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Rarely do I walk in a store and not know what I am looking for... typically, I have it written down, I have done my research and I know exactly what I need.  Only question I need to ask is, in what aisle is said item?  Yet, when I ran into Fleet Feet Lakeview last Friday, this was certainly not the case and I had a lot to learn.  Fleet Feet is the go-to running store in Chicago.  With 6 locations throughout the Chicago area, it is the most convenient store to drop by and grab what you need (all things running related).  The Old Town location, which has been closed due to a fire (hopefully, reopening in January, 2016?), is what I consider to be the most popular and well-known location, but Lakeview is the closest to me and so Lakeview is where I went on my shoe adventure. After a trail marathon in October, tight calf muscles turned into ankle pain and ankle pain turned into top of the foot pain.  Foot pain equaled a pause on the running... which then turned into a visit to the doctor and resulted in specific exercises to cure this nagging muscle injury (are you with me here?).  As the light at the end of the tunnel was slightly peaking it's way through, like a January sunrise on a bitter cold morning, I realized I needed new shoes!  That is when I ran over to FF-Lakeview.  This is what I learned...

  1. Gait Analysis: Record your stride and find the support you need - First things first, I told him all the issues I was having (just running related, not personal-that would have taken far too long) and he quickly suggested I hop on the treadmill so he could record my stride and see what the issues might be. Ok-I get it, a lot of places are doing this and have been for a long time, but seriously, he was able to slow down the video and show me where my strengths and weaknesses were. Every runner needs this evaluation! Get it done.
  2. Minimal trend is falling off the wayside - You guys, remember barefoot running, having as little drop as possible... I guess that's not what is cool anymore-the new thing, HOKAS. Ok fine, I am late to the game on this one too. But, have you seen them? They are weird and clunky looking.  What is the deal and why are ultrarunners going from the smallest amount of fabric between the ground and their feet to this bulky feathered pillow?  Answer: It is designed to support a runner's natural form while encouraging an efficient, smooth roll from initial impact to toe-off.  Bottom line, you're getting the natural form you would get with the minimal running trend, but without the "I feel every rock that hits my shoe and now I have an overuse injury" effect.  I didn't end up with the HOKAS, but the engineering behind it seems pretty innovative and logical.  Why do I care about the minimal trend? I've been running all my ultras in the New Balance Minimus and while this shoe has worked well for me, lately it might just be the reason for my nagging injuries.  Although, the most minimal shoe helps in strengthening your feet and stride, it should be used gradually and might not be the answer for big miles (as I am slowly realizing).
  3. Compression Socks: More than a fashion trend. You've seen them.  Everyone from Kara Goucher to that old man you see on the trails, is wearing compression something.  I learned that these bad boys actually have some science behind them.  Do you know they've been around for... well a long time?! Doctors have traditionally prescribed them to address complications caused by diabetes, lymphedema, thrombosis, cellulitis and other conditions.  So what does this mean for a runner?  Compression socks or any compression accessory (they make oodles now) provide decreased muscle oscillation.. say what?... muscle movement back and forth.  So with the compression on, you have less muscle movement and stability.  With more stability, you gain more balance, efficiency, increased circulation and even aids in recovery.  Ya dig?  With the lower calf, ankle and foot issues I have been having, I picked up a pair.  Although not cheap, neither is the podiatrist, physical therapy sessions, nor the consistent meltdowns of being injured (sorry Mike!).  Consider it.
  4. Trail Shoe vs. Road Shoe: You may need more than one.  Anyone with a running problem, typically has a shoe problem.  That is unless you don't like spending money... ME!  I get a new trail shoe and road shoe about once a year.  At around $100 a pop, that is more than I like to spend. Anytime a gift card makes it way into my hands, I am always putting it towards a running shoe.  Sad news, it isn't easy finding a road shoe and a trail shoe that is going to suit your needs... Here's why- if you are running Lake Shore Path pavement for 85% of your training, you need a road shoe.  But, if you are running your ultras on rocky terrain like Kettle Moraine, you need trail shoes, what the?!  There's more; if you are running big miles-you should consider a shoe that you train in (and are able to get more miles out of = more cushion) and a racing shoe (less cushion, more pushin).  This allows you to train and run more miles on one shoe and have a second shoe, (eh hem racing shoe) that allows you to go fast with a little less support.  You don't need to pull out your racing flat, but a shoe that allows for a little more speed is definitely a good idea.  Why is this groundbreaking? Because, my one shoe a year idea not only causes the support in my shoes to be worn out much faster than if I was using the train/race shoe theory, but it also exposes me to injuries more quickly.  The budget is yours, but the idea is beneficial.  And, just as you buy your $12 juices and organic groceries, your feet deserve the love too.  Tip taken from FF: Your shoes should never celebrate a birthday.  Got it!
  5. Running Community: Ask questions, get answers.  I have been running ever since I earned that blue ribbon in elementary school that said, 1st place in the 50 yard dash.  I am constantly reading all the running articles, websites, interviews and keeping up with Meb, Kara, Fleshman, Jurek, Timmy and Howe... but I walked into Fleet Feet thinking I knew exactly what I wanted and instead of getting a sales guy telling me everything I obviously already knew (sarcasm), I was able to have a conversation with a runner who really understood what I was looking for and how to correlate my running shoe to my training and racing goals.  These people (the Fleet Feet crew) are way more informed than I am and woah, I definitely do not have all the answers (there, I said it mom!). Lesson learned: go out there and ask questions, you may just learn something new!  Finding a store, running group, training partner or coach in your community, can really allow you to turn to people you trust when injuries arise, when you need new gear or you're just looking for some motivation.  The larger we can make our running community, the more connected and educated we will be.

In the end, only you can decide what shoe is going to work for you.  Do your research, but also be aware of articles and reviews that the brand might be trying to serve.  Make an attempt to not be persuaded by fancy colors and running trends, instead find what correlates with your running style.  It reminds me of the time I got fitted for a hiking backpack and I told the REI man, I wanted one that looked really cool-he told me, he didn't care if there were glittery purple stars and a Hello Kitty sign on it; if it fit correctly, that is the one I should get.  Point taken.  Best bet, go to a running store you trust and get the Gait Analysis, pay attention to what they have to say and find the correct fit for your running needs.  Big takeaway: if you don't take the time to take care of yourself now, it will catch up to you.  Whether it's your diet, a nagging pain, a guilty pleasure or worn out running shoes, letting things go will ultimately do a disservice in the future.  Do the stretches, choose organic, grab the new running shoes when necessary, take your vitamins, track your training, write in your journal, listen to country, sign up for that race you've been thinking about, buy that ticket to Thailand... sorry, I just realized this is my to do list.  Gotta go, I've got work to do.

Be well, run well, adventure well.