By Debora Warner, Mile High Run Club
Boutique treadmill fitness is starting to gain traction in NYC, and Mile High Run Club in the East Village is at the forefront of this movement. The studio is a haven for serious runners who are unable to run outside in the NYC winter — all light wood and clean, white walls — and owner Debora Warner makes certain the focus is on proper running form. In the shock-resistant-floored studio filled with treadmills, runners find serenity while the screens around the room are projected with sunrise and sunset hues, transported away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Just open this month, Debora talks about what it takes to DIY your own fitness studio, from the ground up.
What gave you the idea to start Mile High Run Club? Do you remember the moment when you had the first spark?
I was leading small group runs in Central Park and I found it challenging to manage the various fitness levels and keep the group together — I actually lost someone who couldn't keep up with the pack. That’s when I had the first spark. I thought it would be much better to have everyone work at their individual effort level on a treadmill, similar to the format of a spin class. Prior to this, I had been thinking about creating a huge indoor "trail" running facility at a warehouse in Brooklyn, since there are so few options for trail runs in NYC.
From an idea to an actual boutique fitness studio - where do you start? What is the first step, and where do you go from there?
I mentioned the idea to an old friend and successful business owner over dinner one night, and he liked the concept so much he said he would consider investing. That gave me a great deal of confidence to move forward. I never once said I might do this, or I want to do this, I said I AM DOING THIS, and everything else fell into place.
Who were your biggest supporters? At what point did you know that you really had a great idea in the works?
I knew it when investors and potential partners started coming to me, including an ultra runner I had never met, who lived halfway around the world! My team of hustlers did an incredible job raising the rest of the funds we needed to get off the ground.
How long was the process of getting the studio set up, from idea to open doors? What was the highest point, and the lowest point in the journey?
It took a little over two years, which is typical for a start up. I think the highest point was signing a lease. Securing a space is a challenging process in NYC, and the low point came when a promising deal fell through due to circumstances beyond our control. When we found a willing landlord and a great space, it felt like the planets finally aligned.
How do you get the word out, and get people in the door?
I already have an existing client base of runners I've worked with in the last several years, but I think a few well-placed articles have really driven a steady stream of traffic to the website. Social media has been helpful as well, and word of mouth is the absolute BEST way to get people in the door.
NYC is so different from Colorado, where all the professional runners train. How did you capture the outdoor expanse of Colorado and bring it to Mile High?
We selected wood finishes for the reception area and locker rooms, which gives the space a warm outdoorsy vibe. The walls of the training studio are bathed in colored lights that are inspired by the sky. Busy New Yorkers (like myself) can fantasize about training on the trails of Colorado — or just come to Mile High Run Club!
The space itself is so clean, white, refreshing - almost like a spa retreat in the midst of busy NYC - a perfect complement to the sunset colors that sweep the screens in the running studio. Was that always your vision?
My aim was to make the experience of running at MHRC as good as running outside, or at least make it a really fun experience. A friend recommended lighting designers who have created incredible interactive installations for Burning Man. I wanted to capture that kind of free spirit and "illuminate the sky." I provided a color palette, and the designers ran with it.
Mile High is poised to be THE runners’ workout, which makes sense since you come from a running and triathlete background? How will you emphasize proper running form at Mile High?
We educate runners about proper form both on the treadmill and off. For example, we encourage runners to run a bit back from the console in the middle of the belt so their arms can swing properly. A lot of people who have never had any coaching might not realize the importance of the arm swing; we run with our whole body, not just the legs. We talk about stride rate, posture, and breathing as well. And for a more in-depth look at proper form, our customers have the option of booking a gait analysis with our in-house kinesiologist who does corrective work with runners.
Any advice for our readers?
Training and being an athlete has taught me so many great lessons that I have applied to other areas of my life. Simple things like goal setting. My life-changing moment was when I realized I could not live without running. I was trying to simplify my life down to just the "essentials" at the time, and I realized it was the thing that I loved most. I have not once doubted this decision to share my passion. My advice? Be authentic.
Debora Warner is the founder and program director of Mile High Run Club. For the last several years, Debora has coached hundreds of runners independently through her private training business. She is an ACE certified group fitness instructor and lifetime endurance athlete who truly believes that staying active and helping others is the key to health and happiness. Her current PR is 1:43:08 from the 2012 More Women's Half Marathon in NYC, and her Olympic distance triathlon PR is 2:33:31.