Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Great Shoes, Just Around the Corner

 My old running shoes have seen better days. I picked them up at DSW a few years ago, a cheap pair of Reebok's that fit in my college student budget. All of the padding and support features have started to looked smushed and crumpled. On top of that, I put new shingles on a house in them, so they're covered in black tar that hasn't come off after two cycles in the washing machine.

So when I signed up for the Brooksie Way, I decided it was time for a new pair. I read that wearing worn-out shoes when training for a long race can result in shin splints or other injuries. Plus, my birthday is just a couple weeks away, so I figured I'd be safe to splurge a little, anticipating checks from my generous grandparents coming in the mail.

Initially, I figured I'd check out a few running stores in the area, find a pair that fit well, and then buy them online. I was talking to a few friends who work in retail, and no sooner had those words come out of my mouth than I realized that this mindset is exactly what is troubling many Michigan businesses. If I'm going to be serious about supporting my local economy, I need to put my money where my mouth is. My friend, who manages a local clothing store, even offered to pay me the extra few bucks it I would save in order to encourage me to buy them from the store.

I decided to visit Runnin' Gear in Waterford. The store has been around for over 30 years, sponsors several local events, and has a reputation for helping customers find the right shoe for their foot. Most of the cross country team in high school shopped there, and my mom bought a pair of shoes there when she ran a half-marathon a few years back. I remembered her talking about how she'd brought in her old pair of shoes to show the salesperson, and how they'd analyzed her wear patterns to find her the best fit in a new shoe.

I did the same, bringing in my old, tar-covered shoes. I was the only person in the store at the time and  was blessed with the undivided attention of owner Paul Coughlin, who I found out is also the co-chair of the Brooksie! I knew right away I was in good hands.

Paul examined my old shoes, and I explained all of my personal podiatric problems: overpronating, narrow ankles, wide toes, and landing hard on my heels. On pavement, I sound like a small elephant. One of my high school coaches tried to cure me of it, encouraging me to think about landing on the center of my foot rather than the heel, but it just never stuck.

Paul disappeared into the back room and returned with four boxes. One at a time, he pulled out the shoes, tied them on my feet, and explained the features of each and how they'd help with my issues. One had a marshmellow fluff-like substance in the heel for extra cushion. Another had a heel especially designed for over-pronators. Another had an orthodic footbed built right in. Four pairs might not seem like a lot of options, but being a person with very specific footwear needs and a penchant for indecisiveness, I was totally content.

Paul explained that while I might feel like I land square in the center of my heal, most people actually land on the outside corner. Lo and behold, my old shoes were worn thin in that exact spot. He also explained - taking out a plastic foot skeleton and bending it like it was running - that it makes good, anatomical sense for us to land mostly on the back of our foot. We have more bones back there for shock absorption. Trying to land farther forward puts a lot of pressure on smaller, more fragile bones.

After talking each pair for a little jog around the parking lot, I settled on the Asics Gel 3010. They're cushy in the back, wide in the front, and to top it all off, they're my favorite color - purple. A good omen, I think.

Plus, they were on sale from $120 to $99. A little pricey maybe, but considering the mileage I'm planning on getting, the great fit and excellent service (complete with mini anatomy lesson), I am one happy camper. This experience definitely beats getting a pair in the mail, only to find out they don't fit and having to send them back, and I'm pleased to be supporting a local business that really believes in good-old-fashioned customer service.

I ran five miles in my new kicks today. It was hot, and I had to work hard to resist the urge to walk, but my feet were in their own cushy, well-supported heaven. I'm pretty sure I ran faster. Thanks Paul!