By Madison Bloomquist
Runners can search forever for their perfect fit–the shoes that make them feel like they’re flying with every step, like a second skin and a pair of wings all at once. The shoes somehow make ten miles feel like ten steps, or make signing up for a marathon actually seem like a good idea. Shoes that won’t give you blisters or knee problems–and will look damn good doing it.
Does it sound too good to be true? Paul Horan doesn’t think so. To him, the perfect running shoes aren’t a pipe dream. They’re a necessity.
A Hometown Story
Horan owns Gear Running, the first boutique running store in the Twin Cities. For Horan, an Edina native, running is as easy and necessary as breathing. He started running at 12 years old and ran cross country for Edina East High School, back when there were only a dozen kids on the boys’ team, and less than 15 on the girls’. He raced and ran recreationally through his college years at St. John’s–and never really slowed down. Nothing else made as much sense to him as his feet hitting the long and winding trails, his breath making clouds in the crisp fall air, and bright orange leaves swirling down around him as he ran one mile, then another.
“It became part of my existence,” Horan says.
His retail background (mainly in mens’ clothing) made it easier to attain his goal: Own a boutique running shop in the Twin Cities. He had been coming to Gear since it opened in the mid-80’s, always thinking he might take the reins if the opportunity presented itself. Finally, he approached the owner (who was also his good friend) about his idea. It happened to be perfect timing: The owner was thinking about stepping down, and needed someone passionate, knowledgeable and dedicated to take over.
Talk about a perfect fit.
Horan is happy to be the hometown boy that keeps the local running community going. He prides himself on being able to find the perfect shoe for anyone–whether it’s an experienced marathoner or a dad who just wants to run a 5K race with his daughter. His process is nearly foolproof. First, he’ll chat with you about your goals, any issues you’re having, and what your current shoes are like. And he’ll listen to what you have to say. Then, he’ll get you out of your shoes and have you do some weight-bearing exercises to determine if you need stability versus neutral shoes–something that is rather unique to his store. He thinks stability shoes, which give extra cushioning and structure to people with flat feet, are overbought. Most people need something a little lighter and more neutral. After that, he’ll get you on a treadmill to analyze your gait (runner speak for “how you put one foot in front of the other,” he says) and narrow down your options.
Then, like Cinderella, you’ll try on some shoes. You can run around in them, jump around the store, do whatever you have to do to ensure they’re absolutely perfect, because Horan and his staff won’t sell you anything less.
Sure, Horan has a good shoe-selling model, but that’s not the only reason why locals, out-of-towners, and even out-of-staters (one group treks from Winnipeg every single year!) visit his store day after day. It’s the community he’s built.
“We’re like a beauty salon for runners,” he says.
The twice-a-week group runs don’t hurt, either. Every Wednesday night and Saturday morning, dozens of local runners meet up at Gear, stretch, chat, and take off–at their own comfortable paces, of course. Some race around Lake Harriet at least twice, some jog 12-minute miles while catching up on life and finally getting a chance to breathe in the fresh air. There’s beer and snacks in the evening and coffee and bagels in the morning. It’s just like having the community of being on the Edina cross country team–with beer, that is.
That same tight-knit, passionate group is just as passionate about giving back to the Twin Cities. Horan has never forgot where he came from–a local high school that could hardly round up enough runners for a varsity team, but gave him a love that has lasted a lifetime.
He gives back both in and out of the store. The gigantic box of used shoes isn’t the clearance bin–anyone can bring in their used shoes, whatever they look or smell like, and donate them. Horan and the Gear team will sift through them, and those that can be saved go to the local homeless shelters, while the more, uh, loved shoes will be sent to be ground up to make synthetic tracks. How’s that for a circle of life?
Listen to Paul Horan’s entire podcast!
But the story wouldn’t be complete without Horan giving back to the place that started it all–Edina High School. He often partners with their track and cross country teams for fundraisers like Run Jump Throw Down Cancer, an annual event that raises money for the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund. A percentage of their proceeds (which they’re able to increase each year) during the month of the event will go straight to the fund. They’ve raised over $6,000 the past few years–and they’re not slowing down anytime soon.
“Helping charity is very important to me. It’s my way of saying thanks to our community.” Horan says.
Horan knows he’s where he is today because of the tight-knit community that raised him, and he plans on sticking around for as long as they’ll have him. He stresses that all are welcome in his store, whether they are runners or not. The sense of community he creates isn’t exclusive, or elitist, or intimidating at all. He just wants to create a place that feels like home to all who enter–Nike-clad or not.