Wednesday, July 2, 2008

0 New Shoes & A New Attitude ;-)


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Yea! I finally got new sneakers -- the fantastic Nike+ Air Structure Triax 11, which I purchased earlier tonight at Metro Walk & Run, & wore for the very first time only a few hours later during tonight's run.

It was great to take the new shoes for a "test drive." They felt light & comfortable, & best of all, my feet & knees felt GREAT afterwards! Ahhhhhhh, what a marked contrast to my much-beloved but rather heavy & clunky old grey Air Nikes!



Even though I loved the slick look of those old grey kicks, they had enough mileage on them to warrant frequent flyer privileges! ;-) Even with the most moderate mileage estimate [i.e., if you multiple 3 miles x 3 times a week x 44 weeks (or 10 months worth of runs), that still works out to be 396 miles!], it was clear that I was well overdue for a new pair!

In case you're wondering, the recommended mileage limit for running sneakers is actually 300-400 miles, & not the oft-quoted but highly questionable figure of 500 miles, an unfortunate & ill-informed estimate which certain sources still seem to perpetuate to this day. Even the best running shoes need to be replaced after they reach their mileage limit. Depending on your weekly mileage total, the time period for mileage accumulation can typically be anywhere from 4-8 months, but usually not an entire year. A year is typically too long of a time period to keep your running shoes, even for a regular runner that clocks a mere 9 miles per week almost every week. (That'd still be 468 miles in a year!) The soles of your shoes are of course the first to go, but if you wear your shoes for too long, the cushioning will also deteriorate as well.

And to think I'd worn mine for roughly 10 months worth of runs. Yikes! No wonder my knees were tender. Eek. With almost a year's worth of steady mileage on them, it's hard to believe that there were any soles at all left on these shoes! ;-)

(Doh! I can't believe I'd lost track of my sneaker mileage. Next time, I'm going to be much better about tracking this sort of data via places like RunningAhead, Runner+/Nike+, & the like. It's actually really important.)

The one big lesson I learned from the running stores I visited earlier today was that my grey Nikes were the exact opposite shoe of the kind I should've been wearing. Which also explains the knee problems to a large extent. (More on that in a bit.)

So, I'm going to give those grey Nike Air sneaks the proper burial they deserve -- A slam dunk into the trash can! ;-)

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Here are some useful notes I'd like to share about my recent shoe-buying experience:

Today, thanks to some knowledgeable salespeople at Metro Walk & Run & R N J Sports (i.e., two of my favorite running specialty stores), I discovered a lot of useful information about my feet, pronation style, & how to use/apply that information to make a much better (i.e., much more informed!) buying decision, in order to get the best & most suitable pair of running sneakers possible.

Some of the more useful conclusions I'd developed came simply through the experience of comparing & contrasting the information I'd received from both stores. In particular, I found it really useful to get more than one gait analysis: Not only does each person have their own opinion, but different salespeople will give you new & different pointers about your stride, feet, & the types of shoes you should consider. Also, some salespeople are of course more experienced than others!

I found my visit to the second store, Metro Walk & Run, to be the most useful & insightful in determining what running shoes were right for me: The fellow there not only analyzed my gait but my running sneaker wear pattern as well: He told me that I had a normal wear pattern on my running shoes -- i.e., the wear pattern was in a diagonal line going from the top inner left area, starting from the top toe area & extending to the back right side of the shoe. (The far back portion of the shoe was worn on the left & right sides, but there was slightly more wear on the right back side. However, that was probably due to the fact that my grey Nikes had a bit too much support & my feet had supinated as a result!)

In other words, today I discovered that I've got normal pronation, with medium (i.e., normal) arches. That means I can wear a shoe built for neutral pronation, i.e., one with cushioning & a semi-curved slip or combination last, & don't have to be overly concerned with stability or motion-control issues.

Also, I learned a lot by trying on multiple brands & styles of shoes. And I'd likewise encourage those of you who are looking for your next pair of running shoes, who have the time & the patience, to do the same.

Even though most of you already know that I'm partial to Nike, I went into the running stores with an open-mind, & was willing to try on several different brands to contrast & compare. In fact, at the first store I visited (i.e., R N J Sports), I tried on so many different shoe styles & brands, it made my head spin. I think I literally tried on every single brand they carried -- Asics, Brooks, Saucony, Adidas, New Balance, Nike, etc., (with the exception of Mizuno, because the guy had steered me away from this shoe after determining that it wouldn't work for me, based on my other recent shoe-trying-on experiences in the store that same evening). After all, the only thing I had to lose was time (& perhaps in the end, a bit of money!).

During this evening's shoe-shopping outings, I also found out some useful information about my foot shape & which shoe construction was best for my foot shape: My feet typically need more room in the toe bed, but are fairly narrow in the middle. That usually means that shoes with a wide, round toe box suit me best -- Nike & New Balance are known for this particular construction.

Now it all makes sense! It's no wonder I could never wear Saucony & Asics! I find the toe box of these brands to be a bit too restrictive for me -- They squeeze my little toes, & the footbed of these shoes feels very awkward & unnatural to me! (Also, if you take into consideration that your feet tend to swell during running, there's just no freakin' way these shoes would work for me....;-) ) Also, I can't run in a shoe which feels like it has a slightly raised footbed! When I tried on these brands, my feet felt like they had to do extra work to get the same lift as some of the other, more comfortable types of shoes I tried -- I had to press down a lot harder on my shoes!

As alluded to previously, I also figured out what I'd previously been doing incorrectly. This particular information was invaluable! One major revelation was the realization that my beloved grey Nikes were precisely the wrong type of shoe for my feet. Yes, I am somewhat ashamed to admit it, but, with a few minor exceptions, I'd previously been buying the wrong sort of shoe for my foot for the past few years. However, this is a testament to the fact that even an experienced runner like me can make mistakes! ;-) I never said that I knew absolutely everything there is to know about running shoes! But I've certainly learned a great deal today! ;-)

One reason for this pre-existing "knowledge gap" is that it's honestly been a while since the last time I'd bought running sneakers. Having seriously "stocked up" on several pairs of running shoes at my last shopping outing, I hadn't been shoe-buying in a few years, & shoe technology has obviously improved considerably since then. Also, I'd never really taken the time to adequately understand sneaker technology until rather recently, when I'd had a practical reason to research it! Additionally, I'd previously bought athletic sneakers from generic sporting goods stores -- Big mistake! -- whose salespeople didn't always take the time to explain why I needed a particular type of shoe. And it's not for lack of curiosity. I did ask, but frankly, most of the salespeople either really didn't know the information or just didn't care to take the time to adequately explain the concepts or help me find the proper shoe. (Plus, now there's so much more useful information available on the internet about these subjects -- So there's really no excuse not to know or be prepared before you step into a shoe store!)

Anyhow, back to the origins of my previous shoe-buying mistakes: For some bizarre reason which I can't exactly explain, I'd long ago equated protection from knee problems with wearing a heavier, stability shoe with more heel support. I don't know why I'd been convinced that this type of shoe was right for me, but it wasn't helping my situation any!

Ironically, wearing these types of shoes was actually having the exact opposite (i.e., adverse!) effect on my knees! By wearing a rigid shoe which prevented my foot from pronating properly, I was actually creating knee problems for myself! My grey Nikes had way too much stability in the heel & were actually causing my feet to supinate. And, as a result, my knees weren't thanking me any either. ;-) My feet were hitting (or rather slapping!) the ground in a totally rigid & flat position, negating any potential shock absorption value of the running sneakers themselves.

And of course, running on shoes that were well past their expiration date didn't help much either! ;-) I'd stopped keeping track of the total mileage on my sneakers at some point - And that was a seriously big "Whoops!"

But the big kicker was realizing that much of the knee pain I'd been experiencing over the past several months could've simply been avoided just by wearing a different pair of sneakers & tracking my sneaker mileage from the get-go. All of that pain had been rather unnecessary. Sheesh. If only I'd realized that ten months ago! (So please, learn from the benefits of my mistakes, & make sure you get a shoe that adequately suits your foot!)

In fact, it was because of the information I received tonight that I was able to discover the source of my ongoing knee pain.

These revelations were a huge "light-bulb" moment for me! I can't recall if I said "A-ha!" or "Eureka!", but the net effect was the same. ;-)

And wow, what a difference the right shoe makes.

Usually people with my foot type & pronation usually need cushioned shoes with a bit of medial (arch) support, but don't require a ton of heel support or stability. In other words, I need a lighter shoe with less heel & midsole support, to allow our feet to pronate naturally as they're supposed to do! And to think that my running shoes had actually been screwing up the natural (& already correct!) motion of my foot!

Another big revelation was my running shoe size. I normally take a 7.5 in a ladies shoe, but had previously been wearing a size 8 running shoe. As a result, I was getting "runner's toenail," i.e., that uneven nail bed that results from a big toenail that's been squished into a running shoe! Other than not feeling all that comfortable & not being very cute to look at, it's a virtually painless condition.

Apparently, I should've been sizing up by a whole size, & choosing an 8.5. Wow, that was big news to me, because I'd thought that running shoes in this size would tend to be too big & cause heel slippage in the back. That might be true with some brands, but one caveat is that Nike shoes tend to run small, & so when I tried on an 8.5, they fit perfectly. What a surprise!

(BTW, if you're getting a glazed-over look reading about all of the above shoe technology "mumbo-jumbo," let me recommend that you read more about your foot type, pronation, & wear patterns. Especially before your next shoe-buying outing. ;-) Runner's World has a lot of great articles on the subject, all of which you can check out here. To my credit, I did read almost all of the articles in this section before going shoe-shopping, & in fact, took many of the print-outs with me to the shoe stores!)

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I also want to mention a few other details about the running specialty stores that I visited tonight, in case there are some local (DC-area) readers who could benefit from the information:

I visited R N J Sports first. It was easy to get distracted while shopping there, because there's such a wide selection of running gear & apparel to look at in their store! While they do in fact specialize in running merchandise, they also specialize in cycling & racquet sports as well. Due to the tantalizing distractions of all the other gear & apparel I wanted to check out, it took me a lot longer to shop in there than expected!

While I didn't end up buying my running shoes there (more on that shortly), I did pick up several other useful running-related items including a 4-bottle Nathan hydration system, a box of GU supplements (i.e., the kind without any sucrose or caffeine, because taking anything else typically just messes with my system!), & a few capris, bike tights, & singlets, which were all on sale for an additional 20% off. I'd lucked on today, because the store was having a 20% off sale off all running apparel!

R N J Sports did in fact carry the Nike+ Air Structure Triax 11 shoes, which were, in fact, as I soon discovered shortly thereafter, slightly less expensive (i.e., $5 less expensive to be exact!) than the ones I'd bought at Metro Walk & Run. Ironically enough, these shoes were one of the first I'd tried on at R N J's; I tried them on & liked them -- they actually fit my feet really well.

So then why didn't I buy my shoes there?! Well, part of it was timing - The salesperson took a great deal of time bringing out the shoes & giving me explanations, & before I knew it, the place was closing & I had to leave! I needed running shoes, & I needed them yesterday! :-)

To be fair, part of the reason I didn't end up buying at R N J's was also of my own doing: Since I'd gotten distracted & had spent some of that shoe-shopping time trying on apparel (!) -- well, I had to do something to occupy my time while he was in the back pulling out shoes!!!! ;-) -- I had a bit less time to come to a proper decision. (Whoops!) I barely got out of there by closing, & didn't want to be rude by holding them up for too much longer.

It didn't help that R N J Sports closes an hour earlier than Metro Walk & Run, which meant that I could either come back to R N J's the next day, or go visit the competition down the street. ;-) Of course, for the minimal difference in price, it wasn't worth waiting another day just to have to fight Rockville traffic again & spend more gas money, just in order to go back to R N J Sports. Worse would be running even one more day in those old -- & more importantly, quite painful! -- running sneakers! So of course, it was much easier to go right down the street to buy the shoes.

It ultimately came down to a lack of time & opportunity at R N J's -- to shop, receive salient information in a timely fashion, & make a final buying decision. And of course, that wasn't at issue during my visit to Metro Walk & Run.

And part of my buying decision came down to the gait analysis itself: The gait analysis I received at R N J Sports was unclear & inconsistent, & not exactly delivered with the utmost confidence by a very tall but still very young-looking salesperson (who was in his mid-to-late teens!). He was a very nice fellow, but obviously inexperienced as a shoe salesman, & was also a bit out of his depth when it came to conveying more specific/detailed information about pronation & shoe technology. And frankly, I wasn't convinced his gait analysis was all that accurate either, & wanted to get a second opinion.

Also, I was also a bit confused by his somewhat muddled explanation of the difference between the Triax & some of the other Nike+ shoes; it was a bit unclear to me which shoe would be right for my feet & why.

And even though I was chomping at the bit to buy running sneakers, I'd rather wait & gather all the necessary information than rush into a snap decision about something so important, which could completely alter the alignment of my feet, & thus make the difference between comfortable, healthy running & potential injury!

To be fair, I know that my recent experience is an anomaly for this store. Many of my friends go here & have received excellent gait analyses & excellent advice on running shoes, apparel, & equipment. And in fact, this has also been my experience as well: The other people on staff I talked to during tonight's visit were a lot more knowledgeable as well.

Of course, I do understand that every novice salesperson has to start someplace! (Note to anyone from R N J's; please don't fire the guy on my account; he just needs some more training & experience, & I'm sure he'll be just fine!) However, since today I really desperately needed an accurate gait analysis (& the right running shoes!), I just really feel like to be the guinea pig in that grand experiment! ;-)

In contrast, the salesperson at Metro Walk & Run, who was in his mid-to-late twenties, & just so happened to be a track coach (!), gave me a much more accurate pronation analysis, & also provided me with a much better explanation of the differences between the various Nike+ models. He was very knowledgeable & helpful, & gave me lots of good tips regarding running sneakers & also running in general. He was really excellent at analyzing my feet, stride, & degree of pronation, & helped me pinpoint the proper type of shoe for my feet. After listening to this second fellow's adept analsyses & explanations & again trying on a few different types of shoes to narrow down my final selection, I was convinced that the Triax were the right shoes for me.

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Some other observations about the primary differences between the two specialty stores:

Both places sell shoes slightly under the list price, but R N J's typically tends to be slightly less expensive. On the flip side, Metro Walk & Run has a more convenient location, better hours, & is more easily accessible from the street, & has lots more parking. Also, Metro Walk & Run doesn't have quite the vast selection that R N J's does, especially when it comes to choices in apparel, sneakers, & hydration systems; however, when it comes to shoes, they do tend to carry the makes & models that I'm most interested in buying. ;-)

I like both places -- each has its advantages -- but it's times like tonight that I sure do wish R N J's stayed open just a bit longer!

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Next up, an article on how to find the right running shoes for your foot type.....

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