Thursday, 6 October 2011

Runners World, St Albans

It's much brighter when you get inside....
For a little while now I have been thinking my Saucony's are starting to wear out.  How do I know?  Early warning signs are a little bit of an ache here or there and checking out the tread.  They're not completely worn out but due for replacement soon.  After all, it's a pretty good idea to use two pairs, alternating between runs.

Anyway, I digress.  I remember getting a flyer for this shop when I did the St Albans Half earlier this year and made a mental note.  The shop was easy enough to find and it was in one of those quaint (but mostly very drab) neighbourhood shopping parades, complete with nearby free car parking.  Not many of these in St Albans.  

Besides, I felt sure I could just walk out of my office not feeling as if I owe any time.  As a public servant I am certain I'll never be paid for all those extra hours at my desk, or times when I've had to leave the house so early and wear my car out driving to some place for a daft meeting about nothing very important.  There's no way I could quantify the times when I've been very worried about work, waking up at 3am and tossing and turning, all because of some problem at work.  The times when I have neglected meaningful conversation and attention to my family, all because of being preoccupied with my job.  Nevertheless I did still feel a little bit guilty in disappearing from work early even though I am owed so many hours.

I took in my old shoes since I can never remember what kind of shoe I need (support, control etc.).  I got chatting to Alex who confirmed the wear was fairly even and obviously they were a good shoe for me.  I was expecting to be offered something similar and maybe a quick run on the treadmill to make sure.  Instead Alex started from scratch and I ended up trying out 4 or 5 shoes and narrowing it down by even having one type on one foot and another kind on the other foot!  So through it all, I've got a pair of Brooks Vapor 9 (costing £75).  He checked out with me whether I'd had any injuries and what kind of distances I run, since this might make a difference in what I needed.

Easy, I suppose, to think I could probably get a pair from Wiggle for less - but considering I effectively had a consultation lasting about one hour and a decent pair of running shoes out of it, that seems a good deal to me.

Me on the treadmill.  Wow I look old but no need to comment on this caption


I was impressed by the software used for the Gait Analysis.  It was the usual set up of a video camera, at ankle height and filming me run from behind and then being played back in slow motion to see how my feet lands, rolls forwards and takes off again.  The difference was having 2 or 3 separate films set up alongside each other and in perfect synchronisation so you could see exactly what was going on and make comparisons.  It really is worth getting a Gait Analysis done if you're just getting in to running and in order to get the right shoe and avoid undue discomfort or injury.  I actually think it should be done each time you buy a new pair of shoes, especially if they are a different brand.
As Alex was there in his running gear and uniform, I couldn't resist asking him about his running.  The reply was "I do 800s".  His shop, owned by himself and his partner is about a year old and is a kind of independent group of individual shops within the Runners World chain.  The actual chain has been running (what a pun!) for about 30 years.  Each of the staff are experienced in an aspect of sports therapy.

I mentioned Wiggle earlier on.  They do a great range of sporty stuff and I have had the odd thing from them, though I can't remember what it was now.  Good as they are, they are no substitute for a local running shop, or bike shop, or swimming shop and the service they can collectively offer.  Often these shops are owned by an enthusiast and the staff are like-minded.  Of course we have to remember that enthusiasm on its own doesn't make a good shop owner or manager and it doesn't make them good at business with the right people skills - but it all helps.  I really feel for independent shops these days.  Trading must be hard when many of us use e-trading so much because of the convenience factor in our busy lives, not to mention everyone's need for thriftiness (yes even in St Albans). 
Owner Alex, in his bright, modern shop

This brings me to express my appreciation for people like Alex.  It is a brave move for anyone in opening a retail shop these days with so much competition from the internet.  Succeeding means building up a regular customer base through offering that "something extra" - great service, conversation, advice, information, a bit of flattery and all the other tricks used by those highly skilled car salesmen (or executives as they like to call themselves nowadays).  If you're made to feel positive about parting with money, chances are you'll go back for more of the same.  For the likes of shop owners like Alex, being bold, using imagination and all those people skills could just make all the difference - and I wish them well.

Here's their web address: http://www.runnersworld.ltd.uk/

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