The psychological factors involved in shopping for running shoes: a case study

While there is a vast area of clinical studies which touch on the running life, there are seemingly “black holes” within the ultra community scholarship. My goal in this short post is to pull back the curtain of a neglected area where many are suffering in silence. I hope this encourages others to pursue the necessary studies in order to better inform the running community at large of the vast range of psychological and physiological impacts of buying shoes.

Perhaps the ultra runner, more than anyone, better understands the deep seated angst which comes with shoes. The following are notes taken while evaluating an ultra runner, or in layman’s terms, one who runs farther than humans probably should. In this case study we followed closely the delicate progression in this troublesome and oft-repeated situation. Let us consider in order some of the small steps which lead up to what we will call, “shoe distress.”

The first area where the impact of this emotional and physical turmoil is felt is in the mind. As the patient prepared for his annual long distance races, he began to log miles which put his body and shoes under a high amount of strain. It was not his actual physiognomy which began the initial stages of distress, but his training application. After running a certain amount of miles he began to receive almost daily reminders to buy new shoes. These warnings were dutifully ignored, but the small notifications on his phone began to drain him. It was only after several weeks did he move on to the next step of shoe distress, that of physical discomfort.

Slowly he began to notice joint pain, muscle aches, and irritability, most of which were old age, but he convinced himself it must be his shoes deteriorating. This physical distress then merged back into a psychological issue.

As his frustration with his shoes began to rise, so did his time spent looking at the shoes of his running companions. None of them seemed to be complaining of aches, pains, or irritability. And they looked nicer. This in turn led our patient to spend countless hours scouring the internet for reviews on shoes which could possibly ease the physical distress.

After finally settling on a pair, the shoe distress took a step up. He felt he now must convince his wife of his need for a new pair. This step was avoided at all costs, since arguments for shoes are like two edged swords. However, out of sheer desperation the topic was broached, the desired brand, style, color, and size were expounded upon while the price on the screen was conveniently hid behind a sticky note. An agreement was reached and our patient then immediately attempted to buy the shoes.

It is in this moment that a watershed moment was reached. For those patients who were studied, one third went ahead and purchased their desired shoe while the other two thirds realized that they had discontinued the preferred model ten minutes prior and ran out of the desired size…everywhere in the world. Oddly enough, those who were able to purchase their shoe immediately were all sized 8.5. The patient then in frustration, settled for the next pair advertised below the preferred pair.

At this point the patient experienced a diminished distress and an increased excitement. With the aid of a tracking number, the status of the order was checked routinely every hour for the days leading up to its actual shipping, and then bi-hourly thereafter. This excitement slowly turned to angst until finally the package arrived…at the neighbors.

Once the shoes had been procured, the initial test run was assumed. The new shoes were probably too small, but in desperation they were worn anyway, thereby voiding the return policy.

The initial miles swept by, giving the patient the sense of a personal record, however the final mile of limping back home demolished that idea. The shoes were placed in the closet and the older pair pulled out again.

To the astute observer, this study reveals some fascinating and also concerning tendencies in individuals who have lost their ability to think rationally. If someone is able to convince themselves that running long distances is a good idea, they will most likely be able to convince themselves of any number of other things, especially in regards to one-click buying. If you know someone who suffers in this way, seek help.