The guy in the store where running shoes are sold had a simple message.

“People run even when they’re stressed,” he said. Then he punched the cash register and rang up $169 for a new pair of Mizunos while gleefully handing over a box full of hope.

Business is good.

“Maybe people run because they’re stressed,” replied the customer.

Running events are myriad in this country and even in a period of recession, they seem to be flourishing. A Vancouver 10K boasted 55,000 entrants in April. Earlier this month, 12,000 took part in Sporting Life’s annual dash down one of the busiest streets in Toronto. From the Bridge City Boogie in Saskatoon to the Blue Nose International Marathon in Halifax, people are running in record numbers.

“Corporate support is down,” said the organizer of the Mississauga Marathon, featuring 12,000 participants in its weekend events. “But there are more runners than ever before …

“In tough times, it’s not big business that makes the difference, but the individual.”

Bill Rodgers, a four-time winner of the Boston Marathon, was at the start line of the Mississauga Marathon to address competitors before the race. Rodgers had recently returned to the road following surgery for prostate cancer last year. Last month, at age 61, he completed his first Boston Marathon in a decade.

“It was tough, but I made it,” he told the runners in Mississauga. “Now you, too, are in the race and everything is on your side, including the weather.”

And so the pack got on course as it wound its way to the shores of Lake Ontario. Along the route, runners were aided by 1,200 volunteers who handed out water and energy drinks.

In the end, the Mississauga Marathon raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for a health-care facility, a cancer research unit and the local YMCA.

What is it that drives the running boom across the country in this difficult economic period and that makes it a force in the success of charitable work in Canada?

Perhaps it’s the knowledge that getting past these hard times is possible if we all hunker down and stay in the race.

– Gemini Award winner and author Scott Russell is the Host of CBC Sports Weekend seen Saturday afternoons.

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