10. Fitting

10. Fitting

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You


Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions that can change your life forever.
 ~Keri Russell

I want to run away. There are more than 100 sports shoes lining two walls—it seems like every brand invented, every price imaginable. The staff at Frontrunners senses my hesitation. One asks if he can help. “I’m looking for running shoes.” The words sound foreign, even though I’ve thought of nothing else for the past two weeks.

This sport scares and intrigues me. How can millions of people worldwide simply walk out their front doors and run? Where’s the half-time show, the seventh inning stretch, the fights? Where’s the fun in running past your neighbours, puffing like a train?

“I’ve never bought running shoes. Not serious ones that I wear only for running. I’m enrolled in a 10K training clinic and my goal’s to run the entire thing,” I confess to the salesman.

“All right. First I need you to slip off your thongs and roll up your pant legs.”

What? I study his face. I came here to buy shoes, not flash my ankles. But he’s serious, so I comply, wishing I’d taken the time to shave.

“Now stand on one leg.”

I try not to stick out my tongue as I concentrate on balancing. Mental note: more Pilates for core stability. Jim assures me I’m not auditioning for the circus; he’s looking at my arches to see how much they compress under pressure. He’s also looking for pronation (inward rolling of the feet) or supination (outward rolling), though the latter is a rare find. Through a series of one-legged knee bends, Jim determines I’m an over-pronator; confirmed by the orthotics I wear.

Jim measures the length and width of my feet using a Brannock device. It is the only thing about this shoe-buying expedition that is familiar. My feet measure a size 8.5 and are a D width. I brace myself for the onslaught of men’s shoes Jim will bring me. I hate trying to figure out which pair looks the least masculine. “Do you have a preference?” Jim motions to the women’s shoes.

“My feet are too wide for those.” I turn away from the softer colours.

“New Balance makes their shoes in multiple widths,” he says. “I’ll bring out a selection.”

I can wear women’s shoes? This is huge. I beam at the wall of pastel sneakers in front of me.

Jim disappears into the back. I glance at the price tags again. The cheapest pair is $35 for a pair of Adidas thongs. The most expensive pair is over $200. I’ve come prepared to spend between $85 and $150 for footwear, though the $200 pair look like they could run for me.

“It’s a little tight here,” I tell Jim, pointing to my baby toe.

He presents another pair. “These have a wider toe box.”

I undo the shoes, pulling the laces as loose as I can. I don’t want Jim to think I’ll mistreat my shoes at home by kicking them off with the laces still tied. The pair he hands me feel like clouds. “I don’t feel like I’m wearing anything.”

“That’s what you want. Wear them around.”

I find myself hopping, skipping and striding around the clothes racks, trying to get the maximum amount of movement from each pair Jim hands me.

Finally, I narrow to two the ten pairs he’s brought out. They both feel like my feet are floating and more importantly, they both look feminine. “I can’t decide.”

“Roll up your pants again,” Jim says. I comply without hesitation this time. “Walk towards the door.” He crouches, as he did when checking my arches and examines my gait in each pair. “Neither,” he says. “You’re still pronating too much.”

It is then I decide to run barefoot. After all, it is what real runners seek to achieve. I’ll reject this commercialism, and connect with the earth.

As a barefoot runner, I won’t have athlete’s foot, bunions, black toenails or hammer toe from non-breathing constrictive shoes. My soles will develop a thick layer of skin as they pound the pavement. I’ll be like Barefoot Abebe, the Ethiopian runner, who won the men’s marathon in the 1960 Rome Olympics. I’ll be like the Tarahumara Indians running from village to village in Northern Mexico. I’ll. . . I’ll need a tetanus shot. Who knows what treats I’d step on running through Victoria’s streets?

Jim has gone to confer with his supervisor. “The girl over there thinks she can run with rolling feet,” I imagine him saying. “It’s amazing she can walk.”

I curse my ambition. Running the 10K seemed like a good idea two weeks ago. I curse my husband, Mike, who told me I needed actual running shoes if I was going to be a runner. Who cares if my cross-trainers hurt my legs after a jog around the block?

Okay, I do. Besides, my chiropractor said the same thing. “Running shoes are designed specifically for running because they are designed to move forwards and backwards, not sideways.” So what am I supposed to do if Jim comes back empty-handed? I suppose that would be a sign to take up golf.

“These are the female version of the men’s shoe.” Jim presents the white and blue pair. I know the drill. I slide my feet in and Jim does up the laces. The shoes feel like a cloud, but I’ve been here before. “Now walk for me.” He squats. Another salesman joins him; I’ve become an event. I walk towards the door, my pant legs rolled up. He’s invested so much in me, I can’t let him down. “How do they feel?” The salesmen grin.

“Fine.” My voice is steady, but I feel like bursting. These are the ones.

“Great, let’s box them up.”

“Perfect.” His buddy shakes Jim’s hand like they’ve performed surgery and walks away. I sit on the bench, realizing I have no idea how much they cost.

Fortunately, $149.99 is in my budget. What I hadn’t budgeted for was replacing the shoes in six months. “Are you joking?” I ask.

“Nope.” He smiles. “Usually it’s about every 400-600 miles if you’re only running on them.” I have to repeat this in six months? I should purchase all the New Balance 855s in Victoria.

• • •

There are 20 women in my learn-to-run group. Some of them, like me, are wearing new shoes with old leggings and long-sleeved T-shirts. Even though we only run for 30 seconds and walk for four minutes and 30 seconds, seven times, my face is red and I’m breathing heavily. But as we return to Cedar Hill Recreation Centre, I have never felt so alive.

~Alison Gunn

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