Thanks to Ryan Sederholm, coach over at http://www.trailzen.co/ for writing a guest blog post on who do you listen to for shoe advice.
Would you post the following query to Facebook?
I am currently in the market for new underpants. I have always used tighty-whiteys but as I am undertaking new challenges in life, I expect I will be in need of something more so that I may rise to the occasion. Would you kindly share with me what your wearing and how you feel about them?
Ignoring the awkwardness of this request, there are some practical reasons why the responses you get will be useless at best or counterproductive at worst. Most obviously, responders may not share your gender in which case there may be significant differences in where you might appreciate…living space. Controlling for gender, some responses will undoubtedly come from well intentioned people that are simply built differently from you in which case the cut of their favorite briefs may as well be an iron maiden on you. Your occupation and pastimes may demand a more supportive role for your undergarments or may benefit from added airflow and comfort. People have different expectations of aesthetics in underwear. I line dry my laundry, for example. It wouldn’t be neighborly to disregard how my undergarments may impact curb appeal. You may favor delicate fabrics with a luxurious feel over any other considerations while every undergarment I’ve ever owned has ended its life crotchless. I should look into the fabric they use in cut resistant gloves.
The number of reasons not to post such an inquiry to Facebook seems limitless. Simply put, underwear is intimate not only because of its proximity to our buttocks but also because it is so personal a choice. Practical questions of fit, use, and price couple with subjective considerations such as comfort and fashion to make a decision matrix unique to each individual. It is nearly impossible that your choice in underwear is perfectly optimized to my needs. At best I may be able to use feedback from others as a brainstorming exercise to enumerate all the options that may be at my disposal. But no matter how strenuously you argue about the superiority of your skivvies, your opinion is simply not that predictive of how I will fare in your under-britches.
If you find the idea of asking for underwear recommendations on social media preposterous, then you can probably sympathize with the consternation it causes me when people post request for shoe recommendations. As trail runners, shoes are instrumental to our comfort and performance making them as personal and critical a consideration as underwear. Like underwear, shoes have to fit our anatomy not only dimensionally but also in a way we find appealing…just because we can squeeze into a pair does not mean we want to stay in them. Similarly, our usage informs the appropriateness of our apparel choices. A jock strap is ideal for a softball game but a bit overkill for all but the most exciting date nights. Shoes too may excel in one application and be utterly useless in another. And then there are issues of wearability. The trail shoes I used to wear all wore out in exactly the same fashion. My pinky toe eventually wore through the mesh in the side of the shoe. The shoes I wear today lose the lugs from the toe of the shoe one at a time until there is practically no sole left. The sole also delaminates from the mesh upper, but I find that a feature more than a fault as it lets the stink out. The point is if a shoe wears too quickly or in too catastrophic a way, the shoe may be inadequate to your needs even if they are your BFFs favoritest shoes ever!
So if you need shoes what are you to do? First, understand finding excellent shoes is not a trivial undertaking. It will take a modest investment of time. Second, any off the shelf shoe will involve some measure of compromise. This is not a bad thing, but you need to be honest with yourself about what compromises you are prepared to live with and which are nonnegotiable…you need to rank order your priorities. Third, you are the only arbiter of a shoe’s quality when it comes to your foot and the only way for you to know is to put the shoe on your foot. DO NOT defer to someone else’s opinion. Fourth, solicit advice only to find out what options may exist that you have not considered. The upshot, log off the internet, find a brick and mortar store and try on everything they offer in your size. If you find an option, buy a pair and put some miles on them. Don’t be afraid to go back to a shoe you may have dismissed. As you gain perspective by trying on more and more shoes, you may come to realize the yellow shoes with green stripes are less offensive than the painful shoes that apply pressure to your Achilles. Lastly, talk to the sales staff. They cannot know how a shoe will fare on your foot, but no one is more familiar with the range of options available and their respective strengths and weaknesses than the people that live with them 8 hours a day. When you talk to them, be specific about what shoes you’ve worn, how you used them, and most importantly what did and did not work about them.
Two final pieces of advice. First, when you find a shoe that works, stock up on them. Shoe companies find it to be profitable to redesign their shoes annually. The changes may be significant but even small changes can make a profound difference when it comes to something you will be running in for hours on end. Second, once you have found a shoe that works, please refrain from peppering every poor shmuck that asks for recommendations with praise for your favorite pair. Instead kindly steer them to the nearest store with the advice that they start putting shoes on their feet.