Running Store Fail

Disclaimer: The author of the following rant is a bearded, long-haired, barefooted mountain runner who often runs multiple times a day exclusively in “minimalist/barefoot” shoes. While he chooses not to self-apply the name hippie, it would not be an inaccurate description, and the following paragraphs should be read with this in consideration. Also, this rant is about the running store in general, not any specific establishment.

Rant written by this guy…

I hate the running store. It bothers me on many different levels, from the most basic frustration that there is an entire industry built upon selling us things we don’t need, to the brick and mortar face value experiential existence of these awful establishments. This being said, I understand the necessity of the running store, I have to wear shoes, I have to buy them somewhere, someone needs to make money selling these shoes, and someone needs to make money manufacturing these shoes. These are all very simple concepts, and I have no qualm with the capitalistic nature of these endeavors. In fact, I’ll even forgive the running store/shoe company for manufacturing the over-built foot-coffins that they sell the most of. I’ve long since given up on the idea that the majority of runners will abandon these form debilitating shoes in my lifetime.

My gripe with the running store this time around is substantially more personal. In the past few weeks, I’ve been visiting different stores in an attempt to find a new pair of road running shoes to replace my present pair of MR10’s. Now, when I go into a specialty store, there is a certain degree of knowledge I expect from the salespeople, I also expect them to look their part. So if I go into a camping store to buy a new 65 liter backpack, I expect to be sold this item by a knowledgeable person, who most likely has attempted, if not completed a thru-hike in their life. This would usually constitute them as an expert in the field, and compounded with the abundance of knowledge that the representatives of companies impart on the floor-sales persons, should give the salesperson the knowledge to effectively assist me in finding the most appropriate tool for my needs. In my experience, no one works at a specialty store unless they’re specifically interested/active in whatever that store sells. You work at one of these stores to be around the community, and take advantage of the fantastic discounts it avails you, not for the meager wage that they most often pay. This in mind, I expect my running store to be staffed by runners who make me look/feel like a recreationalist. I do not expect to be assisted by Kilian Jornet, Ryan Hall, and Anton Krupicka, but I would like to at least be able to imagine my salesperson having run the Boston Marathon, or at least A marathon, or have participated in collegiate XC, or something to that effect, but instead I am approached by individuals trying to hide their beer bellies under a polo and track pants….

Secondly, the running store almost NEVER has what I desire. It took me five stores to finally locate a pair of 3/4 length tights, (located at REI… not a running store) and I’ve yet to see the MT110’s in any establishment (mine were ordered online). Split shorts for men are also in short demand, and while my choice in attire may not be the most popular, we ARE talking about a niche store, are we not? I expect them to be able to provide me with the running garb I desire. Never mind the often pathetic selection of shoes for my demographic. As previously mentioned, I’ve been looking for a replacement for my MR10’s. The update is officially out (Minimus Zero Road) although, no stores anywhere near me seem to stock it, and while I love my pair of MR10’s, they have 833 miles on them to date, meaning that what little cushioning they had, is long-gone, making a new pair feel rather cushy to my foot these days. I’d continue to run my present pair, happily, if the outsole were not beginning to fail, but replacing them with a new, identical pair, would require a few hundred miles just to break down the cushioning enough to make them feel similar to these.

833 Miles… and still ticking
Upper Still intact…

This last bit, has less to do with the store, and more to do with the manufacturers of running shoes. As I mentioned previously, I understand the economic requirements of the industry, at an elementary level at least, it’s simply not worth making something that doesn’t sell… this, makes sense. However, the running shoe company continuously fails to provide my demographic with a sustainable shoe, something that I do not have to modify to fit my needs.

Raised heel? Not if my breadknife is handy…

I’ve tried on several pairs of shoes over the past few weeks. Mostly a collection of Saucony, and Brooks models, attempting to find something that I feel like I can run high mileage in, but won’t interfere with my form/posture. My basic requirements of a shoe can be seen here. For the most part, my requirements of a shoe haven’t changed very much, lightweight, wide toe box, small-ish stack height, minimal drop (4mm seems about right, i also like zero drop) fundamentally, I want to feel the trail/road, but not be annoyed by it. The shoes I’ve encountered however, meet few if any of these requirements, and these are what the manufacturer is claiming as a minimalist/barefoot shoe! Most often I find that the shoe has a stack height akin to the traditional over-built running shoe, but has omitted the raised heel, and while I understand the impulse to do this, these are NOT the shoes that I’m seeking! Otherwise, it seems, that if a shoe has a reasonable stack height, and a reasonable drop, it’s outfitted with an over-cushy insole that negates the whole purpose of a shoe like this. If I wanted my feet to feel like they’re walking on clouds, I’d buy a pair of Asics, or Hoka’s, but I want a glorified racing flat, that allows me to feel the ground, and doesn’t bother my form. Now I know, I can remove the insole, and I do, but shoes with removeable insoles often use the insole to hide the shoddy sewing work that lies underneath it, which for those of us who prefer to avoid socks like the plague, is a complete deal breaker. All I’m asking for, is access to shoes that I can wear sockless, and let my feet feel the earth. Is this too much?

I very well may be a barefooted sot, an idealist searching for a shoe that doesn’t exist, or perhaps it does, but it’s yet to be donned by my foot (until I bought the MT110’s I didn’t think my ideal mountain running shoe existed without extensive modification). Understandably, with the obvious exception of multi-day music festivals, the barefooted long-haired 20-something demographic is not traditionally the most lucrative demographic to appeal to, and it seems that the available running shoes reflect this. Some companies understand (*cough* New Balance, *cough* Merrell) So perhaps I’ll break down, and mail-order a pair of Minimus Zero’s, they’ve gotten good reviews here and here, so it’s probably worth the gamble, especially knowing that it appears to meet my needs.(I may also try the road glove) While I may have just wasted a bunch of time ranting about the running store/shoe companies, this does not mean that I’m going to refuse them my patronage, but rather that I’m going to patronize them begrudgingly, because in spite of their consistent failure to satisfy my needs, they’re still the best (only) game in town.

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