Mall at UTC

Fit2Run moves Cooper Creek store into The Mall at University Town Center

UNIVERSITY PARK -- The Mall at University Town Center adds another player to its team of sporting goods stores later this month complete with a health food-focused fitness bar.

The store will also provide athletes with the latest technology to track, record and document experiences and milestones.

Fit2Run is moving its store on Cooper Creek Boulevard inside the mall, according to Bill and Parks Robinson, the father-son team who operate Bradenton-based Fit2Run stores. The Robinsons said plans to move into the mall started about a year ago.

The Mall at UTC store will be a prototype for Fit2Run. Parks Robinson said they always try to improve the format and offerings in each new store.

"Every new store is a flagship store," Parks Robinson said. "We want to keep evolving."

The fitness bar, now found only in the Tampa and Miami Fit2Run stores, includes made-to-order smoothies, wraps, sandwiches and one of Fit2Run's most popular items, the acai bowl. The original bowl includes the reddish-purple South American fruit, organic soymilk, bananas, organic hemp granola and fresh fruit. Guests can add other ingredients such as peanut butter, dark chocolate or apples.

"There's really a need for fresh and natural food and drinks in UTC," said Bill Robinson.

Another element new to Fit2Run store design will be a GoPro shop. GoPro cameras are designed to be mounted on the body or sports equipment to capture the experience of the wearer. They not only give a more immersive experience to viewers but also help runners preserve accomplishments or memories such as finishing their first marathon or 5K run.

Cameras and accessories included in Fit2Run's GoPro selection aren't just for running.

"If you're sports minded, you can take it to your sport," Bill Robinson said.

Even though most Fit2Run locations are in balmy Florida, Bill Robinson said he once saw a snow ski instructor purchase a GoPro camera to use during class.

The Mall at UTC store will also include a Garmin section. Garmin makes activity-tracking devices to help athletes monitor mileage, speed, steps, heart rate and caloric intake.

Fit2Run regularly engages the community in events encouraging runners to share the sport through "fun runs" and participate in other area club runs. Each store has training programs to introduce novices to running or train longtime runners for half marathons or marathons.

"We have coaches available to help people succeed," Bill Robinson said. "We help them work on form and getting their lungs in better shape."

The Mall at UTC's free weekly fun runs will start at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Fun runs will meet at the store and likely run through Benderson Park, said Kimmi van der Veen, store manager at Fit2Run downtown Sarasota and company market manager.

Although the coolest gadgets, the tastiest running fuel and unified community groups can enhance the running experience, nothing can replace a properly fitted shoe. Making sure each athlete has the perfect shoe is Fit2Run's main goal, the Robinsons said.

"The foot is the foundation for the rest of the body, especially when you're pushing it to a new pace," said van der Veen. "Somewhere, your body will absorb the shock, and shoes with the right technology will allow joints to do less absorbing of the shock."

"Our business is all about technology now," said Bill Robinson. "We have the most sophisticated technology available to make sure the person is in the right running or walking shoe."

The system involves a one-of-a-kind gait assessment using iStep technology. It begins by filming customers running on a treadmill in the store and then placing their feet on the iStep, which scans the foot and uses biomechanic analysis to show where pressure is distributed over the foot. Computer analysis helps determine how much, if any, overpronation or underpronation the person suffers in their running stride and helps a customer walk out with a more comfortable exercise shoe.

Pronation is a grade of how much the foot "rolls" inward or outward during running and affects the distribution of body weight. Fit2Run's goal, Parks Robinson said, is to achieve a neutral status for each athlete so they can effectively distribute weight and reduce stress and impact on joints.

Fit2Run began in 2006 in the Bradenton area and now has 15 stores in Florida with one in California. The Robinson family has owned sporting goods businesses for three generations.

Bill and Parks Robinson are Bradenton natives and love what the Florida market and atmosphere has to offer.

"The benefit of the state of Florida is that it's a great location for health-conscious people," Bill Robinson said.

Bill Robinson said he believes it's just the beginning of the race for Fit2Run.

"We still have plenty to accomplish in Florida," he said.

Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter@jayohday.

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