Long before Vancouver’s running culture boomed, Peter and Karen Butler had a vision. In August 1986, the first Forerunners store opened, with a mission to combine community, education, and service to the runners and walkers of Vancouver. By November of the same year, the first run clinic was born, bringing like-minded people together to reach their running goals. Running is more than just running. It’s about finding a sense of purpose while pursuing a passion. Forerunners Vancouver has found that balance.
Although Vancouver is home to thousands of runners, the concept of a running clinic didn’t immediately catch on. Initially, the first clinics drew in the elites. The 1986 clinic included 23 males and two females, with average 10K times of 35:00. Fast forward to 2019, where 80 percent of clinic members are female, while accommodating runners of all abilities.
Forerunners expanded into the North Shore Mountains by 2003 with its North Vancouver location. Forerunners brings together runners from across the Vancouver Lower mainland with three store locations – West 4th, North Vancouver, and Main Street. All stores offers clinics and give back to their respective communities in meaningful ways. Runners can still get shoe and running advice from the founder Peter Butler himself at the original West 4th location.
Carey Nelson started Forerunners clinics on West 4th in 2006. Since then, 120 run clinic members have qualified for Boston, and over 1,200 runners have participated in a clinic. For a marathon runner, the prestige of a BQ is like qualifying for the Olympics. Nelson’s clinic success drove him to open the Forerunners Main Street location in 2017. The store is located in the BC Firefighters Burn Fund Charity Building, which has become a major muse for the store’s community focus.
“Nelson understands that the passion for running is more than just running”
Nelson understands that the passion for running is more than just running. Regardless of what an individual is training for, Forerunners Main Street is a hub for all community members. At his Mainstreet location, Nelson provides a range of opportunities to merge personal development with community growth. Their $5 pancake runs give to a variety of local charities. From their landlord’s Firefighters’ Burn Fund, or creating scholarships for Killarney Secondary School graduates to run post secondary track and field–Forerunners Main Street has something for everyone to get involved. And for $7.77 runners can challenge themselves to run up all seven urban Summits of Vancouver, while donating to the Burn Fund.
Other than giving back, the store also sponsor’s community running races. In 1989 they sponsored the very first First Half Marathon, and have continued unending support since. By 2000, Forerunners became the official sponsor of the Canadian Running Series Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon and 8K. 2010 made Forerunners the Fall Classic Half Marathon and 10K official sponsor. The store even ventures to the trails, by offering races under the Foretrails Trail Series on the North Shore. Forerunners also is the sponsor for the Vancouver pride run and LaPower, a Chinese running club.
Nelson explains that the goal is to always “help build running community, for fitness and wellness.” Each season, Forerunners has an event to unite runners of all levels and abilities. The winter holidays marks the Santa Sprint; Halloween is the Monster Mile; and summers are for the Super Summit where participants run from the store to the top of Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain and back. They sponsor the 10,000 metre championship at Swanguard Stadium each June. Forerunners organizes the “All Comers 5K” before the championship to promote inclusivity in the Greater Vancouver running community.
the goal is to always “help build running community, for fitness and wellness.”
With its range of community involvement, Forerunners remains dedicated to its successful run clinics. “Many runners come here to get started in running,” explains Nelson. But his experience is that runners return to the clinic for more than just the training. From Learn to Run 5K clinics to setting a PB at Boston, to the senior’s walking group–runners return to Nelson’s clinics for the camaraderie, companionship, and sense of community. “At least 1,200 people have gone through our run clinics, helping people achieve their personal goals.”
When a customer walks into any Forerunners location, they sense a connection to the Vancouver running community, and can find an event (or shoe) that fits them. “Most of our employes like to have a running background. They have a good understanding of footwear, and the customers in the neighbourhood.” Since the clientele isn’t just runners, Forerunners offers day to day footwear as well. The Forerunners team is knowledgeable and diverse. Come by for a Wednesday workout, and stay for yoga led by store employee Robin Willis.
In a city surrounded by mountains and ocean, it’s no wonder Vancouver is home to a large running population. This growth in Vancouver’s running community has been led by Forerunners. For decades, these people have flocked Forerunners who has set the standard for a running store. Combining movement, education, and community, Forerunners has been bringing purpose to Vancouver runners and the community at large for decades.