Friday, 11 March 2011
ARO Sports, Harpenden
I can remember pretty well when I first went into Aro Sports. Looking back I was at a bit of a cross road - I'd just started to run and had found it particularly hard going on my knees and ankles; I was on the verge of giving up even though I'd only just begun. After a bit of quick internet homework I realised I needed a proper pair of running shoes that suited by stride.
They say first impressions count for a lot and that certainly applies here. I went into the shop on (thankfully a quiet winter's afternoon), explained the problem and straight away Colin suggested I hopped onto his treadmill in order to carry out a gait analysis. It involved me running using my existing trainers and being filmed from behind. He played the film back in slow motion, on a laptop and straight away spotted the problem. Even I could see how my feet were landing and taking off awkwardly, it all started to make sense.
"Is it serious, can I run?"
"Yes of course you can! We just need to sort out the right shoes for you. What size are you?"
"Ok I'll see what I can find" came the reply disappearing into a stock room.
A minute later Colin emerged with a pile of boxes and one by one, each pair was tried. When I say tried, I mean another run on the treadmill. I was amazed at the difference between them. One pair was even worse and these were instantly discounted and then the others got closer and closer to what seemed the ideal pair. Even though they were a huge improvement and I remember saying there was just a little bit of movement around the heel.
That was fixed through changing the way the lacing was done, by using an extra hole and creating an extra loop. This technique, though I'm not sure what it's called, was successful as I had yet another go on the treadmill. It seemed to do the trick so I bought them!
So, that was my first pair of running shoes and I haven't looked back since.
Knowledge that's helpful
Right from the start it was clear he knew what he was talking about and spoke with real experience. I've been back a few times for some more shoes and it's really easy to strike up a conversation about running which is great as it's a nice thing to talk about and I always felt I'd learnt something. Naturally it's often easy for that to be a kind of "soft sell" and maybe there's no harm in that - after all he's there to earn a living but nevertheless it has always been helpful.
I remember once going in once complaining I'd got a blister. After a few questions the answer was clear - nothing wrong with shoes or socks, simply through being tired after a long run I was taking smaller steps and that created some friction that wasn't there before. So keeping that stride length right was the suggested solution and he was spot on!
Several shoes later
I do remember Colin saying something like "I'll see you again maybe for another pair after about 500 miles". That didn't seem many miles for a pair of running shoes costing £70, grrrrrr. Actually he was right. After a few months I had started to notice my knees were starting to ache a little and then I started to work out how many miles I'd done. Sure enough, about 500. The trouble I had was that the shoes appeared to have hardly any visible wear so I thought I'd get this checked out by buying another pair (same make, model) and yes, the new ones were perfect and the old ones were worn out after all.
Even my wife and eldest daughter have bought running shoes now (though yet to start running much; but we're working on that!). Again the process started with the Gait Analysis and the outcome was spot on.
Again you might think investing £10 in a pair of socks is a bit over the top. Actually no, it does make a positive difference having the right socks. Believe me, it does.
Aro Sports have also organised a local running club which is a nice thoughtful touch. Indeed I've spotted Aro Sports vests at one or two local races. Thinking about it, yes, I've noticed quite a few runners in and around Harpenden so who knows, Aro Sports might be contributing to the public health agenda in that area!
Would I do anything differently?
Quite a hard question to answer. Clearly the business seems to work but the shop, judging from appearances, doesn't suggest a rapidly growing enterprise, more about not over stretching which is probably very sensible. The website is quite cheery and as many consumers judge shops by the internet presence it's important this conveys the right message and "values", which is where independents can often have the edge.
I realise now there is a discrepancy (which is not in my favour) in the price of the shoes I bought today and the website price. Maybe a one-off? Don't know. Either way I hate it when on-line prices and in-store prices are different.
Perhaps March is an "in between" season in terms of clothing - could do with a wider range to tempt me! A few more socks, water bottles and so on could fill the shop up a bit? There were some free running magazines which is a nice thoughtful touch and it made me wonder if it would be worth stocking a selection of books - there's so much you could do, right from very sporty books through to healthy living and inspirational biographies?
All in all....
....a shop I'm very grateful for having made all the difference between running and giving up. So thanks Aro Sports - see you in another 500 miles!