I love reviewing new products. There is little better in a blogger’s routine than unwrapping some new item to try out and then share the results with your readers. The best items to review are the ones that meet or exceed expectations. The items that you buy to see if you might like a certain product and then are pleasantly surprised at how useful something truly can become in your fitness routine are a joy to write about. One of these are the Sufferfest training videos that I reviewed previously. The video was inexpensive, easy to download and install, and the customer service before and after the sale was phenomenal. The company quickly converted me from a curious potential customer to a huge fan by producing a good product and providing superior customer service.
There is always a balance to anything, and when it comes to writing reviews it is when you have to deal with negative experiences or a product that doesn’t quite live up to expectations. It’s always easy to write about something that goes well, but it can be difficult to write about a negative experience. I almost feel guilty if I have a negative review to write because I know that companies, for the most part, truly try to produce quality products and provide great customer service. To alleviate that feeling I only write about products that I have purchased on my own without informing the company that I will be reviewing the product for my blog. In full disclosure, there aren’t any companies lined up to provide me with any product samples to review. I supposed that a relatively unknown internet blogger doesn’t rate that high on cycling companies’ lists of chief influencers. Fair enough. That is one of the large reasons I don’t write that many reviews, I haven’t bought myself any new equipment until recently.
I started running at my local gym and I have been trying to avoid some of my mistakes when I started cycling. Chief among these was not being prepared with the correct equipment. I will always remember my first real ride. It was eight miles and I was sure that I was going to die most of the time. I was worried about traffic, on the wrong size bike, had the wrong tires for the terrain, and had the wrong clothes on. None of that mattered in the long run, I found a new passion that day, but being prepared with the correct clothing and equipment would have made a world of difference. After committing to learning how to run by signing up for 5K and obstacle races I wanted to start off on the right foot. Ouch, sorry for that.
I had plenty of technical shirts and shorts from cycling and cross training so my big equipment need would be proper running shoes. I headed out to my local New Balance Store in South Windsor, Connecticut determined to fix that need. I wanted to go there for a few reasons. The first was that the store was locally owned and I enjoy supporting my community whenever possible. That is one of the main reasons I try to buy most of my cycling equipment from my local bike shop. The second reason is that New Balance are still made in America. I know that not every shoe is made here, but some still are. The company still has factories here in America, and that is better than most of the other major companies. Again, I tend to shop Trek and Specialized for the same reason. I understand that we live in a world economy, but I do like to do business with my local shops and buy American when possible.
I walked into the shop and was greeted by a friendly salesperson. I was upfront with them about my lack of running knowledge as I learned from going to bike shops to trust the knowledge of the shop workers over anything that I might have read on the internet. I was measured and the salesperson asked what size I typically wore. I told him that I normally just try to find something that fits as I tend to wear a size 14 wide and not many places carry that. He then took me over to special machine that measured the pressure zones of your feet as you stand. You could see if a majority of your weight was on the inside or outside of your feet. The salesperson then showed me a range of shoes that would fit my profile. I chose the 860 V4 that fell about into the mid-range of the shoe models that I was shown.
Once he came out he explained that I was likely to get shin splints if I didn’t use some form of insole. He recommended an arch support and assured me that it would solve any shin splint issues before they happened. I was warned that they might feel a little uncomfortable if I wore the shoes with the insoles for too long. I agreed to try them as the shoes were very reasonable at about $120 and I didn’t think that insoles could be that expensive. I tried on the shoes and they did feel strange, but I trusted the salesperson. I was a little shocked that the insoles were about $60.00 and by the time taxes were paid I managed to spend almost $200.00! Luckily I had many gift cards from the recent holidays and my birthday.
I went to the gym and eagerly jumped onto the treadmill in my awesome new shoes. I started to run and felt immediate pain. The insoles were causing the pain in my arches. I ran for a couple of sessions before I completely gave up on the insoles. I was disappointed, but I was still excited about my shoes! I tried to run in the shoes without the insoles and ran into a few issues. The largest was that without the insoles the shoes almost didn’t fit. I wasn’t able to tie them tight enough without the insoles taking up some of the extra space. After a couple of failed attempts I headed back to the New Balance Store.
The salesperson listened to my complaints and changed out the insole with a memory foam style insert that he said would still support my arches and stave off shin splints but not feel quite so painful. Grateful I headed back to the gym where the new insoles seemed to work. For about a month. Now they have shifted and there is a seam that causes my foot to blister after I start running in them. This time I am past the one month window to return the insoles for any type of credit. Despondent, I grabbed a pair of sneakers that I had in my closet that I found on clearance at a big box sports store. You might know it because it has a slightly crude name if you have a juvenile mind. Coincidentally they shoes are also New Balance sneakers; these are model 411 V2, their “all terrain” cross training shoes. I bought them for about $25.00 with the idea that they would make great sacrificial obstacle course shoes. After running my first mile in them I knew I found my running shoes. They cause no pain whatsoever. They stay comfortable and I feel completely supported. Best of all, they do not depend on $60.00 insoles to fit or feel comfortable. They just work.
I may not be happy with the way my shoe buying adventure played out, but I am happy with finding the right shoes in the end, even if they were in my closet the whole time. My eight mile ride taught me the value of proper equipment. It taught me to buy what I needed to be comfortable when I was riding. My trip to the New Balance Store taught me to never assume that anyone knows more than I do about what fits. If something doesn’t feel right, or if I need to modify shoes before I walk out of the store to get them to fit, it’s probably not a good purchase. Fitness is a journey, and apparently finding the proper equipment and places to buy it can be a journey as well.
Anyone need size 14 wide running shoes? They are barely broken in but might need new insoles….