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Running 101: Get a Professional Shoe Fitting

Posted Oct 19 2010 5:01am

Gorgeous sunny morning. Nice cool - but not cold - temps. Crisp clean air. Beautiful scenery. And to top it all off, an awesome new playlist on my MP3 player. Indeed, all the makings of a magnificent long run. Which it was (my pace time surprised me so much that I rechecked it on 3 separate websites to make sure I wasn't imagining things). Unfortunately, my perfect run was marred by one little thing: a blister breaking out on my right arch. Sadly, I realized as I unlaced my sneaks, my gut feeling was confirmed that these were not good shoes and I was going to have to revisit my shoe options. I didn't want to admit that my beloved Asics had failed me but it was true. This was the 3rd style I've tried since the demise of my beloved GT-2120's and each had been worse than the last.

Not knowing where to begin, I started with one of those 100-page advertorial spreads so commonly found in magazines this time of year. One of these yearly staples is the "Perfect Shoe Guide" which purports to help you find the perfect shoe for your foot. If you've ever read one of these, you discover very quickly that you need to be on intimate terms with your body. First you need to decide what type of exerciser you are. Are you a runner? A jogger? A walker? A trail runner? A trail runner who jogs up hills and sometimes walks when the scenery is really gorgeous? Second, you need to know your arch type - high, normal or so flat you'll never have to worry about getting drafted. Generally they tell you to step with wet feet on a paper bag and then match your imprints to the pictures in the guide. Lastly, you need to know what your "pronation" status is. It's at this point that I generally get so frustrated that I stop reading all together and go surf the web for cute workout pants (although then I need to know my waist measurement and my inseam and ... why are women's clothes so complicated?).

So, I started by looking up pronation. While the definition is pretty simple - it's the degree you roll to the outside or inside of your foot when you run - telling whether you do it is not. It's hard to watch yourself run without smacking into stationary objects. For the first time in my warehouse-shopping, bargain-hunting, online-sale-loving life I realized it was time to call in a shoe professional.

So I trotted myself off to Runner's Gate, a running boutique near my home *. The first thing I noticed was the indoor track that went around the sales floor. It was probably 50 laps to a mile but I suppose it could keep the sales staff entertained on slow days. The second thing that caught my eye was the lack of shoes. Being used to shopping in stores that rightly end in -house, I was surprised to see one wall with three shelves of shoes. That's it. The last thing I noticed was that I was the only customer in the store which meant I got the devoted attention of the owner Phil.

After listening to me babble about how Asics are the only shoes that have ever worked for me and my left foot is a half size bigger than my right and how I have to shave the hair on my big toe or else it looks like a daddy longlegs and scares my children (true story) he sat back in his little rolly chair and said, "Well, let's see it. Take your shoes off."

I'd expected this. And yet I'd still forgotten to wear socks. Or fix my self-mutilated pedicure. Or shave my big toe.

Phil did not recoil in horror. Although he did ask me if I preferred cushioned or non-cushioned socks as he proffered me a basket of demo socks to try on. Cushioned? I didn't even realize that was an option. All my gym socks come from Target or TJ Maxx where they only have one kind and the Puma logo may or may not be backwards on them.

While I was debating sock philosophies in my head, Phil was evaluating my feet. His verdict? High arches, no pronation (so I'm a "neutral" runner), and MY FEET ARE THE SAME SIZE. I KNOW. How have I lived all my life with these feet and thought I was a normal-arched over-pronater with freak-show feet? How could I have been so wrong? !

According to Phil's assessment I'd been running in the wrong shoes for years. He brought out a stack of boxes, one pair of each neutral shoe he carried. I pulled the first pair out of the box. "Oooh pretty!" I gushed over the hot pink, gray and black kicks.

He frowned at me. "Function first."

Oh, right. I dutifully jogged around the track to see how they felt while inside I was thinking about how weird it is to have someone watch me run. Is my stride too long? My arms too stiff? Heaven help me, do I have a Phoebe Run?

To his credit, not once during the try-on fest (8 pairs, I believe) did he laugh at me. Not even when I told him the reason I need new shoes is so I can run the Monster Dash in full costume in a week and a half. In fact, he even helped me troubleshoot how to make wings that would be more aerodynamic than the ones I found at Target! In between laps, Phil let me pick his brain about various running trends: Barefoot? Good for the short occasional workout, not great outdoors or for long distances. Shaper shoes? Utter ridiculousness. Newtons? Pricey but will indeed help make you faster but only if you don't have any existing biomechanical issues with your gait. Talk about your full-service shop!

After the frenzied circle running, I decided on the shoes that felt the best. And they weren't the Asics. I got a pair of Saucony Ride 3 shoes. The pretty pink/gray/black ones, even. I'd never even tried Sauconys before. The snobby part of me always ignored them as they were cheaper and I figured cheap shoes couldn't be good shoes. But then I took them for a run. No blisters, no hot spots, no shin splints or calf cramps. Nothing but good sweaty running! A hard 9 on the treadmill where I sweated so much my ponytail (little nubbin that it is these days) was dripping water down my back and my shorts were so soaked that it looked like I'd wet myself (perhaps I did! Ever since childbirth I can't be sure my bladder isn't pulling one over on me.) didn't even phase them.

Of course once I got home I immediately looked up my new shoes on my fave discount shoe websites. They were 5$ cheaper online. But you know what? The 5$ was more than worth it to finally have someone help me find the right shoe. Oh, and to discover that my feet really are the same size. (Whatever will I talk about at parties now?!)

What are your favorite running shoes? Have you ever had your gait and feet analyzed by a professional? Cushioned or non-cushioned socks? Have you ever been surprised to discover one of your body parts was not what you thought it was?

*FCC: I was not paid, given free or discounted merchandise or compensated in any way by Runner's Gate nor by Saucony. Sadly. It would have been nice to get free shoes! Saucony - call me when you need a new spokesgirl!
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