07 May 2006

It's All About the Gear

When I was little I had to wear orthopedic shoes. Big, brown and very, very ugly. Mom always tried to make them better by letting me put cool shoelaces in them. I remember having a pair that were marked like rulers. Oh yeah, I was the height of 2nd grade hipness with those, let me tell ya.

Well, now that I’m all grown up (sorta), I can wear whatever footsies float my boat, usually meaning whatever footsies I found on the clearance rack. But dear readers, the clearance rack done me wrong.

A few weeks ago I was pretty stoked to score a pair of Saucony running shoes for around 35 smackers. And they were pink! Score!

Well, then I tried to actually run in those sweet sneaks. I made it 15 minutes before I had to hobble home. I’m certainly no long-distance superstar (yet), but 15 minutes and giving up? Not good. Perseverance is my strong suit (sometimes) so I gave them another chance at my aerobics class. They lasted 20 minutes this time before I had to bench them in favor of my worn out, stinky shoes waiting on the sidelines.

So Friday I went in search of the summer sneakers. Based on the recommendations of many sports articles and trainers at my gym, I try to replace my shoes at the start of every semester and at the beginning of summer. It’s a little treat to get things off on the right foot, pun intended. I searched the mall high and low and tried on and looked some more, but nothing felt right. So I went to the “real runners” store. I’d never really felt like I’d earned my stripes to shop in a store dedicated to hardcore runners, but I had to do something and I was feeling adventurous.

First things first, they have you roll up your pants legs and they start measuring. My feet were calibrated, calculated and circumferenced (yeah, I know, not a word, but hey, you get the idea). Then they slapped on a pair of sample shoes and marched me over to the treadmill with the video camera set up. Yeah, the one right in the front window where everybody and their brother can see you run. Feeling very, very silly at this point, I was given a bit of an anatomy lesson on the ankle and leg bone structure and then told to run while the camera captured it all. Thank goodness it was trained on my feet and not all the wiggly parts that need more running before they go away! Then the real fun began… the trying on. They took all my measurements and foot angles and what not and started bringing out the boxes. Stacks and stacks of boxes… But I’d been doing this trying on thing all day so no biggee. I’d put something on, they’d ask about specific fit and then have me put something else on. When I got it narrowed down to a few pairs, the real humiliation began. Not only did I have to run on the treadmill in the window, I had to run up and down the block… on one of the busiest see-and-be-seen streets in B-lo… with my pant legs still rolled up, and at times in two different kinds of shoes. At least they had two salespeople out there on the sidewalk watching me so I sort of looked like I was there on purpose, I hope.

So, the real verdict… the treadmill. Yesterday I checked off four miles and no pain, well, aside from muscles which have been less than willing to operate since I got home, but no foot pain. I’m still not a “real runner,” but darn, I look like one.

While I was shopping, one of the ladies helping me started giving me a hard time about buying an orange outfit to match my sneakers so I’d look really, really fast. She told stories about seeing people show up to races in the fanciest of fancy, aerodynamic, shiny, intimidating to all others gear. She said she always gets a little nervous about how fast these people will be… until she passes them on the course.

As I was writing this, I started thinking about knitters and our gear. I know I for one check out someone’s knitting bag and needles when I take a group class. Even walking the aisles of the big box stores, I get all snooty when I see fun fur in someone’s basket. While I don’t think we go to classes looking to intimidate others, I think there is something in all of us that likes to size up our competition. I like to think that I knit for my own pleasure and satisfaction, but at the same time, I know that I like the public display aspect of it all. I generally wear handknit items when I go to a class, just to show off in front of other people who recognize handknits. And then of course there’s that blog thing that I like to do. With quilting, I try to take my “cool” projects to quilt camp, although there I know I’m waaaaay out-classed by really talented women. And there’s the shopping aspect too. Many beginning knitters have remarked on the blogs that they don’t feel comfortable going into yarn shops because they haven’t worked their way up the chain to Rowan and Debbie Bliss supplies.

So my first inclination is that it’s all a bunch of hooey and we should take our noses out of the air. It’s all just an act fueled by who has the bigger wallet to empty on our hobbies.

But then there’s also something to be said for pursuing quality. I got better shoes at the running store than I ever would have found on my own. I don’t know that they’ll instantly make me a better runner, but they did manage to keep me on the treadmill whereas the cheaper ones had me limping home, probably to fix a bowl of ice cream. And I know that I’ve experienced the pleasure of working with really nice yarns or fabrics and having a project turn out much, much better than a similar project with lesser quality supplies.

Quality is, of course, the operative word. Best to spend money on the best quality you can afford. But the trickier part is actually determining how much "quality" you need. A few months ago, I bought a reasonably decent mp3 player, yet I prefer to use my cheaper player because it has an arm band and is easy to operate while I run. We all know about the knitters who swear allegiance to Cotton Ease, refusing to think of switching to Rowan Cotton or the like. Sometimes quality isn't really quality. But maybe, the clothes do make the runner or knitter.

Personally, I'm going to compromise. I've got the hipster shoes, but I'll still be the one dragging my sorry hiney up and down the street in a pair of stained workout pants that I've worn for years. Just look at the shoes, not the stains...

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