March 11, 2013

As a non-runner, shopping for new running shoes was a chance to explore a world I didn’t know existed. I highly recommend the experience as a way to get on a happy, comfortable track for both exercise and relaxation.

Running isn’t my thing because of painful shin splints. Even a jog would cause those nasty hairline fractures in my lower leg bones. But I recently starting walking on the treadmill at the gym and really liked it the first few times until…darn, they were back. Shin splints.

For advice, I reached out to my good friend Judy, who is a marathoner. She offered some very sensible stretching tips. Then she suggested going to a running shoe specialty store where someone would videotape me on a treadmill, analyze my movements and select suitable footwear options.

Wow. Really? Who knew there were stores that only sold running shoes? And a personalized gait analysis? This sounded fun, especially since my m.o. is to buy the cheapest sneakers on the sale rack at Modell’s. (Yup, there they are in the photo above.)

The first step in getting started was to Google “running shoe store.” Then I took the names that popped up and searched for them on to see the reviews they each received. With that information in hand, I was off to top-rated New York Running Company in Manhattan’s high-end Columbus Circle vertical mall.

Very glamorous! Of course, I made a point of not looking at any price tags as I marched to the back where the shoes were.

Just as I began feeling intimidated, a nice sales associate named Mark Hess greeted me. We got down to business as I stepped on the treadmill. The video camera was positioned behind me at foot level.

The far left photo here shows the guy who went right after me. The middle photo shows the video screen hanging above the treadmill. As we watched the tape of me walking, Mark pointed out my issues. In the far right shot, the little slanting arrow shows the inward lean of my right foot. Ideally, the arrow should be straight up and vertical, which would mean that my feet were doing the best possible job of supporting my legs. Instead, both of my feet suffer from excess pronation and lean in.

The solution was to find a shoe that offered lots of arch support. We began with a pair of  $40 Superfeet premium insoles. Mark explained that they are NOT supposed to sit snugly under the foot’s arch. The proper fit requires them to hit the rear two-thirds of the arch, which felt strange in the store but now, I don’t even notice. Sorry, I forgot to take a picture!

But here are the fabulous $10 Feetures socks. Even though they were pricey, they were unbelievably soft yet stretchy. Mark said they had a higher thread count than regular socks and a specially curved heel for a better fit.

Finally, the shoes. From a fashion standpoint, this was disappointing because D-width feet like mine are beyond the fashion realm of the pretty neon-colored shoes that I see the hot babes wearing to the gym. Instead, I was presented with three rather homely options.

Still, these sturdy choices were several steps up from my old sneakers, which are crossed out below. I decided on the ones in the circle, the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12.

When Mark mentioned they were on sale for $89.97 from the usual $110, I perked up. In addition to being super-comfortable, they were the least expensive among the three pairs I tried on. Next to the Brooks is a $120 shoe, which is next to an ill-fitting $150 shoe that was slashed to $100. Mine was discounted because the season’s new $130 version of it had just arrived. Gee, this is just like getting a discount on buying a new car that was last year’s model. Who knew?!

Now I’ve gotta tell you about the next item in my shopping cart. The $25 Foam Roller is a must-buy miracle item for everyone in this world. On the right are two pages from the instructional brochure, which shows some of the many ways to roll it over muscled areas that need loosening. You can roll this thing under your back, the sides of your outer thighs, the arms and yes, under those troublesome calves. The left photo shows Mark explaining exactly where to roll in order to prevent shin splints.

He suggested rolling lightly before getting on the treadmill to make the muscles more pliable and then, rolling deeply and extensively afterwards to relax the muscles. Even if you don’t run or exercise, a Foam Roller offers some very nice do-it-yourself massage therapy.

Mark wrapped up our nearly hour-long session with a little free advice. Be sure to hydrate muscles well by drinking plenty of water on a regular basis, he suggested. Then he showed me a good shin splint exercise. Flex the foot, grab onto it, then tap the toe a few times. Do it with the leg in three positions: Straight, knee bent, and heel drawn up close to the butt. Ouch, oooh, aahhh, good pain.

Thank you Mark!

At the cash register, he rang up the $89.97 running shoes, $36 inner soles, $10 socks and $25 foam roller. Since the store offers a 10 percent discount on non-sale items to New York Sports Club members like me, $7.50 came off the bill, which came to $159.47. Not bad, actually. Yay!

If you’re interested in ordering any of this merch, there’s tons of stuff on the store’s website. There are also a few retail locations in New Jersey and one in Rye, N.Y., which is near me. I might check that out.

Meanwhile, I am becoming a new woman. At some point, it will be time to update my ancient mom gym clothes but I’m already in better shape. The running shoes are soooo comfy on the treadmill and even for walking the dog. The socks are such a joy that I wear them inside of my boots. And that Foam Roller is outta sight.

Overall, I’m stepping out feeling quite thrilled because I’m taking up a form of exercise at age 56 that was too hard for me in college or even in my 30s. Clearly, this is a message from the cosmos that no matter how old I am, there are still new ways to connect with my body.

Never give up. Never, never, ever.  :)