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The marathon virgin blog: new shoes


Racing shoes.  Photo: Flickr/Josiah MacKenzie

Running shoes emerge from their boxes half-laced, with thick wads of paper shoved down in the toes. I hate that. I also hate crowds, spending money, and having to re-box and re-shelve pairs that don’t fit—and because I have high arches, narrow heels, and a wide forefoot, that’s usually what happens.

But the prospect of running even one more mile in the orange and grey Adidas Kanadia Trails I’d bought in—was it August?—grated, so earlier this week, I drove up to the Adidas store at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall.

Until a few years ago, my average new-shoe-shopping excursion lasted about six hours. Recently, however, I’ve been able to streamline the process somewhat by accepting that I will never find a pair of New Balance training shoes that I can stand. Ever. Same thing for Asics, Reebok, and Saucony, even though my first pair of running shoes was Saucony in what must have been a fluke. I know runners who swear by each of these brands, but they just don’t fit my feet.

I’ve heard and read (and probably written on this very website) that the best thing you can do, when you have trouble finding shoes that fit, is visit a specialty running store for expert help. My friend Heather always buys her shoes from Fleet Feet on Delaware Avenue and never appears to have any shoe troubles, whereas I’m always stopping to tie, re-tie, and re-re-tie my shoes for the first fifteen or twenty minutes of a run.

But I look at like this: wouldn’t shopping for a new car be more fun if you didn’t have to deal with the salesman? If you could just hop in the car you wanted to test drive and take it around the block? Or what if you were on a first date and the person who set you up was at the table, sharing dinner, and asking how you felt about the prospect of marrying the person across from you?

No offense to salesmen and matchmakers, but they’ve always made me feel so pressured, like I’ll be hurting their feelings and wasting their time if I say “No.” When I buy shoes, I need to be able to say “No” a lot. That’s why I prefer stores where the fully-stocked shelves are directly available to the customers, so I can be left alone to try on as many pairs as I have to and leave without buying a thing, guilt-free, if none of them fit just right.

Old shoe, back when it was new.  Photo: Thomas Boone

At the outlet mall, I usually go from one Adidas model to the next, randomly picking pairs off shelves until I find something that I’m at least 85% satisfied with. I used to delay final purchase until my satisfaction level was somewhere in the 90s, but now—who has the time?

This year, instead of forcing poorly-fitting shoes onto my feet like (Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters)^3, I decided to try something new: I liked my existing pair pretty well, so I’d just buy them all over again.

I couldn’t find another pair of Kanadia Trail shoes, but the store did have the Kanadia Trail 2. They fit just like the originals, as far as I could tell, and they were available in four different colors, three of which offered size 6 ½. Were they perfect? No. But I was, I calculate, about 92% satisfied, which is a solid A minus, and I didn’t fancy the idea of trying on a half-dozen more styles that I’d just hate. Sure, I’ll probably end up re-tying them half a dozen times at the beginning of every workout, but that’s part of my routine now (I think my compulsion to adjust my shoes may be caused less by the shoes themselves and more by my compulsive nature, anyway).

I was committed to the Trail 2s, but I still had half an hour to kill before I was due to meet some friends at La Galera. Since I started training for the marathon, I’ve been running more miles, more often. I’ve also been running on the roads *a lot*, and the Kanadias are trail shoes, which I’ve bought mostly out of habit since my days as a high school cross-country runner in West Virginia.

I decided to search, without much ambition, for a good pair of road shoes. I’ve never trained on more than one pair at a time, even when I was sixteen and my shoes might be still be wet on Thursday from running through the creek on Wednesday. But if nothing else, I rationalized, buying an extra pair now would save me a trip in a few months.

Why don't these shoes smell like dirt and sweat?  Photo: S. Boone

My left foot slipped easily into the left shoe of the first pair I tried, a brand called Durano. Unfortunately, that was the left foot; the right shoe was a little off, some kind of mistake in the stitching, I think. So I put those away and tried on a pair of, I don’t know, Milanos or Durangos or something, and the heels slipped up and down, the toes were too tight, the midfoot too loose. I yanked those awful shoes off my feet and I decided to look for another 6 ½ pair of the Duranos. I found one. They fit nicely (100% satisfaction with left foot, 87% with right). I bought them and made it to dinner on time. Two pairs of shoes in under an hour: an all-time record.

A friend and I recently went for a run at Chestnut Ridge, and the fourth time I had to stop to re-adjust my shoes (the left was laced too tightly, the right too loose, etc.), she asked, kindly, “Are you sure those are the right shoes for you?” And even though I knew she had a point, I was miffed. I felt like she was dissing my shoes, which have logged more miles with me over the last few months than anyone else has. T-shirts, running partners, routes, and socks change, but our running shoes are our constant companions out there as we pound out 3 or 5 or 20 miles.

Okay, a good running watch will last years and years, but it’s not integral to running. The only major piece of equipment a runner really needs is a pair of shoes. Yes, there are people out there who recommend running barefoot, but unless you live in a place where broken glass is, miraculously, not a concern, what that amounts to is buying a fancy pair of running shoes.

Maybe it’s silly, but when I’m making that decision, when I’m picking out my running mate (or mates) for the next 400 or 500 miles, I don’t want any interference from well-meaning salespeople. Of course, considering that my all-time record is an hour and my average time to make a decision is much longer than that, I have feeling that the running shoe salespeople of the world don’t really miss me as a customer.


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