I like to spread my business around to local running stores. But my longest relationship is with Dick Pond Athletics, whose founder I first met in the late 1970s when he was selling running and wrestling shoes out of his garage.
Last evening I visited the St. Charles (IL) store to cash in a $15 customer reward voucher and buy a new pair of running shoes. I was greeted by a fresh young face working the floor that I had not met before. She is a recent graduate of Illinois State University and is studying to become a pediatric physical therapist.
I’ve grown accustomed to walking into running stores and telling them what I want. For the last four years that has been the Saucony Triumph ISO in size 11.5. I’ve worn probably 12-15 pairs of those in various colors.
But the most recent pair feels like their design had changed with a drop in the heel a bit. My Achilles tendons tend to hurt while running in them. So my alternate pair of New Balance 880s in sky blue with accents of bright green have been my “go to” shoe for a while. They’re what I’ve worn for speed training and races. But even that pair of shoes has close to 500 miles on them. It was time to get a new pair.
Testing the waters
My helper rolled up my pant legs and had me walk on the treadmill in socks. I told her all my flaws, which were clearly evident on the screen. Slightly bowed legs. Varus angle a bit more on the left left. And so on.
She pulled out a set of New Balance 860s and a set of 880s as requested. But also a pair of Brooks (maybe the Ghost, or the Glycerin, I didn’t check) and a set of Saucony Rides. That’s the shoe I was training in before I got hooked on the Triumph after a Saucony rep gifted me a pair outside Geneva Running Outfitters.
So I appreciate consistency but always keep an open mind. That’s the liberal in me, and it has produced some sweet surprises over the years in many facets of life. Variety is good when it comes to running shoes and I’m still quite proud of having discovered a set of Puma running shoes a few years back that were one of the most comfortable pair of running shoes I’ve ever worn. But most running stores don’t sell Puma. So I gave up trying to stick with that brand.
When training big miles in my youth I always alternated running shoes day-to-day. That kept my legs from getting too grooved by wearing only a single model (or brand) of shoes. Avoid overuse injuries. Those are never sweet surprises
Back in those days I will also admit to committing the cardinal sin (and boy, that phrase that has taken on a whole new meaning, hasn’t it) of wearing running shoes far beyond their prescribed life.
In particular I wore a set of New Balance training flats until there was literally a hole under the forefoot. But I liked those shoes because until the sole wore through, they felt good. They were navy blue with a silver N on the side. Simple and classic. But when I felt pebbles poking me under the ball of my foot during a 20K Chicago Distance Classic race in 1982 I realized I’d pushed my luck a little far. That was a humbling moment actually.
These days I don’t let shoes get anywhere near that worn out. My body won’t let me. Which is also why I let the sales gal at Dick Pond put me through some tests and pinch my arches to see if I was in any kind of obvious pain. That was all okay. What did hurt was a poke on the Achilles. “I need to stretch,” I admitted.
I’d also mentioned that my hips were tight and tired. So the gal walked to the front of the store and brought over an elastic band. Then she showed me a few exercises to do to strengthen my hip flexors. I swallowed my pride and listened closely to what she was telling me. Even us old dogs need to be reminded how to lift our legs once in a while.
Her counsel made me feel a lot better about my purchase. Those Brooks just felt a little low for my needs and the Saucony Glides felt good too. But gosh darn if those New Balance did not feel snappy with my running form and foot plant while skimming along at 6mph on the treadmill.
The glory and humility of buying new running shoes is that its wonderful to have that fresh out of the box feeling on your feet, but it certainly doesn’t cure all your bio-mechanical flaws or weaknesses by any means.
Instead it’s a precious illusion we create for ourselves with a pair of new running shoes. That feeling lasts a few hundred miles and then we start all over again. Glory and humility just seem to run hand in hand.