OLD TOWN — The race is on to become the city's top indoor running studio.
Keith Kimble, owner of Runn Chicago, had a 20-year career in sales before catching the fitness bug. He taught a spinning class, then started teaching more until it was "nothing but fitness."
About three years ago, however, he had an epiphany: Why wasn't anyone doing running classes on treadmills the way they did spinning classes on stationary bikes?
"I wanted to open up three years ago," Kimble said Monday. "We just stuck with it."
So three years and some hard-fought financing later, he's set to open Runn Chicago, with spinning-style, music-driven treadmill classes, at 1448 W. Willow St. It's set to launch with an open house Aug. 27.
In the meantime, though, Runner's High Studio beat him out of the gates, opening last month in Old Town. It too offers group running classes, led not by instructors but by "pacers."
Owner Jeff Levy said he too had the same idea about three years ago, although he admits to being spurred along of late by a New York City fitness studio that launched spinning-style classes with people running on treadmills.
Runner's High, however, laid claim, he said, to being "the first in Chicago."
Their approaches are similar, but subtly different. Both offer 45-minute classes led by instructors or "pacers." Both aim to make the time — and the miles — pass quickly with music.
"I'm not a natural fitness guy," Kimble admitted, adding that he weighed 80 pounds more than he does now back in his 20s. "But I am a music guy."
Kimble plans to program different musical themes for classes, including an eclectic mix.
Runner's High does the same. "We're toying with the notion of having featured runs," Levy said. "We just had our first Beyonce class last week, and it was a big hit."
Both will work with inclined treadmills as well to be build strength in class members and vary the program to keep people engaged. Levy said the 25 treadmills in his studio are automated to sense the proper pace of any given runner, and video is projected on a wall showing runners going uphill or down to match the incline of the treadmills.
But in both individual runners set their own pace, even within the class, to accommodate all levels of fitness and personal goals.
"My idea for the whole studio is for everyone to feel welcome," Kimble said. Runn Chicago will start with 12 treadmills and soon add a few more to make 16 with the goal being to have a couple dozen in the fitness center by the end of the year.
"It's all perceived exertion," Kimble said. "Whatever's fast for you is fast for you."
Levy said Runner's High aims "for everyone running together with a common goal," something difficult to attain in the real world running on the street or the lakefront, as runners have such different fitness levels and goals for what they're trying to achieve, whether it be lose weight or train for a marathon.
"I'm a huge runner and always loved running," Levy said. "People always asked me what was the key to staying fit, and I always said running is crucial to being fit and well-rounded in fitness.
"Here, we're all doing the same course at the same time, but at our own speeds," he added.
Kimble does believe he has a new wrinkle he'll introduce at the Aug. 27 open house: a charity relay race run on treadmills to benefit the Chicago Run organization, which has been encouraging running in Chicago Public Schools for 10 years. He said the treadmills lend themselves to charity run-a-thons at any time of the year.
The prices at the two studios are competitive as well. Runn Chicago will charge $28 a class, $119 for five and 10 for $225. Runner's High charges $25 a class, also 10 for $225 and 20 for $410.