“You need to buy new running shoes,” everyone has been telling me for the past few weeks. Whenever I complain about shin splints, whenever I complain about blisters, whenever I complain about swollen feet, whomever is patiently listening tells me, “You need to buy new shoes.”
Mac and I were chatting via instant messenger last Wednesday, and I was once again complaining. “Stop what you’re doing right now,” he wrote, “and go to the store. Go get new shoes.” Only he wasn’t so polite. But you know what? I stopped what I was doing and drove to the running store.
My first pair of running shoes were purchased for cheap at a Nike outlet store. They were half a size too small. I kept them for six years before I ever used them. Last summer, I spent a week trying to develop the running habit, but I gave up because the shoes hurt my feet.
At that time, I went to a local shoe store (Pacesetter Athletic) to get advice. The owner took me outside and watched me jog around the parking lot. “You have a mild over-pronation,” he said, leading me back into his store. He grabbed a shoe off the shelf. “This is the shoe for you,” he said. And he sent me away.
I had been running in those shoes all this spring. They seemed almost right, but they were tight. After a long run, my feet felt constricted. And, of course, I had my litany of complaints about which everyone told me the shoes were the cause.
Again I was helped by the owner of the store. But unlike my experience at the other place, I felt like Robb was actually listening to what I had to say. Plus he had high-tech gadgetry.
Robb had me take off my shoes and socks and then jog on a treadmill while he videotaped my biomechanics. After I had run for about a minute, he stopped the treadmill to analyze my stride.
“When you land on your foot,” he said, “your leg should be straight up and down. But see this? When you land, your leg bends inward. You have a mild over-pronation. Plus your arch is a little flat. It’s not a big deal, but we can correct it by putting you in the right shoe.”
He went into his store room for a few minutes and then came out with three different shoes. “I think this is the one you’ll want,” he said, slipping the first pair on my feet. “But I have these other two just in case.”
Robb took a few minutes to describe the various parts of a shoe. He also pointed out how the shoes I was testing had a rounded heel to help compensate for my stride. I stood up and took a few steps. “Wow,” I said. “It’s almost like I don’t have shoes on at all. I barely feel these.”
“That’s how it should be,” he said.
He took me outside and watched as I jogged around the sidewalk. “That’s better,” he said. “How does it feel?”
“Like I’m running on air,” I said.
“Let’s try the other shoes,” he said.
I tried the other two pairs in turn, and they both felt fine, but neither pair felt as soft and light as the first. “I think these are the ones I want,” I said.
Robb smiled. “You know, that’s the same model you bought from the other store last year. It’s just the new version.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yup,” he said.
He was right. The guy at Pacesetter Athletic — whom I believed had not been paying attention — had put me in the same model of shoe. The difference, however, is that Robb at Fit Right Northwest played with the sizing.
“Your feet swell on long runs,” he told me. “You don’t want a running shoe that’s the same size as your street shoe. You want a running shoe that’s half a size or a full size larger. And in your case, these shoes are wide. I think that’ll help you.”
He told me that with a running shoe there should be a thumbnail’s length of space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe, but that my heel should feel snug. He also told me that the shoe shouldn’t feel tight over the top of my foot.
That night, I took the shoes for a three-mile test jog. They really did make it feel like I was running on air. Last Saturday, I ran twelve miles on trail with them. (That run made them muddy and filthy, which was a sad, sad thing.) They felt great. On Monday, I tested the 10k course that Mac and I will be running on Memorial Day. Again, I didn’t even notice the shoes.
What’s more, my shin splints have vanished. My quads are sore, but that’s because I’ve been running downhill with incorrect form. Also, I didn’t get any blisters on last weekend’s long run. All of you who were telling me I should buy a new pair of running shoes? You were right.