Mike and Maya Anderson met playing beach volleyball in 2003. At the time, the sport was an escape from the daily grind of their corporate work lives. As their relationship bloomed, they would daydream about what it would be like to work for themselves. Avid runners most of their lives, their own run shop was always at the top of the list of ideas that could break them out.
“We got really excited about the prospect of doing our own thing and getting more involved in a community we really loved and working in a sport we’re passionate about,” Maya says.
“I spent seventeen years in banking,” Mike adds. “And I spent seventeen years saying I’m not going to die a banker.”
And with that, BlackToe Running was born. Named after the state of Mike’s toes once he began his marathon training, BlackToe has become one of the premiere specialty run shops in Toronto since it opened its doors in November 2013. By design, it is a place where all runners – from beginners to seasoned vets – come not only to browse the latest, innovative products that Mike and Maya carefully select, but also connect with the community BlackToe has built.
“It’s meant to be fun,” Mike says. “We really work on creating an environment where people can come in and talk about their running journey. And we are genuinely interested in talking to them and learning about them.”
“It’s all about being invested in the relationships,” Maya says, where the caring comes across. “I’m known around the store as ‘Running Mom,’” she laughs. “When someone’s injured or not running for any reason, which can be hard on a runner, there’s always a hug for them.”
BlackToe also runs a weekly Running Club, as well as the BlackToe Racing Team; both of which offer high quality coaching to instill best practices right from the start. One of the joys for the Andersons has been to watch the teams evolve into an alliance all their own. “It’s been more and more common over the years to see mentoring happening,” Mike says. “Whenever somebody sets a goal, whether it’s a PB for their first 10K or a Boston qualifying time, there will – almost without exception – be somebody from one of the teams that will offer to go out and pace them to get them there.”
They’re proud to be a part of the camaraderie that they feel defines the wider running community in Toronto. “There’s tons of energy here,” Mike says. “People are starting to get out and make it more social. There’s a pride in the sport and what’s happening here that you can feel.”
And on a busy Saturday at BlackToe, amid the buzz of staff and customers trading stories, it’s easy to see. “Running is ultimately about the person,” Maya says. “It’s not a comparative sport. You run with others for support, but it’s your journey – and progressing in your journey is success. It’s a cool thing to be part of someone’s journey and feel their pride.”
What started as a dream to make work fun has evolved into a way of life more challenging and rewarding than either Mike or Maya could have ever imagined. “It seeps into your soul a little bit,” Mike says. “Running for most isn’t a full time job. For us it is. If we can teach something along the way, inspire people, I feel like we’ve done a good job."