Many people have a strange relationship with their running shoes. I know this because they come into our store — sometimes limping, sometimes on crutches, sometimes (no joke) even in full leg casts — and want to know one thing: where are the magic shoes? Where are the shoes that will cure my IT band syndrome, my plantar whateveritisitis, make me run faster, jump higher, get me a PR and a BQ, PDQ? People want their shoes to win things for them, to heal them, to make them happy, right here, right now. Supershoe, we’re in deep despair: where are you? Save us!
But Shoeman doesn’t hang out in the Shoecave, waiting to save your life when you send the Shoesignal. Shoes are just strips of unpronounceable synthetics and fossil fuel by-products, sewn together by a machine, that you wrap around your quivering, expectant feet. They’re zero drop, 4 mm drop, 8 mm drop, dynaflexed, gelled, lunarlonned, and torsionbarred. Some are firm as oakwood, some squishy as a half-deflated beach ball. In our store there are nearly 300 different kinds of shoes, a somewhat disturbing rainbow-colored display of our choice-crammed, technology-obsessed society. A society seeking the Answer, and never satisfied with what they find.
“What am I supposed to feel?” many customers ask, looking at me as if I had somehow morphed into their bodies and were trying the shoes on myself. My answer is always the same: whatever you’re feeling! Feel what you’re feeling. If you feel too much, it’s probably the wrong shoe. You’re looking, I tell them, for the shoe that feels least like a shoe when you have it on your foot, the shoe that feels like nothing, the shoe you put on and forget about. There’s an unconvinced look in some eyes when I say this. I’m not spending $130, they want to say, without feeling something really amazing.
People are overthinking their shoes and their running in general. “Is running in minimalist shoes better than running in conventional training shoes?” is another popular question. My answer is always: it’s not an either/or situation. Instead of looking for the Answer, look for answers. Try finding 2-3 pairs of shoes you like and mix up your shoes and road surfaces: run on pavement, trail, cross-country, high school or college tracks. Expose your feet to different stress points and pressure points, instead of hitting the same joints/spots the same way every time you run. You’ll learn more about your running and your body, and, if you’re even a little like me, you might find yourself getting injured a little less.
Customers want the Answer, and when they do I know they’re probably a little disappointed with me. But whenever I start to feel a little overwhelmed with technical details, I reconnect with that place in my head labeled Personal Experience, and I realize the answers are much simpler. Find that place in your own head, think for yourself, and learn to put your trust in that. I can certainly help you pick out a shoe, but neither the shoe, me or anyone else can save your life. I recently saw a parody of a running shoe ad with callouts pointing to various parts of a shoe, and all of the callouts said the same thing: “Does Nothing.” The parody ad tagline? “It’s Just A Shoe.”