Run For Your Life in Charlotte. They actually have three stores, I think. I wandered into the Dilworth store right off of Park Rd.
The store is very neat and spacious. It contains all the crazy stuff a person might need in order to run. That's always a little funny to me because really all a person needs is shoes, but a store that just sold shoes would be a pretty sparse one so you have to add clothing and accessories; like little water bottles that fit in a belt you can strap to your waist, kind of like Batman. The store is stocked with gloves made of reflective material and stretchy pants for cold days and a good assortment of shirts and shorts made with "wicking" fabric that I think actually drains your sweat directly from your pores using little machines sewn into the fabric, converting the sweat into drinkable water (although I could be wrong) They have pamphlets on the wall with information about races and running clubs. And finally against the back wall are the shoes. That's what this story is really about.
Each shoe is placed on it's own little platform made of brushed steel and mounted on the wall. They are lighted and displayed like museum artifacts, labeled for exhibit from tribes called Saucony, Mizuno, Brooks, Addidas, Nike, etc.
After an ankle injury I sustained about 5 years ago and knee problems more recently I was educated in the art of being fitted for running shoes. Almost like when you would go to a department store with your mom and the shoe salesman would bring out that cold metal measuring device with the slider on the side to measure your foot's width and so forth. Many times it was my mom who was the one who did the "fitting". You remember--you'd put the shoe on, she would press her thumb down on the toes of the shoes to see how much room you had, mostly checking for that delicate balance between being too tight, cutting off blood circulation and also making sure that there was enough space left so that you wouldn't grow out of them in two weeks. Then she would make you walk around the department to see how they felt. That was good enough for me then, but when you're a grown-up and you visit a true running store to buy true running shoes the salesperson takes it to a whole new level. They don't wear short-sleeved dress shirts with ties, musty slacks, sporting comb-overs like the shoe sales persons of my youth. No, these folks are experts. They know running shoes.
The Run For Your Life store was quiet when I first walked in. Beth, from Buffalo*, was off to the side unpacking some inventory and Kara, from Rochester*, was busying herself with straightening the shelves. Beth had recognized me from an earlier reconnaissance mission in which I gathered information about Charlotte running groups, races and to get an idea of the shoes' prices and so I wouldn't look dumb the next time I came in to actually buy them.
The first thing I was asked to do at Run For Your Life was to take off my shoes and run from the rear of the store to the front and back again so that Kara could watch my stride and to see how my feet struck the ground.
She asked me questions almost as if I was filling out a health questionnaire at a doctor's office, but only for runners. "So you had an injury, huh? Which foot? Do you have pain when you run? Do you over-pronate?" Over-what? She took my old shoes in her hands, flipped them over and studied the soles like a forensic scientist. "Hmm, she said, looks like you over-pronate a little."
Kara brought out two boxes of shoes that she thought would work for my feet. I tried them on, she felt around the toe just like Mom would and then she asked me to run around the store again. She said, "You mentioned it was your left foot that had the injury? Because your right foot is doing something funny when you run."
A couple came in during this time and was promptly attended to by Beth. Beth asked them many of the same questions Kara asked me. I tried on two more pairs of shoes and a few more customers entered.
The cool thing about this store was that as more people filed in Beth and Kara never lost their cool. They kept introducing all the customers to each other. "Miss Edith (who was probably in her late 60's) this is Ben, Ben this is Chris. Ben is new to Charlotte, from California." We were all part of this little run-a-holics anonymous group.
I tried on more pairs of shoes, completing more laps up and down the store as Kara watched my stride. Sometimes she would say, "Oh yeah, I like those on you. Your right foot's not doing that thing that it does." But most of the time she shook her head and said, "No, not good. I don't like those." Occasionally, she would call Beth over and have her watch my weird feet run. Beth would offer her opinion and walk back over and continue with her customers. I'm telling you, it was a well oiled machine.
After about 45 minutes, the place was busy. There was Chris, originally from Georgia, who was a swimmer now training for triathlons, there was Miss Edith, the couple from earlier, and two other ladies whose names I didn't get. I was too busy running around the store.
The floor was covered in half-empty shoe boxes with tissue paper strewn about like Christmas morning. Most of the boxes were on my side of the store. I would take a lap then Chris would. Miss Edith walked back and forth trying to decide on some snappy orange and white New Balances. Beth took the other couple outside to try out their shoes. It was a circus with only Beth and Kara in the center ring keeping all the animals and clowns from losing it.
When it was all over, I was the only customer left in the store and 13 boxes of shoes lay on the floor. I had set two pairs aside that I wanted to go back to. One pair fit too small and would have to be sent from another store and the other felt great. I slipped the latter pair on and the shoes fit like...well... like gloves. I took another jog around the store. I was floating. There was no pressure in places where there shouldn't be. My screwed up ankle was in no pain. There was plenty of bounce while still maintaining support.
"I'll take 'em," I said.
"You're sure?" said Kara.
"Yep, they fit the best and I don't want to be here another hour and have to help you clean all these shoes up off the floor," I said.
"You don't want to wait to try on those other ones when they get here tomorrow?" she said.
"Ok..." Kara exhaled. She knelt down one last time and did some last minute checking. She felt around the toe and side and finally pulled the tongue back to check the label. She looked up at me with a frustrated look, "Ben, these are 12's!" (I wear 11 1/2's) Let me go get the 11 and a half's."
Kara went to the back room to get the right size. She emerged from around the corner with a frown on her face.
"You don't have them." I said. She shook her head.
"They're at the other store," she said, with a defeated look. "We can have them here for you tomorrow."
"You gotta be kidding me!" I laughed. She shook her head.
"Oh well. I guess I'll just have to go back to my old injury-causing running shoes," I joked.
I showed up the next morning around 11am and could see Kara standing inside the store near the front door. I could've sworn she was smiling until she saw me walking up (I'm kidding). She was helping another employee Perry? with dressing the mannequins. I walked in right when Perry was pulling one of the dummy's new running shorts up. Of course, I said something like, "Ahh, caught you with your pants down." I know, I know, I thought it was genius too.
So Kara had already filled her co-worker in with my history so he said,"Oh, your the guy who tried on 13 pairs yesterday." I guess that was a PR (personal record--runner's love to use the term PR) for Kara that day.
There they were waiting for me. The two pairs that would be competing for my feet. I tried them on, did my little jogging routine around the store again. Perry came over to check out my stride too, also noticing my floppy right foot. And finally I decided to take home the Saucony's. I think they're called The Saucony Volcano Avalanche Tiger Hurricane 3000's with the patented Comfor-Tread designed by the Sealy mattress company. Saucony also partnered with Toyota so that each shoe holds a small hybrid engine in the heels, causing tiny bursts of electricity when the runner's foot strikes the ground. The shoes also come with an AM/FM radio and cassette player.
As I was leaving Kara said,"You tried on 15 pairs of shoes. That's really something." I could cut through her sarcasm with a chain saw.
As I walked out of the store, feeling the warm sunshine on me, I couldn't help but feel the weight of my accomplishment settle on my shoulders--15 pairs...
All joking aside, if you're serious about running and you want to be fitted for a good pair of shoes, visit Run For Your Life stores around Charlotte. Like I said they know running and they'll make buying shoes pretty fun. If you see Kara and Beth at the Dilworth store be sure and tell them that Ben sent you...actually maybe you shouldn't.
*The fact that I've noticed that people living in Charlotte are never actually from Charlotte seems to be a recurring theme in my blog. See my first blog, Wagons East.
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