Elmhurst resident Antonette Patruno didn't think running would appeal to her, even though she knew it was good exercise and her running friends enjoyed it very much.
But after trying traditional exercise classes and working out on equipment, Patruno decided to give running a try.
“I actually was looking for a way to challenge myself,” she said. “I felt like, 'What could I do that was out of the box and out of my comfort zone?' ”
The best place to start is feet first, so she visited in Elmhurst, where she met Stacey Kaiser, one of the store's owners. She told Kaiser she wasn't a runner. Undeterred, Kaiser gently encouraged her to take some baby steps. Co-owner Frank DeJulius also gave Patruno support, and she ended up joining the store's Winter Warriors group, where members train through the snow and cold.
She did her first 5-K run, the Elmhurst Turkey Trot, last November. Today, she is training to get ready for the Soldier Field 10-mile in May.
Improving the Course
DeJulius and Kaiser, who are members of the Elmhurst Running Club, bought the Elmhurst Fleet Feet last year. The store has been open since 2006, but they "revived" it by infusing an atmosphere of education through recreation, Kaiser said.
“Frank and I are trying to educate our customers on how to live an active lifestyle by utilizing our products and services,” she said.
After previously working at Fleet Feet locations in the Midwest and South, they wanted to become owners for more than just business reasons, DeJulius said.
“I want to be able to change lives every day,” he said. “I want to help other people reach their goals, whether it's running their first 5-K or just losing 10 pounds.”
In the process, they've been able to grow the business.
And, while making a profit is essential to any company, the owners also are an active part of the community. They partner with Elmhurst merchants, such as , and , for special events at the store. Representatives from medical practices, including and , offer free, 15-minutes injury screenings every month.
Keepin' it Fresh
Customers can partake in free yoga classes, injury prevention clinics and other seminars. Added to the mix are year-round specialized training programs that cost $75 to $150 and target both beginning and established runners.
Fleet Feet's No Boundaries 5-K program, for example, is for the beginner. During the 12-week program, participants train weekly with a group and learn about running basics, nutrition and choosing the right gear, among other things.
“It's great because it's giving them the education on how to run, and when they're feeling down and discouraged, they've got people there to motivate them, pump them up and also hold them accountable,” she said. “When they're having a bad day out running … we let them know that these feelings are normal and say, 'Don't give up. You're going to have a great day next week.' ”
Training doesn't stop once summer is over; runners run in rain, snow or cold, DeJulius said. Winter Warriors use special accessories to brave the snow and cold, such as traction coils for their soles and clothing that can be layered. Runners also are invited to warm up with drinks from Elijah's Specialty Coffee & Tea on First Street.
Safety is always a top priority, Kaiser said.
“We make it mandatory that people wear some sort of reflective gear," she said. "We teach them the rules of the road if they're not going to be on the sidewalk or the Prairie Path. We make sure that they know rules such as going against traffic and staying in single file.”
Also on the check list is keeping hydrated and protecting skin from sun damage. But most of all, DeJulius encourages people to listen to their bodies.
“A lot of newer runners get down on themselves because it's very hard on their lungs or their muscles are very sore,” he said. “It's OK to take a day or two off. Don't push through the pain but at the same time know that it will get easier.”
For him, running is a lifestyle.
“It's not just something that you do for an hour every day,” he said. “I notice the the quality of sleep is improved. Stacey and I try to eat healthy and we're in better moods on the days that we do run. We feel fit and strong and keep our weight in check.”
Kaiser made running a part of her life when she was involved in an accident that left her incapacitated for six months.
“It put things into perspective and I said to myself, 'I'm a living person and I should be able to get outside and exercise and live,' ” she said.
Strength in Numbers
“I'm a morning runner and Frank's an evening runner," Kaiser said. "For me, I love just waking up and breathing the freshest air in the morning. It's an amazing way to start your day. People think, 'I'm so tired when I run,' but really it just rejuvenates you and gets you pumped up for the day.”
Which is something Patruno has learned since she put on that first pair of running shoes.
For half-marathon training, she goes to her group two days a week and then runs on her own one to three days a week. For extra practice, she'll attend a Fleet Feet fun run, or pub run, a quick mile loop that ends at Pints for refreshments at a discounted price.
For Patruno, who works in treasury management sales, the main challenge is trying to make time for runs during her busy travel schedule. But in return, running keeps her close to her loved ones; her husband and sister have joined Fleet Feet groups.
“Whenever I run, I always feel great afterward,” she said. “It is such an accomplishment for me. It is something I never thought I would do and I'm so happy that I went to Fleet Feet and talked to Stacey and Frank. They made me realize that I could be a runner.”