My running shoes are on their last legs — no pun intended — or, more accurately, their last bits of tread, placing me in the market for a new pair. Like a number of runners with high arches, I underpronate my feet, so I need to look for shoes that work with my foot’s natural motion instead of against it — which, given that more runners overpronate, a lot of running shoes are not good for me. In short, my feet deviate from normal; therefore, I am all kinds of picky about my shoes.
However, I am picky in a way that is largely related to function. I’d be lying if I said aesthetics have zero bearing on my choice of shoe; they do, but not nearly so much as whether I can run comfortably in my running shoes.
Relatively straightforward, no?
I thought so too. I’d done my research, reading up on styles I thought would work best for my stride and my feet. I wrote down brands and model names and key features, and organized them into charts of why I thought each might work for me. I swear, I did not do this much research when buying my last car — which may explain why I’ve spent my summer loving my city bus pass.
I’m not naive; I didn’t expect it to be a simple process. These are the shoes that are going to carry my running body for the next 400 miles, the ones I’m counting on to help protect me against ankle injury as well as foot, shin, and low back pain. Already, before their purchase, I have a strong emotional investment in these shoes. This investment is the combined product of my running goals, my stride, actual shoe fit, durability, aesthetic, and price. But I did enter into this shoe expedition with the expectation that it would be guided by fit and function, that the other factors would play supporting roles only.
Apparently the four sales associates at the three stores I visited on Monday did not get this memo. All were specialty shoe stores, and two were specialty running shoe stores, yet all seemed to be primarily occupied with selling me a pair of shoes that looked good. And not just “stylish-good,” either. The words I heard over and over again were about shoes that were “cute,” “adorable,” and “pretty.”
I’m not really a stranger to this response. It happens regularly when I’m looking for professional-ish shoes for work, where many sales associates interpret “work” as something that does not involve me walking an average of 6.5 miles during the school day. But I well and truly expected that if I was going to stores that specialized in running for shoes in which I will be running, the primary emphasis would be on…
… finding pretty shoes? In purple, maybe, which is cute and does not show dirt as much as pink or aqua do?
These were from people who’d listened to my shoe concerns, observed the wear pattern on my current shoes, and in one case, put me through a gait analysis of their own. And twice (though fortunately, not in the store that conducted the gait analysis), sales associates suggested shoes that were designed to add stability for feet that overpronate — in other words, that were designed to do the exact opposite of what I want my running shoes to do — because they’re “cute” or they “look awesome.”
I see two issues with this. First, that aesthetics overrides function: The problem with “pretty” is that it overshadows actually, you know, running in my running shoes. Second, the use of diminutive terms like “cute,” “adorable,” and “pretty” to minimize my running — or at least the value I ascribed to my running in the context of purchasing these shoes. To put it bluntly, if the most expensive shoes I own are the ones I purchase just for running — then I think my running is pretty fucking important, at least to me. It is not something I do because I think running shoes are “adorable.”
In the end, I left two stores and later sent them emails expressing my disappointment and dissatisfaction with their services. In the end, my best bet turned out to be an associate-in-training, who — for whatever he may have lacked in auto-recall product knowledge — was willing to actually listen to me when I explained my running goals and habits, my problems with my current shoes, and the shoes I’d just tried that had not worked for me and to suggest shoes in accordance with my functional needs. It was still kind of a lengthy trial and error, but at least it was a trial and error in good faith.
And in the end, I purchased a pair of men’s minimalist runners. They fail to color-coordinate with any other clothing I own and in fact look a little bit like giant bees took twin dumps on my feet. In the end, though, they felt so good when I was trying them out that I can’t wait until they’re broken in so I can start taking them on real runs.