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!

Spring/Summer Gear Wish List

I require some stuff and I have a lot of gift cards.

  1. Smaller volume hydration pack
    For races like Superior 25K, I find that my usual pack is too big, but I also want my hands free. So I’m looking for a lighter weight pack with a couple of bottles or soft flasks (maybe? I don’t know, filling them is a pain) so that I can cut down on the amount of stuff I’m carrying around.
  2. Squirrel’s Nut Butter anti-chafe
    I need something that works better than Body Glide but isn’t as messy as Vaniply. Scotty from Ten Junk Miles uses this stuff and touts it all the time, so let’s see if it’s really as good as he says. If FANS is as hot as last year, I need something that will keep the chafing at bay.
  3. Waist flashlight
    This year, I plan on running at night at FANS, because I plan on not sucking as much. I have heard the combination of a waist light and a headlamp is better than a headlamp alone. It’ll also be a good backup if I can’t stand having the headlamp on anymore.
  4. Trail shoes with a rock plate but no lugs
    Last year at FANS, I wore my road shoes because I figured it would be mostly pavement. It turned out to have a significant gravel portion. The bottoms of my feet hurt like crazy and I switched to my trail shoes to protect them a bit more. My feet felt way better with the trail shoes on, but the shoes have giant lugs on them that kept kicking the gravel. Why yes, I should pick my feet up more, but whatever. I need a rock plate but no lugs, or at least smaller ones than my Speedcross shoes have.
  5. New sports bras
    Maybe 1 or 2. My old ones are wearing out and I need to find an option that doesn’t cause massive painful chafing on my back.

Woof, that’s going to be a bit spendy. Good thing I have a lot of gift cards, like I said!

Summer Gear Wish List 2

It’s not warm yet, but it’s gettin’ there. I’m starting to plan out what new gear I need. Here’s last year’s summer gear wish list, and here’s my evaluation of it at the end of the season.

High Priority:
Bug repellent
New sports bra
Super lightweight jacket

I realize bug repellent is very easy to come by. What I need is a bug repellent that works, but isn’t something I have to worry about getting in my mouth or eyes if I’m sweating or I wipe my face. It doesn’t have to work perfectly, as I ran last year without any insect repellent at all, but it was also kind of like torture at times, swatting at my calves  every 5 seconds to fend off the hordes.

I still haven’t found a good sports bra since Under Armour stopped making the style I loved. I bought one from UA a year or so ago that has adjustable straps that threaten to fall down because they don’t stay adjusted where I want them, and soft cup inserts (not really padding) that migrate whenever I wash it. I also have one from Moving Comfort which is okay, but the eye hooks in the back gave out rather quickly.

I want a jacket that will protect me from rain when I need it, but won’t cause me to overheat and won’t be a nuisance around my waist while running.

Medium Priority:
Hydration belt or lightweight vest
Racing briefs
Body Glide alternative
Trail shoes

I have found that running with 2 handhelds can be a bit clumsy at times, so I’d like to be able to put them away. However, will 2 water bottles bouncing on my waist or chest be too annoying? I could go back to my hydration pack, but I also don’t usually need a backpack full of water, and it doesn’t have any front-accessible pouches.

I’m not insane, I don’t want the racing briefs for actual races. I actually want them for the treadmill. I don’t plan on doing too many treadmill runs this summer, but there’s always a chance that a hard rain’s a-gonna fall and I’ll be forced inside. I’m also getting hot on the treadmill right now, so I’d wear them sort of year-round.

Body Glide is ok for warm weather, but I’ve found in cooler temps it doesn’t work as well. Its coefficient of friction increases with cooler temps, and loses some of the “glide.” I’d like to find something with a better texture, as well.

I just got new shoes, but I would still like to try something trail-specific. My current Wave Prophecy pair has been going strong for 600 miles, but the shoes are starting to get a few holes (and they smell a bit). I will look to get the trail shoes some time after the Superior 25K.

Low Priority:
Prescription sunglasses

I could use a pair or two of shorts so that I’m not cycling through the same 2 pairs, especially in the summer heat. I re-wear them probably more times than I “should,” so a few more pairs in the rotation wouldn’t hurt.

I need to go to the eye doctor, since I haven’t gotten new glasses in almost 3 years, and my current glasses are in rough shape (the lens coating started coming off in spots a few months after I got them, but since I got them at Macy’s and then moved away a month later to the land of no Macy’s, I couldn’t take them in to complain), but I hate making appointments. That is dumb and immature so I need to get myself together and do it, and since I’ll have a current prescription in hand, I should take advantage of the convenience to get a pair of sunnies for driving and for running. I may not use them on trails that are in the woods, since the visibility might be lower than I’m comfortable with.

I can’t think of anything else that I would like to try, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be impulse buying this season. I’ll try to add anything that’s not on this list, but that I chose to purchase, to the end of season wrap-up.

Bit by Bit

I kind of caved to the fitness tracker craze. I didn’t buy one, but I was able to obtain one through my work’s health and wellness program, which provides financial rewards that can either be redeemed for money or stuff. I probably should have taken the money, but I seized the opportunity to get another GPS-capable fitness tracking device.

Behold, the FitBit Surge.
I don’t foresee a career in hand modeling unless I give up cats.

There were two options for the band size, small and large. I ordered a small and I either have chubby wrists or the company severely misunderstands the size of people’s wrists. I can only fasten it on, like, the third from last notch, and that’s only if it’s fairly close to my wristbone. It’s recommended to wear it a finger’s width from the wrist bone, or even farther away during exercise. It seems unreasonably small, if that is the case. Or again, perhaps I have fat wrists, I don’t know.

I wear it on alternate wrists. Generally I wear it on my right hand, and when it starts to irritate the skin a little, I switch over to the left for a few days. That’s sort of irrelevant but I did notice I was getting a ton of “steps” accomplished in the morning before I realized I was getting credit for brushing my teeth and my hair.

I find the overall concept of the fitness tracker sort of patronizing. The interface on the website/app is sort of juvenile. Get badges for getting steps! Compete against your friends! Here’s how many staircases you “climbed!” Get up and walk 250 needless steps an hour, just so you can meet this or that goal!

I do find it useful for a few things. First, as a watch. It’s sleek enough to wear daily, although it usually gets covered up by my long sleeves. I haven’t worn a watch in awhile, but I like it more than digging my phone out of my pocket to check the time.

I also use to to monitor my heart rate, both for fun and for informational purposes. I have gotten a better idea of my resting heart rate, and I can use that to see how my training is going, as well as to predict when I might need to rest/back off training. I also like to see what kind of an effect certain things have on my heart rate. Yesterday I had to present in a big meeting, and before hand my heart rate was around 90 bpm sitting down. Yikes!

Even though I mock the steps counter a bit, I have noticed that when I’m not working out, I’m pretty sedentary. My job doesn’t require a lot of walking, and even adding in some unnecessary walking to add in steps doesn’t make much of a difference. My house is small, and laid out so that the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom are all close by. I don’t have any interest in pacing my house just to get in “exercise.” I also like to sit on my butt and watch TV, and I don’t see that changing. I guess it’s a good thing I run, then.

I don’t use the GPS tracker at the moment when running, because I wear my other watch, but I would use it on longer runs where I might run out of battery on my primary watch. I don’t know when I’ll be running those races, but someday. I should give it a shot on a run sometime, just to see what kind of variance I get between it and my Suunto.

Overall this is a mostly-unnecessary piece of technology that has given me a bit more insight into my fitness, but I wouldn’t have paid for it. Also, I have fat wrists according to FitBit.

Winter Wish List Rehash

I guess it’s technically spring, although the weather in Duluth has been decidedly un-springlike. While outsiders all know the winters here are harsh, most people don’t know the springs are depressing. It sometimes feels like it’ll never get warm. I looked at the extended forecast and see one mild day (tomorrow) followed by highs in the low 40s to high 30s going all the way into April.

Anyway, I felt like whining a bit about the weather because it’s cold and my cold has come back again. Wahhhhh.

In December I came up with a gear wish list for cold weather, similar to the one I did for summer last year. In September I looked back at the summer list and evaluated what I’d acquired and what I hadn’t.

My cold weather gear wish list was as follows:

High Priority:
A new pair of gloves nope
Heavier-weight running tights nope
Head lamp yup
Superior Hiking Trail Membership yup
Upper Midwest Trail Runners Membership yup

Medium Priority:
A new sports bra nope
New hose for my hydration backpack nope
A heavyweight running hoodie yup

Low priority:
Another pair of shoes nope
New socks nope

I didn’t spend a lot of money on running stuff, which is a good thing! Especially since I had to spend a ton of money on other stuff. I got a headlamp, which I love, and I also got a reflective vest, which is not on the list but is a good safety item to have. I spent a decent amount of time running outside since it wasn’t absolute zero outside for weeks on end, and I felt a lot safer running at night with the headlamp and vest.

For Christmas, I got the medium weight Bulldog hoodie I talked about in the initial wish list post. I like it but it’s not really that warm. I ended up running with like four shirts on. I really did need to get new gloves and I didn’t. I’ve had a few instances where my hands have gotten extremely cold and a heavier-weight glove would have taken care of that.

I haven’t used my hydration backpack at all so there was no need to get a hose. I wanted to get new shoes and just… didn’t. I might get new shoes after Zumbro. Maybe. I ended up just wearing regular old socks all winter and my feet never got cold. I suffered through with the same old crappy sports bras I’ve always had, and I just wore tights over other tights instead of getting tights with a lining or long underwear or something. Next winter I really need some more advanced gear. I was getting sick of wearing so many layers.

I joined the UMTR and Superior Hiking Trail. So far I haven’t done anything with the memberships. I did get a sweet buff from UMTR that I wear all the time. I wore it at the airport, which was a mistake, because I ended up getting a pat-down from security. The UMTR has a set of race series that provides friendly competition throughout the year. I joined the Trail Run Series since it fits in with most of the races I have planned. The only outlier is the Wild Duluth 50K, which actually isn’t on any of the Series.

I didn’t do a winter running “bucket list” like I did for the summer, because I didn’t know what would be accessible and what wouldn’t be. I’m really looking forward to ticking off some items on this summer’s list. I’m really looking forward to it being warm enough to run without layers and without feeling chilled to the bone afterward. Maybe in May…

Cold Weather Gear Wish List

I’ve been getting outside to run on the weekends, but stuck inside during the week. I’ve noticed a couple things: first, it’s cold, and second, the treadmill is really rough on me. I need cold weather gear that will help me get outside during the week, and will keep me comfortable once it starts to get REALLY cold. While the 20s and teens might feel frigid right now, they’ll feel balmy in a month or so.

The next 2 weeks are going to be light on running as my semester winds down. I am digging in on the final touches of my capstone project, and running is going to take a backseat.

High Priority:
A new pair of gloves
Heavier-weight running tights
Head lamp
Superior Hiking Trail Membership
Upper Midwest Trail Runners Membership

I need a headlamp ASAP. I looked a bit on Black Friday but didn’t buy anything, so I need to get on that like, this weekend. For the gloves, I really need is a glove-mitten hybrid, but with fingerless gloves. I want the extra warmth a mitten provides, but I need dexterity to open up food on long runs. I don’t know if such an item exists. I’ll report back. My current running tights aren’t warm enough, and I end up with frigid thighs. I need some new tights, or a super slim pair of long underwear, otherwise I’m going to be rocking the shorts-over-tights look again.

The two memberships are important because I need to stop being such a lone wolf. I need to give back to the trails I’m beating up with my feet, and I need to meet some other runners and be more social.

Medium Priority:
A new sports bra
New hose for my hydration backpack
A heavyweight running hoodie

I didn’t use my hydration backpack in the summer because I used handhelds, but in the winter I will use it because I also cross-country ski, and one cannot use hand-held water bottles and cross country ski. It just won’t work. I’m still in search of a sports bra model that I like, so I’d like to pick up another one and continue the search while cutting down on laundry.

The running hoodie might be medium-priority, but I’ve already got one picked out. I’m getting this lovely maroon one from UMD Stores for myself once I accept a job offer. Whenever that might be. Although I need to make sure it has secure pockets. If not, I need to find a hoodie with zippered pockets.

Low priority:
Another pair of shoes
New socks

I have a coupon for shoes, so even though this is low priority, I’ll probably use it. I want to try some true trail shoes. And I guess I want to try out some different types of socks to see what works best for me in winter.

You can see my summer gear wish list here, and note that some items are on both. A headlamp for all seasons, please!

Summer Wish Lists

Months ago I planned a gear wish list and a State Park run wish list. Summer’s over, both meteorologically and astronomically, so I’m evaluating what I thought I wanted/needed and where I thought I’d go against what I actually acquired and achieved.

My gear wish list:
High priority
2 new sports bras I got one, which I like ok.
Head lamp I didn’t get a head lamp and just borrowed one for the solstice hike, but I didn’t need one anyway.
Handheld water bottle I got two during a sale and I use them all the time.

Medium priority:
New hose for my hydration backpack I haven’t touched my hydration pack all summer so there was no need to get this yet.
Second pair of running shoes Not in the budget.
Running shorts that actually work for me I have three pairs, and like two of them.
Body Glide Purchased and repurchased.

Low priority:
New hydration backpack Nope.

I am actually surprised at how I did. I thought I had more gear on the list than it turned out. I still think I need a better hydration pack for longer runs, but it can wait. The handhelds are nice and I got a great deal on them. Shorts are great, I like them a lot better than capris. Body Glide works, though it’s not as slippery as I thought. This is the only way capris are superior to shorts – less friction. My shoes are going to be cooked by the time I’m done with my goal race, so I’m thinking rotating through two pairs will be my SOP going forward.

My State Park trails list
Banning No
Jay Cooke Yes
Gooseberry Falls Yes, just in the nick of time
Split Rock Lighthouse Yes
Tettegouche Yes, kind of
George Crosby Manitou No
Temperance River No
Cascade River No
Grand Portage No
Soudan Underground Mine No
Itasca (maybe) No
Lake Bemidji (maybe) No

So I didn’t do very well there. Once I signed up for the Harder ‘N Hell Half, I felt like I needed to spend my time on those trails, learning the course. I might go to Lake Itasca in a couple weeks, but not to run, so it doesn’t count.

I’ll have a similar gear wish list for fall, and maybe some more generic running goals. At some point, listing off state parks is going to get old.