30th anniversary for Harrogate-based shop that every runner in UK knows

Such is the quietly ubiquitous nature of Up & Running - the UK’s largest chain of independent running shops - it’s easy to forget this is a success story born in Harrogate.

By Graham Chalmers
Thursday, 19th May 2022, 10:27 am
Updated Thursday, 19th May 2022, 10:32 am

Or it would be if it wasn’t the 30th anniversary of this national chain of shops, and it wasn’t still owned and run by its original owners in the heart of the town.

Long gone are the days when Gillian and Dennis Macfarlane juggled bringing up their two baby girls with opening their first running shoe, kit and accessories shop in 1992 at an unfancied spot on Bower Road - now occupied by a barbers.

Proud to be Harrogate - Gillian Macfarlane, co-founder of Harrogate’s Up & Running shop which is nationally renowned and successful.

Up & Running may have gone on to relocate to Station Parade and expand to 28 stores nationwide but in other fundamental ways, says co-owner Gillian, nothing has really changed at all.

“We are the same as we were at the beginning, just 30 years older,” she said.

“We couldn’t be more proud to have created such a successful business from Harrogate. We couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”

Having moved from Glasgow to Harrogate in 1979, both Gillian and Dennis found themselves swept up in the running boom of the 1980s, the latter, perhaps, a bit less than the former.

“I was just mad about running,” said Gillian, “I adored fell running and cross-country. I was involved with Harrogate AC and Imperial AC before the two clubs merged and became Harrogate Harriers. Dennis loved it, too, but he was more of a ‘beer and curry’ runner.”

After Harrogate’s only running shop disappeared, the couple set up the first Up & Running in 1992 with little money and a lot to learn.

But their business quickly found a place for itself at the heart of the town’s running community, partly because it was staffed by runners for runners.

Although Gillian admits it was built on a “shoe string budget”, Up & Running went above and beyond the average shop from the beginning, offering a free gait analysis and providing a free weekly 5k running club for customers.

If the origins of Up & Running were born of passion as well as commerce, Gillian says there’s been no shortage of challenges to overcome, even as the business grew a

bit at a time.

“In the early years we would kit out the shops by hand, laying the carpets,” she said. “We had to take our two baby daughters everywhere with us; to races, to the new shops we were setting up.

“One of our daughters, who is 24, now works in our marketing department.

“It was difficult but it was so much fun. If there was a mistake to make, we made it.

“But you just have to learn and keep going. We wanted to grow organically and that’s what we’ve done.”

Up & Running shops can now be found everywhere across the country from Southampton to the Isle of Man but the head office remains in Harrogate.

Over the last 30 years, the independent chain has survived two recessions, foot and mouth and the Covid pandemic, not to forget the vicissitudes of British winters - all of which have impacted in ways specific to running.

But Gillian and Dennis’s business has kept on winning awards and has kept on expanding with two new stores planned this year, including the first Up & Running across the border in Edinburgh.

Now living in Killinghall, the couple stick by their original ethos of expertise and service.

“We like to be a hands-on business,” said Gillian. “We have an awesome team from top to bottom.

“We employ 175 staff nationwide but we still pick people who run.”

If more proof was needed, you need look no further than Ellis Cross, the amateur runner who famously beat four-time Olympic Champion Sir Mo Farah to win the London Vitality 10k race earlier this month.

As well as running for Aldershot Athletic Club, Ellis is also a member of staff at Up & Running’s shop in Surrey.

Despite the changing landscape for retail and a darkening economic picture, the Harrogate owners of this unique business are as full of enthusiasm as ever.

While committed to being a ‘bricks and mortar’ business, it now has two successful websites - www.upandrunning.co.uk and its discount site wwwrunningshoes.co.uk

Older and, perhaps, wiser, Gillian and Dennis have not lost their passion for the world of running or their love of everything Harrogate, though the idea of taking it a little easier has crossed their minds once or twice.

“It’s difficult to assess customers’ needs unless you do it in person,” said Gillian. “We’ve been trying to take more of a back seat at times but I really do feel positive about the future.

“Up & Running is still a big part of the running community and we still love doing it.

“Whatever the years to come hold, we have created something we and Harrogate can be very proud of.”

Meet Up & Running’s legendary guest this Saturday

Such is Up & Running’s reputation 30 years after being launched in Harrogate, there will be a special guest this Saturday when its new York store opens it doors.

Sally Gunnell OBE is not only a sporting legend, this former British hurdler and sprinter shares a 30th anniversary with the national chain of specialist independent running shops

Sally won Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992 - the same year that Up & Running first opened its doors in Harrogate.

As part of the relocated York shop’s celebrations on Saturday, Sally will be holding a Q&A session at 5pm about her career before leading an optional 5k run through York.

To register to attend this free event, visit: www.eventbrite.co.uk