Nu shooz: Brooks Defyance 2
Today I had the best shoe buying experience ever. Hands down.
For the past couple weeks I’d been debating whether or not to get new running shoes. My Saucs are only six or seven months old, and they don’t look that bad on the outside, but they’re reaching — or have reached — the end of their usefulness. The omnipresent and nameless experts suggest running shoes should be replaced every 500 miles or six months. I’m past one of those markers for sure, so I decided it was time.
(Thinking about it now, I probably needed to replace them last month. Since April I’ve had to decrease my mileage due to a few minor injuries and concerns, but if I ran what I consistently ran earlier this year — 7.3 miles per run — I would need to replace my shoes every five months.)
Instead of going to Foot Locker or a similar generic store at the mall, I did what every runner should do: I went to a running specific shoe store. A Snail’s Pace, a small Southland chain, has a location in Fountain Valley, just next door to HB. I’d been there before to buy a pair of Wright Socks, so I went back to see if they could offer me expert advice.
I’ve done a good job finding the right shoes on my own, but a little help from a fellow runner who knows what I need is invaluable. When I bought my Asics at the Westminster Mall, the salesman was only interested in up-selling me. Despite my aversion to Nike, he did nothing but try to persuade me to buy a pair of Nike’s and their separate iPod adapter. He didn’t know shit about running, and didn’t give a shit about helping me find the best shoe. A running store, I found out, offers a completely different buying experience.
(BEWARE: esoteric running lingo ahead.)
I walked in, looked at the selection of shoes on the wall, and waited to be helped. One of the salesmen approached, asked me what I was looking for, and I said I needed a new pair of shoes. I was looking for a neutral road shoe, and explained the wear pattern on the soles of my Saucs, telling him I suspected I had a slight over-pronation on my right foot and little to none on my left. He said he had the same problem.
Sweet. Someone I could relate to.
“Have you been fitted?” he asked.
“Yeah. Sized and fitted for a shoe?”
Not for years, at least since my feet stopped growing. I’d always associated the metal foot fitting measures with my childhood, when it was necessary to have my feet measured every time I got new kicks. (Now it’s strange to think back on a time when I outgrow my entire wardrobe once a year.) Since 17 or 18 I’ve always bought size 13s and was planning to do the same. But a fitting couldn’t hurt, so I slipped off my Reefs and put on a pair of loaner Wright Socks, the same I wear while running. The salesman measured and I mentioned wearing 13s.
“Whoa,” he said. “That’s way too big.”
“Really? What size are my feet?”
“Well, the right one is twelve, and the other is a little more than eleven and a half.”
I was a little shocked; it was certainly a unexpected revelation. For years I’d been wearing the wrong size. I asked what the implications of running in shoes one size too large are, and he said the difference is enough to make the shoes fit too loosely, causing unwanted chaffing.
That explained the painful blisters I developed in February.
I’d mentioned the orange and white Brooks Defyance 2’s on the wall, so he disappeared into the storeroom and brought back the Brooks and a pair of Asics. This was something I’d never experienced before: a shoe salesman bringing me not only the shoe I wanted to try on, but also a second pair he thought might be a good fit. This was serious business. Then, he personally placed the shoes on my feet, tying them to boot.
I stood up and thought I would just walk around a bit, but the salesman said, “Let’s go outside, have you run a little, and see how they feel.”
Seriously? I didn’t know what to say. I followed him out the front door to the sidewalk in front of the little mini-mall. I was wearing a casual t-shirt and pair of shorts — far from the ideal running attire. He told me to run like I always do to a tree 25 yards away, then run back. Okay. Whatever you say. It felt a little weird running in shoes that weren’t even mine yet, but ran to the tree. The Brooks felt great. Good cushioning, nice fit, no slipping, and zero discomfort. When I turned back I saw the salesman focusing on my stride, judging my pronation.
“You do over-pronate on your right foot, which we can deal with. But you have that very late pronation on your left leg, which we can’t do much about. But we’ll try.”
This guy knew his shit (at least I hoped so). Not only was I impressed by his knowledge, but also the way he became invested in my search for the right shoes. He wanted to give me the best possible fit for my personal running style. I wondered if I was expected to give him a tip when the deal was done.
I pulled off the Brooks and he put the Asics on my feet. We went back out to the front and I ran again. They felt fine, but not as well as the Brooks. When I returned he said, “That didn’t do anything for your left leg. Let’s try something else.”
He had me try on three more pairs, each one tailored differently. (He didn’t bring me any Nike’s, and I even forgot to tell him not to.) None of them felt as good as the Brooks, except for either a pair of New Balance or another pair of Asics. They fit and rode perfectly, but were too thick and heavy. I chose the Defyance 2’s. As he was repackaging all the shoes he’d taken out, the salesman said, “I think Brooks and Adidas are probably the best shoes for you.”
“I’ve never tried Adidas before.”
“Well, lets try a pair.”
By this time I was kind of tire of the whole trying on shoes thing. After five quick runs my brow was a little moist. If I knew I was going to run I would have worn basketball shorts instead of an everyday pair.
The salesman brought out the Adidas and I did my little run. He’d stopped watching me after the third pair, so I let him know how they felt. There was a slight but uncomfortable arch ridge noticeable on the right shoe. I felt something similar on other pair I tried, and those were definitely not the shoes for me. One thing I remember from my own research was that running shoes should fit perfectly the first time. You are not supposed to factor in any breaking in time. If the shoes don’t feel perfect in the store, they’re not the shoes for you. Although not a big deal while fitting, any slight oddity or annoyance will become a huge comfort and posture problem as the miles go by. The Adidas were not the shoes for me. Brooks it was.
I met the salesman at the counter for the transaction. The walls of the store were covered with marathon posters and pictures of local runners with competition numbers pinned to their shirts. He found my name in their customer database and added the Defyance 2’s to my purchase history, a handy thing if I ever wanted to buy something I had in the past. After he passed me the box I shook his hand and thanked him, something I never do when I shop and buy. This time it was deserved, though. My tip will be another visit in the future.