Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The trail shoe conspiracy

















Of all the running gear that I own my least understood (and probably most important) items are my running shoes. I started my return to running with a pair of New Balance cross trainers and soon discovered that they were clearly the wrong tools for the job. I started researching running shoes and was quickly intimidated by the many options I had in choosing a shoe.

There were shoes for people who were (regrettably dubbed) pronators and supinators. There were also shoes for neutral runners, front foot strikers and for other types of runners who possessed other seemingly important afflictions. I had purchased the Nike+ Sportsband to track my performance so I decided to look for Nike+ shoes that would allow me to properly place the RF chip below the sole instead of atop my foot as I did in my New Balance shoe. My salesperson at the shoe store recommended Nike Turbulence 13's because they had good cushioning. As a new runner she thought I would want a more comfortable fit. It was a good recommendation and I've never had a problem with them.

I hadn't thought about running shoes for months until I started becoming interested in off road running. As much as I like the track it does get tedious running in circles. I'm beginning to outgrow my neighborhood in terms of the distances I can cover without doubling back on any streets so it would be nice to have another option. I looked at trail shoes online and in places like Sports Authority and figured on paying about $50-$60 for a pair. Given the mix of choices I had seen for this type of shoe I decided to pay a visit to a local running store to get the scoop on the best trail shoes for my type of running.

My salesperson was a young guy who was clearly a serious runner. I told him that I run on the road but I wanted to try running trails as well. He asked me what type of trails I planned to run on and I told him I wanted to start with actual running trails as opposed to paths in the woods. He surprised me by saying that I didn't need trail shoes unless I planned on running in fairly rough terrain. He showed me some shoes from various manufacturers and while the shoes were different the thing they had in common was the price. Every shoe he had was over $100 and I asked him why their shoes were so expensive compared to the ones I had seen at Sports Authority. He said they only carried top lines but he also said that trail shoes with Gore-Tex were priced higher than other shoes because of the additional Gore-Tex licensing costs. He said that in many cases the manufacturer’s own water protection and breathability systems were better than Gore-Tex but people wanted - and paid for - the higher priced brand.

I decided not to buy any shoes because I still wasn't sure what I really needed. I know now that I can use my Turbulence 13's on trails but I don't want them to get too dirty or beat up. I'll take a look at the more modestly priced shoes at the sporting goods stores to see what they offer - or don't - in terms of weather protection. So I'll add trail shoes to my list of other running gear, like a GPS watch, that I want but don't necessarily need. I'd rather pay more to get a good shoe but I don't want to buy more shoe than I need.

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