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It must be the shoes

Keep your dogs from barking - treat your feet to a pair of shoes tailored to your style, preferences and, most importantly, your needs.

Meet the ASICS Gel Cumulus. I found out this is my shoe of choice by visiting a specialty running store, and I can't overstate how much one consultation changed my outlook on the importance of wearing the right shoes.

Happy feet can oftentimes be a bad thing in sports, leading to sacks, interceptions and traveling violations.

Not the case in running, where the right pair of kicks is as important as a helmet in American football.

After cranking out a 9-mile run yesterday, I wanted to to treat my ASICS Gel Cumulus sneaks to a steak dinner as if they were an offensive line that gave me all day to throw.

But our match made in heaven didn't just happen. Like a football GM trying to assemble the right combination of linemen, I used a lot of resources to find the right fit.

The first step - and it's one I can't more strongly recommend you take if you love not just your feet, but your whole body - is to get a fitting.

Kayla and I visited Runners Image in Rockford for our FREE fitting. First thing first, a staff member watches your stride to gauge how your built and whether you have any special needs. This is where it's crucial to talk to someone who knows their stuff. About a year ago, we made the mistake of buying a pair of shoes for Kayla at Dick's, and their shoe "specialist" pointed Kayla to a shoe that provided support she didn't need. It was intended for a runner who pronates. Since she doesn't, all it provided was a lot of pain and minor injuries. So I can't emphasize how important the initial consultation is.

With that out of the way, it's time to try on shoes. As long as you don't have abnormally small feet like yours truly (Size 8 1/2), you'll get to sample lots of 'em. Kayla tried on about half a dozen pairs, whereas I sampled the three models that fit my neutral stride and child-size wheels.

Like anything other situation in life, playing the field will help you make the best choice. Everyone has different tastes and preferences (yes, we're still talking about shoes). Some folks, like me, prefer a cushy shoe. Some folks like a shoe so light they forget they're wearing them. You might not even know exactly what you like. That's what the fitting is for. It's time to find out.

Stores like Runners Image also have tons of other gear - from moisture-wicking clothing for all conditions to gadgets we runners are so fond of. But let's focus on the shoes here.

(DISCLAIMER: THIS FOLLOWING POINT MIGHT BE A TOUCH HYPOCRITICAL) I know this might be shocking, but a local running specialty store isn't exactly a money tree. If you've got two nickels to rub together, once you find your pair, keep your money in the local economy by buying at the store. If times are tough (like they were for Kayla and I after moving across the Midwest), shop online. I recommend Running Warehouse, and you can find discount codes by scouring blogs. Put Google to work and be vigilant, and you'll find them.

OK, hypothetically, you got your shoes. You opened the box and were overwhelmed by a choir of angels and that new shoe smell that just can't be duplicated.

Now what?

Well, as we discussed in our weekly vlog, you can't just put 'em on and run a 5-miler. They need breaking in. It's going to take about 20 or 25 miles worth of shorter runs. This is why it's a good idea to buy your new shoes before the old ones are coming apart at the seams. If you're on a program that calls for runs longer than 3 miles, use the old pair for those long runs while you use the new kicks on the shorter assignments.

That leads us to a great question - how do you know when to replace your shoes? Thanks for asking. While not all shoes are created equal, ff you keep a mileage log, 95 percent of the models out there can withstand at least 300 miles before their performance rapidly goes downhill. Some shoes can perform for upwards of 500 miles. If you look at your shoe and see the shoe's material near your heel and see cracking, it's time to retire them.

Here's a great article on caring for shoes and understanding their shelf life. You'll notice I'm a huge fan of Runner's World.

Before I cut you loose, there's one more shoe issue I absolutely MUST address.

Five-finger shoes are a pretty amazing innovation, and I get jealous whenever I see folks running long races in them. They're engineered to get us away from the heel-striking epidemic that began in the 70s and back to running the way we were intended to run - barefoot.

But eliminating the bad habit your shoes have been teaching you all your life doesn't just happen. If you want to do so, it's baby steps (pun intended). Once you invest in the shoes, the transition is a slow one. Only having lived vicariously through others' triumphs and failures in the barefoot realm, I'll turn you over to a page that's come highly recommended.

Love your feet, treat them right, and the rest of your body will benefit. More gear chat to come, as I feel Ma Nature will soon give me a reason to address properly layering for bitter temps.

Until next time, godspeed, speedy!

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