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?