Back in April of this year, I finished an easy-paced 6-mile run with some unfamiliar ankle pain. I had been running in a nearby state park and figured it was perhaps the result of some rogue tree roots, which I made a habit of tripping over in those days. I mentioned the pain to my coach and her first question was "how many miles are on your shoes?" Hmm, let's see, I pondered, I've had them since December, so I have trained in them the entire off-season plus 1 sprint triathlon and a 1/2 marathon. She didn't wait for me to complete my math. It was clear I had logged well over the recommended 400-mile limit. She suggested I wear them one last time - on my way to the store.
It wasn't the best time for me to go shoe shopping. I was also on the hunt for a tri bike at the time, and my fiance and I were about to write the final checks for our upcoming wedding. Needless to say - the budget was stretched. Then I remembered that my current pair of shoes had been purchased from Dick's Sporting Goods with a guarantee - if anything went structurally wrong with the shoes over the course of 1 year, they could be returned for a brand new pair - FREE (this offer has since been discontinued). Even though it had only been about 4 months, I had given these shoes a substantial beating (recall the tree roots) and the toe lip was coming loose on both sides. So, following the instructions I was given via phone, I boxed up the old pair, put them in the mail and kissed them goodbye. I assumed my new shoes would arrive within days, but soon realized that old theory about assumptions. Upon 1 additional phone call, I came to learn that it could be as many as 3 months before my voucher arrived for the shoes of my choice. Aha, I thought, that's the catch.
So, my plan temporarily foiled, I headed off to my local triathlon store, Inside Out Sports, to partake in their recently-advertised shoe sale. Let me caveat here by saying that I did not necessarily expect to find anything in my price range even with the sale. This place sells 'the good stuff' - those brightly-colored, high-quality Mizunos and Newtons that the pros all wear. But, as I surveyed the shelves I found myself blinking the disbelief from my eyes. There, directly before me were a pair of Mizuno Wave Musha 2s, with one size left (mine), for $50.
I didn't ask a thing about them. They fit and I could afford them. I tucked them proudly under my arm and headed for the counter. 12 weeks later I received my voucher as promised and, in turn, purchased the most expensive pair it would allow from Dicks. Asics 2160s.
Fast forward to September. I had steadily been increasing my mileage for an upcoming half Ironman and expecting even more before the full IM in November. In spite of the bargain, I had been babying my Mizunos in the previous months - certain that I must savor the quality within. Yet each time I ran in them, I felt a lightness in my feet that shortened my pace almost 1 full minute per mile. I was amazed at the difference a few ounces could make and figured that these shoes were my ace in the hole, come race day. The Asics shoes, on the other hand, felt cushioned and comfy but also heavy as concrete blocks in comparison. So when my coach asked for my race plan in the week prior, I listed my prized Mizunos on the must-pack list.
As expected, I received an email back from my coach later that day, offering additional advice and tweaks to the plan before it was finalized. Much to my dismay, there was a big red line through the word "Mizunos". She noted beside this "not enough support for you on 13 miles on asphalt". But, but, but - they make me faster and that's what I see all the Kenyan marathoners wearing! I pleaded. She gently reminded me that I am neither Kenyan, nor an experienced marathon runner yet. She suggested that, for now, I tuck those away for track sessions and race in my alternate shoes. I fussed and whined, dramatically imploring her to agree with me because I would simply dread wearing my 'heavy' shoes after that 56-mile bike ride. She didn't cave, but assured me that it was my decision to make.
When race day arrived, I followed every item of our training plan to a 't' - except for the choice of shoes. I asserted my own judgment and went with the lighter pair. I wasn't even at the 6 mile turnaround when I felt it - a sharp pain in the balls of my feet with every step on the pavement. To make matters worse, I had indulged in pouring water over my head throughout the entire run, leaving my socks drenched and slowly but surely turning my feet into steak tartare. Ugh.
I did my best to laugh it off. It was both fitting and ironic that, once again, I arrogantly thought I knew best - and was, once again, wrong (reference my picture beside the word 'uncoachable' in the dictionary). Following that race, my coach and I had our usual pow-wow and came to a conclusion - I had one pair of shoes that were too heavy, one pair that were too light and now I needed a third (just right).
With the wedding over and the bike long since purchased, I headed back to Inside Out Sports, this time taking a seat and patiently waiting to be fitted. If you can find a store that provides this service, it is highly valuable. If not, Runner's World online offers a step-by-step process on doing this in your home (you may still want to bribe a friend to watch you walk back and forth a few times). The purpose of this is to determine what category of shoe is really optimal for your goal. There are 'stability' shoes for trail running or substantial pronation (roll of the foot inward/outward while running); there are 'cushioned' shoes for runners of larger stature or distance training; there are 'performance' shoes that are light as air and great for short distances; and there are 'neutral' shoes with a combination of features that typically cater to non-pronators. For my purposes, it seemed I would require a light, neutral shoe with a little bit of cushion for my mid-foot strike.
After trying on nearly a dozen pair, I opted for the Brooks Ghost 3. Having only done one long run in them so far, I will not yet provide a formal review, but with regard to my criteria, they stack up perfectly. The lesson I learned is that, in my attempt to save money, I ended up not only spending more but also costing myself valuable time by needing extra foot recovery along the way. True - even amongst us sporty girls, there can never be too many shoes, BUT it's important to know what you're buying and why - unless you just want to wear them shopping.