Every athlete needs a good coach. From a world class sprinter fine-tuning an Olympic performance to a new runner looking for the right way to avoid injury and stay motivated. For the latter group, their local run shop is often a place to find such support and advice. At Runners’ Edge in St. Catharines especially, the spirit of coaching has come to define the philosophy behind the store, and all the ways they give back to this Southern Ontario community.
Owner and co-founder Benny Ralston got his start running when one coach noticed his talents and another coach encouraged him to take the leap. When he was recruited at a track meet by a school with a much stronger running program, his coach at the time was the first to suggest he switch schools. It was there he met Mr. Jesse, as he still refers to him, the volunteer coach that set him on his life’s path. “I volunteer coach at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary now because of his influence on me,” Benny says.
That coaching began for Benny when he was at the University of Toronto. After graduation, he looked for ways to stay involved in running and soon began to work his way up through various sporting goods retailers until he found himself in a familiar position of managing others. But something didn’t feel quite right. “Working in an office made me realize I didn’t want to work in an office,” Benny says. “I learned from a lot of amazing people, but it got to a point where I kept hitting a wall in what I wanted to do. I knew it was time to open my own running store.”
So, in April 2001, that’s just what he did. And he’s carried over his coach’s ethic into building a successful business. “With my kids and my staff, it’s the same,” Benny says. “We set expectations and goals, and we motivate each other. We instill teamwork.”
In fact, it’s hard to separate the success of Benny’s high school cross-country team from the store. “At the end of every year, I thank my staff for covering the floor while I’m away coaching,” Benny says. “And they tell me that it makes them feel like they’re a part of the team. And it’s true! It may seem a small little thing but it really is a part of the big picture.”
It’s probably no surprise by now that a running club would be a big component of what Benny and co. offer. But Runners’ Edge Track Club – or Edgers as they’re affectionately known – is much more than organized runs a couple times a week. “We treat all of our athletes like elite Canadian athletes,” Benny says. “Because if we treat them like elite athletes, they will respond like elite athletes.” This means hiring the best coaches they can find to monitor each runners progress and keep them safe through proper form and stretching.
A testament to the power of positive coaching: many of the club leaders at Runners’ Edge were once athletes coached by Benny. “We all think alike.”
But you don’t have to be a club member to enjoy the benefits of the holistic approach found at Runners’ Edge. They’ve gone as far as to build a track right down the middle of the store so that staff can immediately determine how a customer moves. Like a good coach, they study their customers’ needs so that they can best guide them to the optimal result – which for Benny is more than just proper form.
“We teach how to run clean so they will continue to run,” he says. “So that they can continue to emotionally and mentally free themselves. It’s better mental health through running. I really believe that.”