The Existential Dread of Local Running Stores

“Support your local running store!”

What a complicated statement. Be prepared for a heavy dose of emotional hand-wringing and navel-gazing! And also some privileged whining from a cis white lady of average size who can’t get out of her own head.

I have needed a new pair of road shoes for awhile now. I put a lot of miles on my shoes despite advice (propaganda?) to replace them at 250-300 miles. I meant to replace them at 450 mi or so, but I went over the 500 mile mark last week and had to draw a line in the sand.

I hate going into running stores. I just hate it. The very things that make them unique and valuable are also what fill me with existential dread. Knowledgeable, passionate, talented runners – I feel like they can smell my amateurness and my double-digit minute mile pace and think I don’t belong in their store.

This is stupid because I have never actually received overt discrimination from a running store employee. I feel pretty fortunate because I know there are others out there who have been given the once-over by some young, fit, 18 minute 5Ker and been ignored, patronized, or straight up insulted. And here I am unable to get out of my own head and accept that I belong in these spaces.

I had a couple running stores in Duluth that I liked (Austin Jarrow and Duluth Running Company), and if I’m in Duluth when I need new shoes, I will shop there. Out of sheer laziness or cheapness I have purchased shoes online, but I try to avoid shopping online for a variety of reasons (packaging waste, pollution, big box stores that don’t support my running community) and I made a point that I was not going to give in to my laziness this time around. I was going to buy from a Twin Cities-based store and do it in person.

The running stores that are the most involved in the events that I do (trail races, especially) are also the least convenient for me to get to, so I decided to try a different one last weekend, one that I’d never really heard of and didn’t know much about, because it was significantly more convenient. Unfortunately, the experience wasn’t that great, even though it was really no fault of the store or its employees and more my own neurotic reaction to perfectly normal circumstances.

I walked in to the store (with my non-runner spouse) and there were quite a few people in there for such a small store. Probably half the people in there were teen boys, most of whom appeared to be employees, milling about and talking to each other. When I worked in retail, managers would always tell us not to stand in groups and talk, partially because they wanted us to be busy doing stupid stuff like cleaning or trying to open credit cards, and partially because it was poor customer service. It puts the customer in a position where they feel like they are interrupting. Of course I often stood in groups and talked to people, because you can only stand in silence, cleaning the same glass countertop over and over again, for so long before you go insane.

I had a moment of panic where I thought they didn’t have the shoe brand I wanted, and I would have to endure the awkwardness of either leaving right away, or listening to a sales pitch of how I would like this other brand (usually Brooks, it’s always Brooks, or New Balance) and then I’d have to say “No, I do not want to switch shoe models in the middle of marathon training” and then imagine them internally saying “You are running a marathon? Let me guess, Disney in a tutu with your mom friends,” and externally saying “Oh, is this your first marathon?” and then I’d die a little inside because I like pizza and bagels too much to ever look like I’ve run a marathon before. Also there’s nothing wrong with running Disney in a tutu with mom friends, beyond the conspicuous consumption that accompanies the Disney races. Tutus, mom friends, they are cool with me. We don’t all have to wear XXXS singlets with our track club on them in order to be considered runners.

To the store’s credit, one of the teens peeled off from the group right away to approach me politely and ask if he could help me, and then pointed me to the correct spot on the wall where the Mizunos were. I had a moment of disappointment when I saw that the shoes were the exact same color pattern as the pair I had just run into the ground. Boring! He went and grabbed a box, which took approximately one eon to find, while I stood there feeling like I was in everyone’s way, looking around and pondering why Ryan Hall felt the need to write a Bible verse on the signed photo displayed near the register.

The guy handed over the box and I told him I didn’t even need to try them on, which he was cool with. I got in line and that’s when things just got really weird for me. This customer ahead of me was being so strange. He was some kind of running coach, either for high schoolers or for a running club or something, and he was talking loudly with one of the employees about various races that his team had participated in. This woman was also some kind of coach and this guy just seemed like he was… posturing? Trying to appear dominant? Just bragging? I don’t know. It was very weird and he was extremely annoying and his constant talking was slowing down his transaction and prolonging my time in this uncomfortable situation. He filled up the room with his loud talking about how his club beat her club or he would have put together a team for some event but it was age-graded or something. I don’t even know, it was just weird competitive team running stuff that I don’t understand. I mean, I was the SLPHS cross country team manager (boys and girls, mind you) for one season in 2001, so I consider myself somewhat of an expert on this subject, but I couldn’t follow much of what he was talking about. All I knew is if this guy was a dog, he would have been peeing all over this store to mark his territory.

I realize this is unfair to the store, because it’s not their fault they had a weirdly insecure customer loudly talking and practically shouting across the room at their employee. But I really don’t want to go back there because it was such a weird experience, despite it being a relatively convenient store for me to patronize.

This whole experience is part of a larger question for me; I wonder if there will ever come a time when I feel like I belong in running-related spaces. I mean, I generally feel comfortable at trail races now that I’ve met so many people and volunteered and participated. But will there ever be a time when I show up to a race, or walk into a store, or pick up a packet, or wander an expo, and not feel like every person in the place thinks I don’t belong?

And if such a time comes, when will that be? When I reach a certain time in a 5K? When I lose a certain amount of weight? When I wake up one day and get the eff over myself? That last one sounds pretty appealing. Because intellectually I know that if I run, I am a runner, and I belong in a running store, buying running shoes to run in as a runner. Emotionally, I need to catch up. I’ve got 215.2 more miles on my trail shoes to figure that out!

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One thought on “The Existential Dread of Local Running Stores

  1. lol i totally feel that way at bike shops! and: “while I stood there feeling like I was in everyone’s way” i feel like that everywhere, all the time!

    Like

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