When Rob Smith opened Vancouver Running Company in 2015, it was founded upon being good for his community. There’d be no need for a new run shop in Vancouver if it didn’t give something back to where he lived. Coming from the community in which he was an active member, he saw an opportunity to do something different: not about sales, but about soul.
“The underlying support from Vancouver Running Company of our community doesn’t come close to ending with running—what we do has to have a community component,” says Smith, a longtime runner and marathon finisher. “It’s not just about selling a thing, and that goes for everything we do.”
Smith and the Vancouver Running Company sponsor local athletes including Rachel Cliff and Kathryn Drew, who also runs in HOKA shoes. Drew, one of the country’s finest ultra-distance runners, oscillated in Smith’s running circles and the two met at finish lines in Vancouver and Victoria. Soon, they realized they shared an ethos: running could be about more than fast times.
“Everyone is pretty connected in our community and I love that the VanRun Co. creates events where everyone gets involved,” says Drew, mentioning the shop’s on-course support at in-person events and even group crewing on ultra-races that require a team to assist with nutrition and gear. “When in-person races were cancelled because of COVID, I began to think about how we can use running for the mental health aspects and as a way to challenge ourselves. I realized without races and my normal running structure, running was essential for my mental health.”
COVID became the green light for lots of people to start running and this connected with Drew’s choice of running shoes: HOKA One One, which resonated with all levels of runners who click-and-collected at Smith’s store. Popular with both elites and first-timers, the democratization of running shoes—and running shoe price points—has become a rallying cry for Vancouver Running Company and its founder, Rob Smith.
“When you put them on, they feel like a slipper, like you can run any distance, and they’re not super-flashy or trying to be everyone’s best friend. They don’t feel like they’re overly trying to impress people,” says Smith, who can’t remember how many times he’s recommended the Clifton running shoe, but knows every customer has been satisfied. He says, “I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who didn’t feel good in the Clifton. It’s a very versatile shoe.”
“The first time I wore HOKA was in the last 60 kilometres of my race in the Western States, it felt glorious. Super plush,” says Drew, who started racing in the HOKA Torrent and now races in the HOKA Speedgoat. “HOKA is super comfortable and good for all runners—from the beginner to someone who actually goes out to win races.”
Races seem to be trickling back in-person and across Canada and already Smith has opened his store to the community, finding other runners desperate for the connection an independent running store can provide. It’s been a difficult time, but thanks to running, and community, and quality products, the tide seems to be turning and optimism is finding a way.
“At the shop, you can just see that people are starved for communication and a way to get out of the house and interact,” says Drew, who competes this weekend in the Western States Endurance Run and began working part-time at Vancouver Running Company. “It’s just such a supportive environment to be in and working with my colleagues and community—it feels like positive things are going to happen.”
To learn more about Vancouver Run Co, click here.