Running shoe shopping

On and off, I’ve been a runner for over a decade.  It started with the bizarre idea that I would train to run a marathon, which I did (and hated, and swore I would never do again).  But though I was done with marathoning, for some reason running stuck with me.  I’ve never quite enjoyed the running — not in the way I enjoy many of the other things I do — but I came to love the feelings I have afterwards:  accomplishment, exertion, challenge, and the satisfaction of having put in real effort and finishing what I set out to do.

I don’t look like a runner.  I can neither run very fast not very great distances.  My accomplishments are accrued slowly, through persistence.  But I do get out there and put the miles in.  After a bit of a hiatus, I came back to running last year.  I started in March, and by the end of the year I’d put in over 600 miles (counting both runs and athletic, fast walks).  I was feeling pretty proud, and increasingly fit.

I also, though, was feeling the pain of incredibly overworn running shoes.  I’ve lost track exactly, but I know for certain that I had not replaced my running shoes more than once since running the marathon … in 2001.  I was in dire need of new shoes, and endlessly putting it off.  I did not want to try to buy running shoes here, where I would most likely have to complete the transaction in German.  I wanted to try and wait until my next visit home, where I know a good place, and where I could make my purchase in English.

But I couldn’t hold out long enough.  By late October, my feet and knees were starting to feel sore, and I regularly had to pause during my runs to try and tighten my shoes — and I never could quite get them tight enough.  I had to admit that I couldn’t wait any longer — I needed new shoes.  I debated getting online and trying to choose some, but my previous experiences of being fitted by knowledgable professionals left me all too aware that choosing the “right” shoes out of a catalog was pretty unlikely.  I was left with only one daunting option — to shop for running shoes in person here in Vienna … in German.

After doing a little research, I was happy to discover that I at least wouldn’t have to go far — there is a good running shop right around the corner, on my block (and technically in my building).  One Saturday afternoon, I went for it.  I went to the shop and looked around, disheartened by the expense (and not daring to mentally convert to dollars).  I chose a few that I liked the look of (though I know that’s not the way to choose running shoes — choosing running shoes can’t be done by look, color or brand, you try them, then you know), and found someone to help me (who, thankfully, spoke a little English).

I discovered a few things.

First, I still have an inclination to choose marathon shoes.  Of all the running shoes in the shop, the three pairs I had selected were all more appropriate for long-distance running than for the short distances I do now. I also discovered that shopping for running shoes here is very much like shopping for running shoes at home. And runners don’t judge other runners the way that non-runners do — just like at home.  When I tell a non-runner that I run, they (always) take a look at my physique before uttering a (sometimes surprised, sometimes impressed) “Really?” (often) followed by, “Just jogging, though, right?”  When I tell another runner that I run, they usually don’t react.  No surprise, no nothing.  Just on to the next thing.  When I explained to the young guy at the shop that I was looking for running shoes, he had not a flicker of surprise or doubt, just immediately jumped into questions about distance, schedule and running surfaces … which was pretty great.

From there, he chose several pairs of shoes for me to try (none of which were ones I had selected), and then I tried them on in turn and ran around the shop — which is exactly the process I was familiar with from home.  (I like it — it’s like when Harry Potter goes to Ollivander’s to choose his wand!)

I finally selected a pair — not at all like the ones I thought I would have wanted — and went home very happy (but also a good bit poorer — running shoes are EXPENSIVE here).  But now my feet and knees feel better.

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