You know the plot: A group of thirty-something college friends from the University of Michigan come to South Carolina for the funeral of their friend, who has died by suicide, and they all decide to spend the weekend. Their host, Harold Cooper, played by Kevin Kline, owns and manages an apparently very successful chain of running shoe stores, called Running Dog. And at least twice in the movie he drags a couple of his friends out for an early morning jog.
Midway through the movie, after he asks all of his old friends their shoe sizes, he arranges a delivery of shoes from one of his stores. My favorite scene in the movie begins as shoeboxes labeled with names are stacked on the kitchen table first thing in the morning, and the characters wake up at different times and happily try on their new shoes. The pile on the table gets smaller and smaller through the morning. There are shoes from all the different shoe companies, with different styles and models. Harold, it seems, has carefully selected a special shoe for each character.
When one of Harold’s jogging buddies, Nick, played by William Hurt, tries on his pair, he stands up carefully and says, “I am never taking these off.” It is a moment of foreshadowing, perhaps, because (spoiler alert) Nick ends up staying to live in a house on Harold’s property at the end of the movie.
This is not a blog entry about movies. That scene has some important lessons in it when it comes to advice and information about running shoes.
Periodically over the last few years we have invited Dan McGinn, the area team representative for Asics, to talk with our Ignatius team about shoes. Then Dan takes orders from us, with a discount for the boys, which we process through one of the local stores.
Dan believes in his Asics shoes, and he sells them to us with conviction. But he is more concerned, he says, with making sure that the boys know that they need good shoes on their feet, whatever the manufacturer. Like Harold Cooper, Dan understands that different people need different shoes. “There is no ‘best shoe,’” McGinn explains. “There is a ‘best shoe for you.’ You need to get the shoe that will work best for your foot.” That does not necessarily mean the most expensive shoe, either—although he does suggest runners stay away from the very low end of the market. He wants serious runners to wear good shoes.
Unless Dan himself is available, he recommends a visit to a specialty running store, especially for new runners. The staff at these stores can help select the best shoe and best fit for your feet after you tell them how much you run–and that you run for the Ignatius cross country team, which means you do a lot of running on the city sidewalks and bike paths.
How often should you change your shoes? I remember many years ago when the advice was every 1,000 miles—and we would extend the life of our shoes with shoe goo. Then it became every 500 miles. Dan says now, “You should get new training shoes every 300-350 miles.” For our varsity runners who will run around 50 miles each week for twelve weeks, they will need two pairs of shoes during their cross country season.
One approach would also be to buy two pairs at the beginning of the season and then switch off one day to the next. When switching shoes, though, you need to keep track of the mileage on each shoe, presumably in a running log. If runners keep a pair at home and one at school, of course, then they can never forget to bring their shoes to school.
Most of our boys also buy racing spikes. If budget is an issue, training shoes are always the priority, McGinn notes, because you wear them more often. But ideally, budget issues aside, a runner should get a pair of spikes from cross country and then a different pair for track. Cross country and track spikes have differences. But you need a special pair of spikes for cross country mainly because they take a beating on rough and sometimes muddy terrain: “Your spikes will break down significantly during the cross country season.” Cross country spikes are therefore built to survive tougher conditions—so they tend to be more heavy duty. But yes, if necessary, you can use your distance runner track spikes in cross country, as well.
Because our runners come from all over the Chicago metro area, we don’t have a go to store for our boys. It depends on where they live. Our list of recommended stores, though, include: Dick Pond in Lisle and other suburban locations, Fleet Feet on North Avenue in Old Town and in Elmhurst, Murphy’s Fit in Evanston, Run Chicago in Forest Park, Running for Kicks in Palos, Running Excels on Western in Beverly, Universal Sole on Lincoln Ave in Lakeview, and Running Away on North Avenue in Bucktown. We suggest the boys be ready to spend between $60 and $100 for a pair of training shoes. Most of these stores offer a discount if you mention that you are running on a high school cross country team.
Finally, we have to offer our most important piece of advice about running shoes—and we can refer back to William Hurt and his shoes in The Big Chill. Sometimes our runners buy new shoes, and they like them so much that they don’t want to take them off. They wear them all the time—including during the school day. They shouldn’t. If they insist on wearing gym shoes, they should not wear their cross-country training shoes; those should be just for running at practice. Walking around in your running shoes wears them out and breaks them down. Wear your old running shoes during the day, I suppose, once you have shoes that you have retired. Our boys don’t like to hear it sometimes, but during the day they should actually wear old-fashioned school dress shoes. They provide the most support and protection for feet and ankles that take a pounding during practice.