If you want to know at what point you are not a jogger but a runner, I have a simple test: If's when you meet another jogger or runner along the road and you peer at his shoes.
What brand? How worn? Where are they worn -- the sides, the heel? Is the shoe controlling the runner or is the runner controlling the shoe? Was the shoe bought because it looked good or felt good?
The questions are easily asked about the other person. But they are crucial to ask of ourselves. The only meaningful standard for running shoes is whether they are healthy or unhealthy for our body.
As simple as that may be, the complications are sometimes mountainous when a person, especially the beginning jogger, heads for the store for a pair of running shoes. Even before leaving the house, a mistake may have been make. The socks the person is wearing are not the socks he jogs in. They are dress socks, which are thinner than running socks. The chances are increased of getting ill-fitting shoes. In turn, the chances of injuries to the foot -- or ankles, knees and hips that are dependent on the proper footstrike -- are also increased.
Once in the store, the essential tactic is to get out of the store -- for a run of 50 or 100 yards down the street in the shoes you are thinking of buying.
A conscientious salesperson will insist that you try out the shoes this way, even if it may cost them a sale. The last time I bought shoes, I went to the Phidipoides Running Center in Rockville. Mike Horsey, the store's part-owner who is also the track coach at Georgetown Prep, had me sample a few pairs. But none felt right after some jogs in the parking lot. He referred me to Nike Georgetown, which didn't have the shoes I needed either. Nike Georgetown sent me to Racquet and Jog in Bethesda, where I finally connected with a Brooks model.
Mike Horsey's concern about fitting the runner to the shoe is shared by the best of the sales people. But often, a shoekeeper of integrity can't help, so driven is the customer to get a particular brand and model. When asked about his particular choice, the all-too-frequent answer is that "one of the magazines gave it a high rating."
That's fine except that the magazines, in rating shoes, don't also rate feet. In the current issue of "The Runner," a magazine that doesn't rate shoes, and argues a strong case against rating, Dr. Richard Shuster, a sports podiatrist writes: "When all the variables are in play, it is possible that shoes that are highly rated may be inappropriate in terms of the individual runner. It certainly appears logical that a shoe with a given shock-absorbing rating will mean one thing to a 100-pound runner and something else to a 200-pound runner."
Aside from weight, other obvious differences involve the amount of mileage you put in, past injuries, whether you run "light" or "heavy" whether you run six miles or 10-minute miles on fields, roads, tracks, the beach or the golf course.
If your running like is complicated -- meaning that you run as often as possible for as many reasons as possible (relaxation), companionship, competition, the dream of getting your picture in Trackmaster magazine -- then shoe selection can be simplified only by pampering the 52 bones of each foot with many pairs of shoes. Jim Fixx has 14 pairs. A stockpile like that isn't needed -- it may be a tax shelter for Fixx -- but two or three pairs at any one moment isn't excessive.
How much should you pay? With Nike Tailwinds costing $50 and department store cheapies around $15, the investment in shoes ought to be measured against how much money you may be forced to pay out for medical bills due to unhealthy footwear. Some podiatrists report as many as 50 percent of foot injuries are caused by bad shoes.
Experienced runners also know that cost depends on the life of the shoe. Some models are good for 500 miles, others for 2000. No unit pricing yet exists by which we can tell how many cents a mile our shoes are costing us. The basic fiscal test of a shoe should be along the lines of the oath that physicians take. First of all, do no harm.
Taking the time to find a conscientious running store with knowledgeable salespersons is the first essential. The second is to know what kind of jogger or runner you are. The third is to be wary of ratings game. Whether it comes from a magazine of from the comments of someone at the track.