Running Shoes

I don’t like running. If you want cover distance quickly, bike. If you want to smell the flowers and see the spider webs, walk. Running is too slow and inefficient to get your far, but too jarring for you to notice the fine details of scenery you’re passing. Running for the sake of exercise just seems silly and pointless. Plus I come from a family with bad knees. My grandmother quit tennis and took up swimming in her sixties. My mom makes it a point to look for a walking stick every time she goes hiking.

The last pair of running shoes I bought was in 10th grade, the last year I had PE. (That was also the first year I did the Bay-to-Breakers.) I think I got by doing all those Bay-to-Breakers by borrowing gently-worn shoes from . . . Chris, the local sport goddess. One run a year was not enough to justify the agony . . . of having to research, compare and select a pair of running shoes from the bewildering, dazzling selection at the local Megasports’R’Us. I didn’t really train for the footrace, I just showed up, ran, and hobbled with the consequences on Tuesday after.

Joe runs regularly, rotating with visits to the gym and riding his bike. (He tried to get me to run with him, but I always declined with the excuse: “I don’t have running shoes, I don’t like running.”) And even he had to endure the epic torture of shopping for running shoes. I went with him reluctantly: it took an hour and a half. But it ended up being a good investment of time, because after that pair wore out, he just reordered the same make and model online, for cheaper too.

With the triathlon coming up and . . .”hey, wanna do the Palo Alto Moonlight Run?” asked Chris. (I am a sucker for a gimmick. Ok, I think I’ll do that too. ) It thus became time face the inevitable. I had to go buy a pair of shoes.

I decided that I would go to a full service running shoe store, and like a rube, buy at full retail whatever they would recommend for me. It would be relatively cheap feet and knee insurance. “Try Ryan’s Sports in Santa Clara,” commanded the Sports Goddess.

I almost walked past the store front in the strip mall, it was so low-key. Reassuringly, there were no more than twenty pairs of shoes on display. It was staffed by two men, a lean-pre- geezer and a lean-Asian high-school student. “How much running and what type of running have you been doing?” “Starting from scratch,” I mustered.
“Did you bring your old running shoes?” “No, I’m literally starting from scratch, I have no running shoes, my friend’s talked me into doing a sprint distance triathlon in a few months.”
They measured each of my naked feet, brought out three pairs of shoes, and had me try each one on. “Take a little jog to the end and back.” I dutifully trotted past the Korean hairdresser’s next door, as other customers trying out shoes did too. The stylists barely glanced out the window at us, being used to the sight now.

The Nikes were eliminated. The Brooks and the Asics remained contenders, comfort at equal magnitude but different feel. “Well, pick based on looks then, since they’re the same price.” said the Asian high school student helpfully. I couldn’t help laughing. I thought I was going to be given a sell-job, on “the super-cushioning properties of the meringue-based gel”, or the “ergonomic design of the neo-galactic arch support,” and it was going to boil down to which would be a better wardrobe accessory in my fashion arsenal. For the record, I will only wear those shoes for running, and resolve never to be caught dead in public in them. Either way you look at them, they’re rather ungainly in a techno-pretentious way, bulky in a plastic-on-steroids manner. No longer shall you identify an American tourist by the Hawaiian shirt and plaid shorts, just look down the shoes, and if they’re athletic/tennis sneakers, bingo. I have to admit though I wear Keds-type and low-Converse canvas sneakers all the time. (Did you know the British call sneakers “trainers”?)

I ended up picking the Brooks, because the tapered toe was a novelty: I never had that feature in any of my running shoes. It gave a little extra push-off from the toes when I ran, making me feel like a bouncing fairy, although it would take some getting used to. Plus the pink and grey detailing on the Asics screamed “girlie” too much.

The coast was more than that of the two used wetsuits. But hey, support local business, right? And they seemed to genuinely care about my being satisfied with my purchase. Which I was, until Chris asked me which ones I got. “They sold me the same type too!” she exclaimed. Huh? Chris runs a goodly amount of miles each week, maybe they oversold me on the shoes. Or maybe it’s just that we have the same shape in feet. I will actually try them out tomorrow.

(After buying the shoes, I promptly bought a pair of ‘running shorts’ to complete the outfit . . . for $4 at Goodwill.)

P.S. Lest you get an impression of Chris as being nothing but a one-dimensional sport-goddess, not only is she indeed a sports goddess, she’s also a dedicated, enthusiastic and talented fourth-grade teacher with mean chops at making fruit salad. Not to mention being hearty in the generosity and humour departments.

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