting something else. Thankfully, running helps me silence my own demons and mute some outside voices, too. The amazing and determined people I run with are more than running partners, they are an inspiration.

Tiffany Skinner
Terra Running Company
Cleveland, TN

I started working at Terra Running the summer of 2021. My business card says I’m a marketing and engagement manager, but at this point I help run the store in a million different ways. There’s never a dull moment.

I never planned on working in run specialty. I didn’t even realize that it was a career path. But the running store and coffee shop combination sounded like the sort of the detox job I needed. It has turned into a perfect fit.

I love so much about this job. We create community and connection, we provide a place for people to connect and belong and we help people get healthier and be more active. In a very real way, we add to our community’s quality of life. Not every industry can say that. 

Terra Running cultivates a creative and exciting work environment where everyone’s contributions matter. One person’s crazy idea can turn into a reality by the next week, or even by the end of the day! Most days, being a woman in the industry doesn’t cross my mind because I work for a women-owned store. But when I am in other industry environments I am reminded of how rare this is. 

As a woman, I feel like some people don’t take me as seriously as my male counterparts. Add to the fact that I work “at a running store” and that feeling is compounded. 

A lot of customers assume I’m a college student — never mind the fact that I have a Master’s degree and have been out of college for 10 years. I think if I were a man people would assume I was the owner. Little things like this add up and give the feeling that I constantly have to prove to others that my work is valid. 

I’m genuinely inspired by the owner of Terra Running, Brittany Katz, and the way she tackles all the daily problems with poise and humor. She knows how to not take herself too seriously while running multiple businesses. 

Tasha Young
Okemos, MI

I have been on staff at Playmakers for three years and now I am a team lead, but I also work on the schedule, help with HR tasks and with Diversity, Equity and Action meetings and initiatives. 

When I first started working here, I was unaware that the running industry was a thing and that so many people ran. At the time I was not a runner myself. Now I find joy in working within this industry. 

I love that I am able to represent the BIPOC community. I want to show younger people, especially young girls, that this is a space for us and that we can excel in running and do so much more. This was not always open to us, so the fact that many women are now running this industry is amazing. I want to continue to be a voice and familiar face for the younger generation. 

I enjoy being able to make a difference in someone’s day. I learn about what they are interested in, what hobbies they have and what keeps them moving. I am grateful to share my personal experience and have it be well received by leadership and staff. Together we work to shine a light on the many things that go on in the world and the running community. 

I face many challenges as a Black woman. Many people undermine my knowledge or do not take my opinion seriously. I have found that sometimes people default to men, but then are surprised when I have the answers. I have also found that some people are surprised by my school background or interests and that I hold a managerial position. Many times I feel invisible, like an item taking up space. 

And even though these things have happened on a number of occasions, positive interactions far outweigh the negative. Some people still are shocked that women are taking up the needed space in the running industry, but I am glad to see it moving in a positive direction. 

This upcoming year I plan to run two half-marathons and can’t wait to start the training process. 

I would like to give a shout-out to the women who have attended Take the Lead retreats with me. They remind me that no matter how big or little I run, I will always be a runner and this is a space for me. They are an inspiration.