Beer & Running: Serving Up Running Shoes and Fresh Microbrews

Paul and Renne Rakitin re-opened their running store as The Running Shop and Hops in August. Photos: Jason Weed and Brian Metzler

A glance at the first two U.S. running shops that sell running gear and serve beer, too.

Paul Rakitin has been a committed runner and an aficionado of good beer as long as he can remember. He started running in grade school and has never stopped, running just about every distance and qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

He’d worked in and managed a few running stores and got the itch to own his own shop. After finishing up a tour in Afghanistan as an Army medic a few years ago, he went into business for himself, with the notion that he’d like to be able to serve up both of his passions. He opened The Running Shop in July 2013 purely to get into the specialty running retail business, but he always had the urge to serve beer too. So not long after he got wind of Shoes & Brews opening in Colorado, he decided to take the next steps.

This past summer, Paul and his wife, Rene, relocated the running store to a refurbished, 3,000-square-foot location in downtown Morgan Hill and reopened with a new section of the business—a taproom that serves up 54 different beers (including four with nitro taps). They changed the name to The Running Shop and Hops, and, since opening in mid-August, both sides of the business have been booming.

“I had been thinking about this idea for about six years, but I didn’t have the funding to get it off the ground back then,” says Rakitin, 39, who has been running for almost 30 years. “I approached a handful of people early on and a lot of them looked at me like I was crazy, but to me it was a natural progression of what running has become and a natural synergy between the two types of the business.”

PHOTOS: A Glimpse Inside The Running Shop and Hops in Morgan Hill, Calif.

Sound crazy? Not really. As running has grown and changed, more and more participants are identifying with a fitness lifestyle more than the competitive or performance-oriented principles that emanated from the 1970s and 1980s. Studies have shown that traditional race participation has dropped since 2013, especially in the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups. At same time, novelty runs, obstacle racing and running events that include beer have been soaring.

In mid-September, The Brew Hop 5K drew several thousand people to Randall’s Island Park in New York City for a 3.1-mile race at noon, followed by a four-hour beer festival that included 15 regional microbreweries. The Beer Relay—a running and beer-drinking relay—debuted in 2015 with events in Colorado and North Carolina and added a third event in Texas this year.

The intersection of beer and running has gained a lot of notoriety in the past year or so as the line between fitness activities and post-workout beverage consumption has become significantly blurred.

“It’s part of the social aspect of being active,” says Sharon Cutler, managing director of Adventure Fit Inc., which produces The Beer Relay events. “It’s all about camaraderie and community. When you go for a run with your buddies, you want to go hang out and have a beer with them too. It used to be people were doing it on their own—and they still are—but now there are events and communities built around it.”

VIDEO: How to Drink and Dash at The Beer Relay

The two sides of The Running Shop and Hops are separated by an 8-foot by 12-foot door, but the connection is rather seamless. Runners can visit the retail shop without being overwhelmed by the taproom and vice versa. The business has a beer-only liquor license and it serves snacks, but customers are allowed (and encouraged) to have food delivered from local restaurants. Combined with a large patio and a kids’ play area with games, it’s become a popular place for families with young children.

“It’s been cool to see so many families come in,” Paul says. “It’s difficult to find places that are truly kid-friendly and not feel awkward about bringing your child to a craft beer room. We have a different environment than a standard tavern, but that’s exactly what my wife and I wanted to create as a business and for the town and I think it’s been well-received.”

In addition to its Tuesday morning track workouts, the store has also organized and sponsored a few races. But the biggest splash has been made around its weekly Beer Run—a 4½-mile social fun run held every Thursday night. When runners return from the easy jog, a low-key gathering morphs into a casual, extended happy hour with beer specials and meals from food trucks.

“It definitely brings more people together,” says Zachary Abrams, one of the running store managers and a Boston Marathon qualifier. “It’s a good way to get together after a run, no matter if it’s a hard workout or an easy run. It doesn’t really matter what kind of runner you are, it’s more about hanging out. There are a lot of people who come in who are really into local breweries and craft beer.”

That’s exactly what inspired four runners in Colorado to open up Shoes & Brews in 2014 as the first full-fledged beer and running operation in the U.S. On one side of the building, it’s a full-service running store with an artfully designed shoe wall and all the apparel, accessories and nutritional items you’d find at any running shop. But this store also has 20 microbrew taps that pour good beer from the best breweries along Colorado’s Front Range. In what should come as no surprise, it was started by a group of enterprising young runners (including three former track and cross country teammates at Colorado State University) who have a hankering for craft beer.

“I think it’s all about relaxing and spending time with your friends and the people you run with,” says co-founder Colin Anderson, 26, who pitched the idea to numerous friends and potential investors, including his dad, Roger, 53, who helped get it started. “In college, after a track meet, we’d all get together and have a beer and celebrate, and that’s something all runners like to do.”

VIDEO: Colorado’s Shoes & Brews Running Store 

Technically, Shoes & Brews running store and bar are separate operations (physically and financially), but they’re under the same roof and share a logo. The two sides of the business are connected by a door in the middle of a short hallway, but runners and beer drinkers can visit either side freely.

Shoes & Brews hosts popular weekly fun runs on Thursday nights and it has hosted a few 5K races that start at the nearby Left Hand Brewing Company and finish at the store. Then there is the Run for Beer 800m Road Challenge, in which you determine the price of your first pint of beer by the time you run. For example, if you can run 3:30 for that half mile, you pay $3.30 for your beer. The fastest time (and least expensive) beer on record? That belongs for 2008 U.S. Olympian Billy Nelson, who ran a 1:57.10 and paid just $1.57 for his beer. (He jokes that if he’d run 3 seconds slower, it would have cost him 43 cents more for the beer!)

Shoes & Brews has a liquor license that allows it to both serve and brew beer. Although it started brewing on a very small scale in 2014, head brewer and co-founder Roger Anderson has been fine-tuning his recipes and manufacturing process and now the store produces just under 100 barrels per year. Its most popular beers are the Hef-Yeah! (a traditional unfiltered Hefeweizen) and the Negative Split IPA (an India Pale Ale flavored with Colorado-grown Cascade and Chinook hops).

“Shoes and Brews is a business built on two passions coming together,” says co-founder Ashlee Anderson, 30, Colin’s wife “We just wanted to create a social environment where you could do both in the same place.”

RELATED: Last Lap Interview with Colin Anderson of Shoes & Brews

Are these running stores brewing up beer drinkers? Not hardly.

“It’s definitely a lot more about the social aspect and having a place where people come and talk about running,” Rakitin says. “A good running store with a social element is where people can talk about injuries, injury prevention, how they should be training. People ask us questions because we’re seasoned runners, but it’s because it’s a place they like to hang out.”

RELATED: Running the NYC Marathon 5 Boroughs, 5 Beers Style

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