Finding a new pair of running shoes is like dating.
It starts out with vaguely positive anticipation. I’m ready for this, I think. This is going to be a new experience, and I’m going to enjoy myself.
I bring home the first pair after a not very encouraging trip to JackRabbit where the sales person basically just says, “Pick something,” when I can’t make up my mind. Something is wrong with these shoes. They’re too big and its feels like I’m tripping on them. Luckily, I can just go back to the store and return them.
Another not-as-helpful-as-I-was-expecting sales person gives me another pair to try.
This is the one, I think. These are the shoes I’ll fall in love with.
This pair feels like it’s not letting my feet breathe. So I go back to the store and reluctantly return to the original pair I had.
Somehow, these are too small even though they’re allegedly the exact same size and style I had before. Have my feet somehow changed in the past 2 weeks, or am I going crazy? I wonder.
I trudge back to the store the next week, growing resentful that I no longer live on the Upper East Side, which would make all this shoe-returning, while not exactly fun or easy, less complicated and more convenient.
I switch out the shoes for a larger size, and they seem okay. Anyway I’m determined to make them be okay because I’m so exhausted from trying different shoes. These are my new shoes, I convince myself. I’m not returning these.
But then, after 2 runs, I get the feeling these shoes aren’t supportive enough. I’m a new runner; I need a lot of encouragement, mainly from my feet to tell my brain to tell my legs to keep going. On what should have been a fairly easy 5 mile run, these shoes were silent when it mattered most.
Sorry guys, I tell them. Time to go back to the store.
I explain what has so far been my traumatic saga of shoe-searching to the employee at JackRabbit, and she acts like she sympathizes with me, or emphasizes–whichever one means she understands how ridiculously difficult it can be to find one pair of running shoes. She gets a larger size of the pair that had felt like they were suffocating me because I have decided I just need a little more space and everything will be fine.
This pair is only available in pink.
Now, I know I don’t really have the right to be picky here. I’m a month away from running a half marathon. All of the other runners have already found their shoes. There just aren’t very many left from which to choose. I should take what I can get. I know this, but I’m sorry, I cannot purchase pink running shoes. I am not that kind of girl.
So I ask if the sales person can order another color for me. She can, but that means I have to return my other shoes the same day, leaving me without shoes for my 10 mile run this weekend.
“This isn’t going to work,” I say.
She brings me up to the register anyhow, where another employee starts typing my information into the computer.
“This would be your fifth pair of shoes,” she says. “You can’t return them after this. Final sale.”
“What?” No one has ever told me about this limitation on any of the previous visits.
“It costs us money when you return shoes,” she explains. “And this would be 5 pairs of shoes.”
She repeats how many pairs of shoes it would be a few more times.
I get it. I know 5 pairs of shoes seem like a lot to her, a woman who has apparently never had any trouble fitting into the first pair of shoes her feet happened to fall into. But I can’t help it that my feet haven’t found their special pair yet. It’s not my fault that every time I think I’ve got the right one, it ends up not being right. How can I explain to her that it’s not fun for me to come back to the store week after week in defeat when she’s treating me as though this is all a little game I’m playing? It’s not for lack of trying that I haven’t been able to make one of the previous pairs work.
“It’s frustrating for me, too,” I say weakly, starting to panic now as the woman just keeps repeating, “5 pairs. Final sale.”
I understand the policy, but no one has ever mentioned this policy. If you have a strict deal-breaker, you shouldn’t wait until things are really serious before bringing it up. I’ve been to the store 4 previous times, and all along, the employees have told me I could keep trying out shoes until I found the one for me. I thought I had more time. I thought I had more chances to get it right.
Faced with the prospect of settling for whatever this next shoe is, whether or not it fits me, I know what I have to do.
I return my shoes without replacing them, leaving empty-handed, without any shoes and without the prospect of any shoes.
I have broken up with JackRabbit. If you ask them, they’ll probably tell you it was mutual, or maybe they’ll even say they instigated it, but they’re probably just bitter because I didn’t simply bend over and take it when I realized how dishonest they’d been.
Tears threaten to drip onto my cheeks as I walk to the train, but not because I’m sad to no longer have the store in my life. It’s because I trusted that if I just followed my heart and did what I thought was best for myself, eventually I would find the pair of shoes meant for me, but instead, I have nothing. I have a 10 mile run to do this weekend, but I do not have running shoes.
I do have my old, original shoes–the ones I had for 9 years and apparently were trail shoes so not the kind I should be wearing in the first place. But I am no longer running only twice a year, at most, and my shoes need to reflect that change in lifestyle. So I know I need to start all over again on my search. And yet, if I run 10 miles in the old ones this weekend, there’s a real possibility I’ll want to go back to them, despite the fact that they’re not good for me.
Finding a new pair of running shoes is a LOT like dating. At least in dating, you don’t end up with store credit to a place you never want to step foot in again. Or maybe you do, metaphorically, but I think we’re all metaphored out at the moment.