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hit the ground running with sports 4 (giveaway)

Anybody else find winter turns your fitness plans upside-down? Me too. For many years, my on-again off-again approach to fitness entailed running when it was nice outside (that is, when it wasn't too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy... I'm the Goldilocks of runners) and mixing in yoga to stretch my legs out. Then winter would come along and I'd maintain my yoga practice but my cardio would go out the window.

Because who wants to run in ice and snow, right? Not me. I did do much better this year since joining Iron North in the fall, and during the colder, nastier months I took full advantage of their spinning, strength, and interval classes to keep my cardio up and my muscles strong.

And when they announced they were launching a spring run club to help us train for Ottawa Race Weekend, I was all in. This is what I've gotten myself into:

As you can see, the run club starts this Wednesday night. So this Goldilocks runner's gotta toughen up and lace up her shoes. Any of you have training plans for race weekend? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

In addition to having a solid training plan, I think one of the most important things you can do to ensure a safe, successful run, is have the right shoes. I know it sounds simple and maybe even obvious, but so many folks buy their sneakers based on their favourite colour of what's on sale at the nearest big-box sports store. I know I used to; guilty as charged.

But there's a better way folks: allow me to introduce you to Sports 4.

For the last several years I've bought damn near all my sneakers at Sports 4, an independent sports shop downtown on Bank between Slater and Laurier. I first stumbled upon them when I was working just a few blocks away: I spotted their massive sidewalk sale and I went inside to take a closer look. I was truly impressed by the friendly, knowledgeable staff who knew TONS about both running and shoes. I think I bought my first pair from them in 2009, and I've been a loyal customer ever since.

In fact, between my hubby and I, I think we've bought probably 10 or so pairs of shoes from Sports 4. We adore those folks. I recently caught up with their in-house running guru Peter (AKA Running Yoda), to get the scoop on how to pick a the right running shoe for you. Let's get started!

Yours truly running last year's Ottawa Race Weekend 10k. I'm wearing New Balance 1400v2 runners I bought at Sports 4, and I adore them because they're light and fast even when I'm not. And yes, often wear massive Prada sunnies when I run. #bloggerproblems

AMYIN613: Many of us choose running shoes based on what’s on sale or colours we like. Why is it so important to be fitted for the right shoes rather than just picking something off the shelf?

PETER: First off, there is nothing wrong with picking a shoe that looks great, or is available at a great price. That being said, if a shoe is the perfect colour and the perfect price but doesn’t fit your foot very well or isn’t suitable for the activities you plan on using it for, well, it’s no good to you.

Your shoes should be comfortable from the moment you put them on - no pressure points, no squeezed toes, no weird chafing in the arch, no undue heel slippage. Our job is to help you find that ideal shoe from the multitude of choices that are available. It’s not rocket science, but it does require an amount of product knowledge and fitting experience to whittle down a selection of 15 possible choices to a more workable 3 or 4.

There is also the issue of width; many people do not have “standard” width feet, but end up buying standard-width shoes – usually because they don’t realize that there are options to accommodate their particular needs. At Sports 4, we do our best to carry a selection of sizes and widths – when available – so that we can better serve the needs of the non-standard, non-average-sized foot.

That's Peter on the left. He's a lean, mean running machine!

AMYIN613: Some of us have heard there are three main types of running shoes: neutral, stability, and motion control. But what do those terms mean?

Great question. We do, in fact, use different terminology at Sports 4, or rather, we use the same terms, but have slightly different meanings for them.

“Neutral” is the umbrella term under which most shoes fall. Neutral shoes can have a high heel drop or low heel drop, a thick sole or a thin sole, a waterproof upper or one that is highly-breathable. But the main property that all neutral shoes share is that the cushioning in the midsole is one, uniform density: if you push your thumb into the squishy stuff, it should have the same amount of give no matter where on the sole it is located.

I wear light-weight/minimal neutral shoes, and this is my most favourite pair I EVER bought: glow-in-the- dark (no joke) New Balance 1400v1 racing flats from a few years ago. Sports 4 special ordered them just for me because I *had* to have that neon yellow.

When we talk about “motion control” shoes, we are talking about shoes with a corrective feature that is built into the midsole of the shoe. Often this correction comes in the form of a stiffer, harder piece of foam that lies under the inside of the arch (medial post), but is also can be a piece of plastic or work in conjunction with tighter-fitting arch wrap in the upper of the shoe. What motion control shoes have in common is that they are designed to influence the motion of the foot, pushing up from the inside of the arch to reduce the rate of the inward roll (pronation) of the foot. Motion control shoes are generally a little heavier and stiffer than neutral shoes, but can be just as cushioned.

Finally, at Sports 4, we use the term “stability,” to describe a category of shoes that are also neutral, but have a wider base, a reduced amount of flexibility, and are generally a little more accommodating in terms of the volume of the fit. Stability shoes are often prescribed by orthotic-makers, as they provide a solid and stable base upon which an orthotic can be most effective.

While most of the running shoes we carry at Sports 4 can be grouped into one of these three categories, we also have quite a bit of variation within a category – especially in neutral shoes. That is where you will find our assortment of lower-weight, lower-heel drop shoes, designed for those seeking a little less interference between the bottom of their foot and the surface that they are running on – less cushion, less structure, less “stuff.”

My current runners: the Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit in Orange Volt. I do have a thing for lightweight neon shoes!

AMYIN613: What are the most common mistakes you see people making with their shoes? Choosing the wrong shoe for the activity they’re doing? Keeping them too long? Something else entirely?

Yes, yes, and yes. If you are shopping for new shoes because you want to take up running, then buy a pair of running shoes. If you are going to be training in the gym – lifting weights, doing fitness classes – then get a pair of gym shoes. And if you are going to be doing significant amounts of both running and gym work, then get two pairs of shoes. While your initial investment will be higher, the payoff will be that each pair of shoes will last longer. While we will certainly help you to find the perfect pair of shoes, sometimes that perfect pair is actually 2 perfect pairs. (note from Amy: I can personally attest to this: I finally invested in both runners and trainers, and my shoes are lasting much longer now that I'm using them for their intended purporses)

Your shoes will not last forever: most runners will get anywhere from 400-800 km of use from a pair. For some people, this could be 18 months of wear, but for others, maybe only 2-3 months. Depends if you're a long-distance runner, a short distance runner, and if you run frequently or less often. If your shoes have holes in the sides, stop wearing them. If the cushioning has gone dead (either it feels dead, or there are permanent horizontal creases in the foam cushioning), stop wearing them. If the tread has worn smooth, stop wearing them. If the padding around the heel has holes in it, it’s definitely time for a new pair of shoes.

A common mistake we see on a daily basis is that too much emphasis is often placed on the shoe. While selecting a pair of shoes is an important step in the process of learning to run or improving as a runner, it is still just that: a step. The staff at Sports 4 are obviously trained to sell shoes, but we also expect our staff to offer advice on addressing minor mobility issues in the feet/legs/hips that might be causing pain and discomfort, as well as recommending respected medical professionals for a complete gait analysis when a problem exists that seems to be beyond the scope of our footwear expertise.

My cross-training shoes: Nike Free 5.0 TR 4 trainers. Different shape, different support, different purpose. I wear these for everything from spinning, to lifting, to tabatas. And again, I love neon.

AMYIN613: How do you fit customers for shoes? What can they expect on their visit to Sports 4?

While there are certain aspects of our shoe-fitting process that are standardized, there can also be quite a bit of variance from one customer to the next. Of course we will measure both of your feet; we will watch you walk to get an idea of how your ankles, knees, and hips work together; we can check the range of motion in your ankles and inspect the integrity of your arches, but it is really through the customer-staff member interaction that we can start to get an idea of just what it is you are looking for.

We want to know the activity for which you intend to use the shoes; how often you will use them and under what conditions; what kind of physical condition you are currently in and maybe where you are looking to get to; any pertinent medical history (diabetes, poorly-healed broken bones, knee surgeries, etc.). We don’t want it to be 20 questions, but we do want to get as clear a picture as possible of what you are looking for.

We carry a lot of shoes, and while it is essential for a customer to try on a few of them in order to get a feel for the potential options, we want to limit those options to a clear, concise assortment in order to save time for you. But if that’s not your cup of tea, we are also quite adept at grabbing you the newest colour in your old favourite and getting you out the door before your parking meter expires, if you so desire.

That's Peter on the left with Doug on the right, about to run one of the many local races Sports4 sponsors.

AMYIN613: How did Sports 4 get started?

Sports 4 was founded 34 years ago as a small sports store and tennis pro shop, just two doors down from where the store is now located. In 1992, the store expanded (slightly) by moving to its current digs at 149 Bank Street. We renovated in 2012 to modernize the interior of the store although the store structure itself is an Ottawa heritage building, having been used as a retail space since the mid-1920s (probably around the same time I first began fitting shoes).

Jim Macfarlane has been the proud, sole owner of this local business since 2010 after operating as a partner in the business for almost 20 years. His support of the local running community can be seen in Sports 4’s sponsorship of Emilie’s Run, the Sports 4/Run Ottawa Free Saturday 5K series, and numerous other races and events with local ties. He is a proud Calgary Flames fan, but please don’t hold that against him.


If you're doing some running this year, I want you to have the right shoes. And so does Sports 4.

For the next two weeks, pop by Sports4 and mention Amy in 613, and get 15% off your regularly-priced purchase. Don't dawdle, though: the discount exprires on March 21, 2016!

But what do I like even more than deals? Giveaways! So win yourself some sneaks. I'm giving away a $100 Sports 4 gift card! Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below and you'll be all set. Good luck and see you on the trails!

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