While the advent of online shopping often makes brick and mortar stores seem obsolete, your local running store is actually a very valuable resource available to you. There are a couple reasons why you should at least consider buying from a running store before going online. Here are a few, and not one of them includes "the local economy."
- The employees at your local running store are there to talk to you about your needs. They're more than happy to do a gait analysis, discuss your training history, and talk about whatever else you feel is relevant. And if they're not busy and don't have a bunch of maintenance to do, some of them are willing to stand around and BS about running (or whatever) with you. I've made several friends through running stores. I'd encourage you to do the same!
- It's beneficial to forge a relationship with the store. That store is an important part of your local running community. Getting to know them now will pay dividends later, whether it's in their being able to better help you with products and services in the future, helping to set you up with running partners or people with whom to go to races, keeping you informed as far as local events and races, letting you know when they're running sales, promotions, or discounts, etc. It's also often helpful to get on their email list, so you can stay abreast of any and all important information related to the store, as well as any interesting running related topics that the store employees think you might enjoy.
- The store is often involved in the community. Most running stores offer group runs, where you can meet potential training partners, learn new running routes, or simply get in a workout. These runs are invaluable for people new to the area (or to running), and a lot of fun for regulars as well. They may sponsor, volunteer at, or otherwise get involved in races. Many stores also sponsor a grassroots team, like the team sponsored by the National Running Center, to sponsor athletes who aren't quite fast enough to join an elite team or score a shoe deal. Stores often hold seminars and bring in guest speakers so athletes can learn about topics that may interest them. Some stores offer programs like No Boundaries and Team in Training, and I've even run across a few that hold yoga classes. And sometimes, stores do something completely random, where you can't help but think about how awesome it is that they do that. For example, Fleet Feet Boulder sometimes sets up water stations on heavily trafficked running routes on hot days for any athletes who might be passing by.
The second thing I wanted to touch on was a little bit of running store etiquette. You wouldn't go to Walmart, grab a skateboard off a shelf, and ride it up and down the aisles. Nor would you go to Safeway, pick up a box of cereal, and eat it while you did the rest of your shopping. Hopefully, your local store is a lot cooler than Walmart and Safeway, yet they sometimes aren't given the respect they deserve.
- Please don't go to a running store, have the employees analyze your stride (whether it's on a treadmill, they watch you walk, or they perform some other test), and then tell them the shoes they recommend for your biomechanics are ugly and you want the pretty flats. These people are trained professionals, and they're trying to give you a shoe that you can stay healthy in. If you don't care about being healthy and just want to be stupid, don't even waste their time with the analysis, and just buy the flat without making them go through the trouble. And if you don't want their help or knowledge, don't bring the shoe back in two weeks and tell them that it hurts you. If they suggest a shoe and it doesn't work for you, most stores will want to make it right. They genuinely want you to be happy. But if you reject their knowledge, that's your own fault, and you shouldn't expect them to fix your stupidity. Many of them will help you anyway, but that's really going above and beyond the call of duty on their part.
- Don't go into the store assuming you already know everything about your stride based on what you read online, especially if all you did was a wet footprint test for arch height. Even if you did a more thorough test, you can still be wrong. My supinating left foot and moderately overpronating right foot rather than the neutral left foot and mildly overpronating right foot that I expected proves that point.
- If you go into a store with an injury, and they recommend changing your shoes and suggest some models, don't expect the shoe to cure your injury. Your injury needs to heal first, and then the new shoe will (hopefully) prevent it from occurring again. If shoes could actually heal magically heal injuries, no one would ever be injured and orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, podiatrists, chiropractors, and many other doctors would all go out of business.
- Don't go to a running store, pick the employees brains, get a gait analysis, or try on several pairs of shoes, and then tell them you changed your mind and buy the shoe online. Those employees just did a ton of work for you. If you were building a house, would you get one contractor to take all the measurements and do all the design work, then fire him before you pay him and bring all his designs to someone else to actually build? I doubt it, but that's basically what you do when you make a running store do all the work for you and then you buy online. Similarly, don't do that to a store and leave to buy it at another store. I wasn't going to make Matt do all that work for me, and then leave so I could save a couple bucks online or at another store. I admit to doing this once when I had first graduated, but then I realized how rude it was, and I haven't done it since. If you really can't afford buying from the store rather than online, have the store figure out what shoes are best for you and buy from them that first time. The you have the name of a model of shoes that works for you and you're free to buy it from whomever you want.
- Stride analyses takes a long time. It took me an hour to get those Superfeet. Expect it to take a little while, and don't show up 15 minutes before the store is ready to close. The employees have lives too!
If all else fails and you do not have a running store nearby, Running Warehouse has excellent customer service, does a stride analysis if you send them a video, has several informative articles on their website, has a very liberal return policy, and has a forum where you can ask the very knowledgeable Joe Rubio for his advice on shoes, gear, and training. In my opinion, it's still not as ideal as actually going to a brick and mortar store where you can talk to someone in person and try on shoes then and there, and Running Warehouse obviously can't contribute to the local running community the way a local store does, but as far as online stores go, it's a good option.
So, does this mean that you need to bring along an anatomy book and several pairs of shoes in order to get the right shoe or insole at your local running store? No, of course not. The shoes you wear to run in now will suffice, and bring along a good attitude. The employees at your local running store work hard to make you happy! Be grateful for them!