In a city notorious for its scenery, abundance of trees and weather reports promising a slew of sun-filled days in the near future, who wouldn't want to get off the couch, lace up some sweet new sneakers and take advantage of Boise's beauty?
Boiseans love to run. There has been a race nearly every weekend in May--in case you hadn't noticed the flood of pink shirts for Race for the Cure, or the spud-laden duds sported at the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon. Running groups abound, and the Greenbelt looks like a race track any time the sun shines. But even in such a large community, utter the name Mike Shuman in any running circle, and odds are most everyone will smile and say they know him.
Don't try to shake Shuman's hand. Odds are, he'll look at it for a second, and then pull you in for a hug. Spend a few minutes with him, and you'll understand two things: First, it's no surprise that most of Boise's extensive running community knows of him, even if they haven't had the good fortune to meet him in person--and there isn't a bad word to be said when his name is uttered. Second, this guy really loves running.
Even the most enthusiastic couch potato will find it difficult not to share Shuman's sentiment after a visit to his store: Shu's Idaho Running Company.
At Shu's, customers don't just try on footwear, they test-drive it. The tip-off comes from the runners wearing mismatched shoes running back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the store. The sight leaves first-time visitors to the State Street strip mall to wonder if there's some sort of new Kris Kross-inspired fashion trend sweeping Boise.
I made the mistake of wearing my hot-pink platform heels during my first visit to Shu's.
"Oh my gosh, don't let Mike see those shoes," said an employee as I walked in the store. But he did.
After a warm hello, Shuman picked up my high heel and called for the attention of everyone on the floor.
"Don't run in these," he said as I cringed, thinking about my multiple jaunts across Ninth Street in those shoes. That was the first bit of wisdom I received from Shuman, but I also learned that cotton socks are "a tool of the devil," and that I should have quiet feet when I run.
"Listen to the shoes when you run," Shuman said. "You don't look like a herd of cattle, so you shouldn't sound like one."
Shuman looks like a runner. His dark hair and infectious smile top off a slender frame, and it's difficult to describe his appearance as anything other than healthy and athletic. It's tough to imagine this lighthearted ball of energy about 12 years ago--battling cancer, facing rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, and losing more than 20 lymph nodes and sections of muscle in his neck.
Casually plopping down on the seat used for trying on shoes, Shuman credits his beloved sport and the outpouring of support he received from friends and strangers in the community for getting him through that difficult time in his life. And he's certainly been paying it back. Last year, Shu's donated more than $98,000 to nonprofit groups in the Treasure Valley. Shuman said he can't say no to a worthy cause.
"It may not always be the yes they want," Shuman explains, "But it'll be a yes."
"He's a super nice guy," said Kelly Driver, an Ironman triathlete and coach for the YMCA's youth running programs. Shu's donated to Driver's children's school fundraiser.
"He's a total inspiration. He makes you want to run every day," said Leone Rusher, Shu's jack-of-all-trades. "He's so enthusiastic. I don't see how you can leave the store and not want to go for a run or walk."
After meeting at an event and discussing shoe issues that Rusher was facing, the two became running partners and good friends. They recently returned from a run in Spokane, Wash., and noted how helpful having a dedicated running partner can be to maintaining a regular fitness schedule.
"It's that sense of accountability," Shuman said. "I know that even if it's pouring rain, she's going to be there."
Rusher said running groups are a useful tool, especially for new runners, and added that new groups are always popping up.
Those looking for someone to keep them accountable can check out classes at Shu's or get information on marathons, races, trail runs and events for people at all fitness levels. Boise is also home to more than a dozen running groups, which welcome runners/walkers of all levels and interests--whether you're into drinking and running like the Hash House Harriers or want to improve your athletic ability with a group like Got2GetFast. A calendar of events and links to dozens of groups can be found at idahorunningcompany.com.
Driver sees Boise as a near-perfect place to enjoy an outdoor jaunt.
"Boise is ideal because the people here are friendly, there's a ton of great trails and weather," she said. "It's also awesome how helpful everyone is here. Good runners take the time to help and genuinely want to share their knowledge."
"It's good to meet other runners," Rusher reiterated. "It's fun to be in that environment. It's uplifting, and everyone has a story. It pulls people from all different levels and situations together."
And joining a group is easy. You needn't rival a cheetah's land-speed record to join a running group. In most, all levels are welcome and groups help provide accountability and encouragement when workouts get tough because, as Shuman says, "Running is simple, but it ain't easy."