Frustrations in Shoe Buying

A few weeks back, I went to my local Fleet Feet because it was time to replace my faithful, electric blue Saucony Mirage 4s. I’d put about 330 miles on them in nine months, and I wanted something fresh for the remainder of marathon training.

Normally, I’d just buy a new pair of 4s online, but supply is becoming scarce because there is now an updated version, the 5. I’ve worn Mirage 4s continuously (2 different pairs) since May of 2014, so this was a little upsetting. I was open to a new shoe, but I liked having the Mirage 4 as my safety shoe.

I showed the sales associate (who I’m pretty sure is also the owner/co-owner) my shoes and said that’s what I’d been running in for 2 years. They don’t carry the Mirages at my local Fleet Feet, but she brought out several pairs of shoes that she said were similar. If you follow me on Instagram, you saw that I ended up with another pair of Sauconys, the Guide 9s. I tried on several different brands, and the Guides felt most similar to the Mirages. I have feet that get wider at the toes, like duck feet, and Sauconys have nice, wide toe boxes.

As I said, I was open to something new, and fully committed to giving the Guides a fair shot. From the outset, they were… weird. The Mirage, while technically a Guidance shoe, has a very natural ride, with only a 4mm heel-toe drop. The Guide has an 8mm drop, so already, there was a lot more shoe involved. And the Guide also has much more cushion than the Mirages. Historically, high cushion shoes have not worked out for me (see my experience with the Asics Gel Kayano and Mizuno Enigmas), so I was concerned on that front as well.


Still, I tried. I put about 35 miles on the shoes, wearing them for ever-increasing distances. I often found my feet scuffing the road or treadmill belt, because the extra few millimeters meant that I needed to pick my feet up higher than I was used to. Some runs I could feel my right big toe rubbing on the front of the shoe, but other runs, it was totally fine. After most runs, my calves and feet were a LOT tighter than they usually are, but I just attributed this all to being normal adjustments to a different shoe.

Last Saturday, I wore them for a 10 mile long run. Only 1 mile in, I already knew I was in trouble. I felt blisters forming on the bottoms of my arches. By the time I got home, I had silver dollar sized blisters on the bottoms of both feet, which made walking and running very challenging for the next few days. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back; in combination with the issues above it was clear that I couldn’t continue to wear the Guide 9s, especially as I move into higher mileage in my marathon training.

I think the people at Fleet Feet (or at least my local store) have a tendency to put people in a higher cushion shoe than is necessary–they’re huge on Hokas. This same issue happened the first time I got fitted there two years ago. I had been running in minimalist shoes (Nike Frees), and they put me in a maximal support and cushion shoe, which I later had to return for the more “natural” Saucony Mirage 4s.

I am forever grateful to Fleet Feet for having an excellent customer satisfaction policy, but my experience there when I went to exchange the Guides this Saturday was less-than-stellar. I brought them back and explained the issues that I was having. The woman who had originally put me in the Guides was there, and seemed sort of skeptical about my reasons for returning them, which annoyed me. Another associate ended up helping me, and brought out two other shoes to try that he said were similar to the Mirages. Neither shoe was a good fit for me, and when I said as much, he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, that’s all we have that’s close to what you were wearing.” I just looked at him and said, “OK?” As in, ok, so what’s next? Re-measure my feet and check my gait to see if something else might work? Try some other shoes just to see?

In the end, he offered to order the Mirage 5s online and have them shipped to the store for me. While that’s a decent compromise, I could have done that myself (and probably for less money) without ever having stepped foot in the store. The associate went out back, presumably to check on ordering the shoes, and then he came back out and told me that he’d call me when the shoes came in. I asked if I could see the colors available and pick what I wanted, and he said no, that he’d already ordered them and had no idea what color would be coming. Thanks a lot, guy.

In the past I’ve been very pleased with the service I’ve gotten at this store, but this experience left a sour taste in my mouth. I could have easily ordered the Mirage 5s myself online, but I wanted to support a local business. At both of my recent visits, they based all of their assumptions on my old shoes, rather than doing another measurement and gait analysis. Then, when I went back to exchange the Guides, they gave up pretty easily on trying to find a shoe in stock that would work for me. And then to just order whatever color shoe without even checking to see if that was what I wanted really upset me. I know that at the end of the day, it’s the fit that counts, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to be able to choose the color if possible.

I probably could have demanded to try on some more shoes, or at least expressed interest in other specific shoes (for instance, the Saucony Kinvara looks somewhat similar to Mirage), but I kind of suck at asserting myself. I think in the future, I will probably just go to a big warehouse type shoe store where I can try on whatever I want and not have a sales associate’s opinion of what I should or shouldn’t be wearing affect my potential choices. They may not have a huge selection, but at least that way if I end up with something that doesn’t work, I only have myself to blame. And anything that I do buy will generally be cheaper regardless. Having a great return policy is only helpful when I can find what I’m looking for without feeling like I’m inconveniencing someone, or getting attitude.

How do you shop for running shoes? Do you take “expert” advice, or try things out yourself?


27 thoughts on “Frustrations in Shoe Buying

  1. allisonfiorini says:

    I know your pain.That is so frustrating. I find it really crazy that they wouldn’t let you choose the color on something you are PAYING for?!?! I think that is total crap!!!

    I do take expert advice but I also try things out myself. Like when I started wearing the Brooks Pure Connects. The running store I go to and my friend who works there had to order them and didn’t recommend them, but I ordered them and loved them. THEN they discontinued them. Now I wear the Pure Flow and alternate it with the Launch and I like them, but I miss my Connects. The Flows give me blisters. The struggle is realllll. Sorry for the rant, haha. I get it.

    • DarlinRae says:

      No, I totally understand. I just think it’s interesting that both times I’ve gone to this particular store, they’ve put me in a maximum cushion shoe, even though that’s not what I was running in previously. Ah well. Live and learn, I guess.

      • allisonfiorini says:

        Yeah that is really strange. Even with my store – the last time I went in and wanted to try the Launch – they were all like, “Allison, you run in shoes with almost no cushioning, and that is loaded. Why do you want that?” I wanted it for my easy days to take the load off my calves which was why I alternate with Flows. But they questioned me about my rationale on that one. That is weird.

      • DarlinRae says:

        Thanks, Mike. The challenge is finding them in the correct size. I see them around, but I’ve only seen one seller with them in my size since looking these last couple of weeks. It’d be nice to have them, but since they’re not widely available anymore, I might as well find a replacement. I’m hoping the 5s, will work for a while, but lord only knows if they’ll even continue to make them :/

  2. Heather [is probably running] says:

    There is a local running store in my area that I won’t even step foot in any more. I went in looking for some minimal shoes a few years ago (when minimal shoes were still quite popular) and their basic response was they didn’t carry them and wouldn’t help me. The sales associate was so rude.

    Hope your blisters heal quickly! Ouch!

  3. Darlene says:

    I feel your pain. It took my 8 years to find my shoe – I wore Saucony then Asics, then Brooks., then Mizunos and even Hokas but I think I found the right shoe – Nikes…so far so good – no pain.

  4. txa1265 says:

    I feel like the shoe companies focus on ‘churn’ and shoe stores are trying a ‘path of least resistance’ approach, and the end results is that we as runners suffer.

    I look at the Saucony Kinvaras I have run in for 3 years now – the 4s had a narrow toe that messed with some people, the 5s were better but had different fit issues for others, and the 6s were different again and narrowed the toe box, and now they just announced the 7s! I am fortunate that my feet are pretty ‘normal’ sized so I fit all of them. But once I feel good with a pair they are on with a new version and since I am size 13 the stock disappears quickly …

    And the stores … sorry to hear. I think it is hard in general and we want to trust the ‘experienced’ opinions of the people there, but sometimes they are very good and sometimes not. And sometimes I think that like anything else they profile us based on what they see and ‘bin’ us and then push what they are trained to push.

    • DarlinRae says:

      I just hope I can run in the 5s without any issues for the remainder of marathon training, and then go on the hunt for a good replacement. Now of course, who knows when they’ll actually show up? 😐

  5. hellyontherun says:

    There’s a local running store (that’s still big) that I frequent and have had some issues with. I first started with Ravennas and loved them–the 4s I believe–and loved them. Then I got the 5s–still loved them. But then the 6s were weird and the 7s were weird and then I didn’t know what to do. I also used Kayanos but felt they were heavy but stayed b/c that’s what I was recommended.

    After my injury, I went to a different, smaller local store and was told I was more neutral and didn’t need so much cushion or support. I was recommended Newtons which at first really scared me. But now, I LOVE them.

    I’m sorry you had a bad experience. I think it happens more often that we’d hope unfortunately. I hope you find a shoe soon!!!

  6. dgobs says:

    Boo, sorry you had a crappy experience 😦 I’m also sorry the Guides didn’t work for you! I haven’t tried the 9s, but I love them… but my feet are also weird and probably quite different from yours. Since getting into running I’ve always gotten analyzed at Marathon Sports, and they’ve been really good at doing a new analysis each time. I’ve been super happy with where they’ve directed me (except in regards to trail running shoes… otherwise good though). I hope the Mirage 5s work better for you!

  7. Fallon @ Slacker Runner says:

    I have the worst luck with shoes so get your pain. I have not had the horrible store experience though, sorry!! I get all my shoes from the Running Warehouse which makes me feel kind of spoiled. They did suggest a hugely cushioned shoe once and it was the first Tim I ever returned a pair of shoes- I felt like I was wearing bricks! I hope the 5’s work for you!

  8. irishrunnerchick says:

    That sucks! I would be tempted to call and cancel your order. Screw those guys – you need to pick the cutest color combo – everyone knows a cute shoe will help with your running! I’ve had pretty good experiences with my local running store but I’m still on the look out for my perfect shoe so I’ll be heading back there soon.

    • DarlinRae says:

      I’m sort of stuck with them at this point. Since I bought the Guides there, in order to return them, I can only get store credit, and I may as well put that toward shoes rather than leaving it on my account. Oh well. Now I know better!

  9. charissarunning says:

    Ugh – the shoe buying is tough enough without having to deal with a lack of good customer service to go along with it. When it comes to shoes I tend to buy online for what I know I like for awhile…it’s just easier. I support my local running store by buying fuel and sometimes clothes/socks and other easier things there. When I need to find a new model of shoes again I will have to go to them and figure it out but at this point I feel pretty confident telling them what I like in a shoe and trying on a million different things till I find my fit. Also, in my experience if a shoe doesn’t feel good after a few short runs (maybe give it 4-5 runs), it’s not right. When I switched over to the Kinvaras, they literally felt perfect on my second run. Good luck with the new Mirages – I hope you get a good color!

    • DarlinRae says:

      Thanks, Charissa! I’m trying to stay positive and hopeful. At least if the new ones work, I can continue buying them online for a while (as long as they keep making them!).

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