Of parkrun and Sweatshop

This post originally appeared on Ben’s old blog, Running From the Physio.

As I’ve certainly mentioned before, I’m a big convert to the parkrun phenomenon. Since running my first one on 9 November, I have participated in every event at Longrun Meadow. In late December, I volunteered for the first time, being one of the two timers. I think I was more nervous before that event than I was before any of the ones I was running.

Last Saturday, after completing the first parkrun of 2014 (at Longrun Meadow anyway: some runs have a New Year’s Day run,) I was planning to head down to Exeter to get some new running shoes: mine are somewhere between 18 months and two years old, and have never been ideal. (Nike Lunarswift 3 for the record.) The weather was horrible though, and we decided not to: which turned out to be a lucky decision, as only an hour or so later, I got an email from our parkrun director saying that I had been voted as the winner of the monthly prize: a free pair of running shoes from Sweatshop. Ideal!

So plans were remade: a quick look online confirmed that there were Sweatshop branches in both Exeter and Bristol, but Exeter only stocked Nike kit, so Bristol seemed the more sensible option. That Saturday was out of the question by then, so we decided to go up this Saturday (yesterday). Before the parkrun, I was presented with the voucher by the day’s race director Mick Drohan. I marked the occasion by running a PB, a despite a few initial problems which meant my time didn’t show up on the system, this was speedily resolved to show a time of 22:27, almost a thirty second improvement on my previous best.

Parkrun completed, there was the small matter of getting our three-month-old daughter ready to go: so roughly two hours after getting home, we left for Bristol. The shop was in a David Lloyd Lesiure centre, which made parking very easy. I headed straight in while my wife fed the baby. The store was compact but reasonably well stocked, especially for shoes. I ambled around for a while, looking at their range of shoes without really taking much of it in: I had no idea at all what I was after. Presently, one of the members of staff asked if I needed any help, so I told them I had a parkrun voucher: she beamed excitedly at me and told me she’d be right back.

Straight away, I was slightly more relaxed: I’d been a bit worried that because I’d be getting free shoes, the level of care might be in some way reduced, but this was certainly not the case. First, she got me to stand on some glass, lit from below, which identified that I had a higher than average arch (who knew), and then some further exercises, one of which had me crouch down, and the other lift my toes. These identified that I had a reasonably stable stance, without too much over-pronation. She then selected a pair of neutral running shoes (New Balance 1080s), and videoed me running on the treadmill. The video suggested a little more over-pronation than we had first thought, mostly on my right foot, but it was still nothing major, so we decided to stick to neutral shoes, with loop lacing.

So then the exciting bit: trying on shoes! I think overall I tried on five different pairs of shoes: the 1080s, Mizuno Wave Rider 17s, Brooks Ghost 6s, Brooks Glycerin 11s and a pair of Adidas shoes I don’t remember the name of. The Adidas shoes were immediately discarded as being too narrow; as I have quite wide feet, I’ve never fit into Adidas, who tend to manufacture quite narrow shoes. The Mizuno was a comfortable shoe on the sole my feet, but when I ran with it on the treadmill, it was aggravating around the ankle, so that ruled that one out too. The New Balance 1080s were a nice shoe, but by far the most comfortable were the pair of Brooks shoes: both felt snug and friendly around my foot, and when I was on the treadmill, I was just running and enjoying it, rather than nitpicking. The choice between the two was simplified by the fact that only one of them was in stock in my size; although the 9.5 felt okay, the size 9 was much nicer. So, shoe decided: the Brooks Glycerin 11.

Up until this point my decisions had all been about which shoe was best, independent of the cost, but my next decision was not so easy. During the shoe trials, I had also been sampling some FootBalance custom insoles. These were heated in an oven, and moulded to to my feet. They also aren’t cheap: £45 for the pair. I’ve worn insoles in my running shoes for at least four years, as an attempt to minimise shin splint problems that I suffered badly from, but previously I have always worn a generic SofSole Airr. Comparing the bog standard insole from the shoe with the custom insole was tough, as they offered completely different options: the shoe’s insole was more cushioned, by the custom insole gave me more support and kept my foot in place more within the shoe. In the end, I opted to spend the money: I’m not really sure it was worth an extra £45, but as I got the shoes for free, it seemed the best time to have a go and see if they suit me.

The whole process in Sweatshop probably took just over two hours: I went at lunchtime which meant that there was only the one staff member on duty, and she had to rotate around to help everyone in store. While this certainly made the process take longer than it should have, I still felt like I was getting very good service: she seemed to really care about me getting the right shoe and right fit. I was on and off their treadmill countless times, and even did a couple of laps of their car park while I was making sure that what I thought I liked was actually right for me. I have nothing but praise for Sweatshop from this visit, and it will definitely be in mind when I need my next pair!

Now I just have to be patient before I can run in them! Today’s eight miles doesn’t seem an appropriate time to wear them in… ah well. Tuesday?

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