Friday, September 5, 2008

A Runner's Paradise in Paradise City (aka Northampton)

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been working to lose weight, keep it off and get in better overall shape. At my heaviest (and even just a few pounds ago), I was a self-professed “non-runner.” In fact, you could have called me a running-hater. I tried it a few times, but always felt out of breath, got stomach cramps or over did it so much that the next day I felt like I couldn’t move.

Fast forward a few dress sizes smaller. I’d been going to the gym for several months, using the elliptical machines and stair climbers, and walking on the treadmill. Warmer weather was approaching and it seemed silly to always be cooped up inside the gym, so I decided I was ready to try running again.

I laced up my old sneakers and hit the roads of Hatfield (where I lived at the time). The hubby & I used to walk a lot in Hatfield, so I knew a couple of 1 and 2 mile loops. The first few times, I only ran 1/2 a mile and then walked the rest. It actually wasn’t so bad, but I was still feeling a little cramping in my sides when running. A running friend told me the secret to heading off these “side stitches”) was to belly breathe. You do this by breathing in through your nose and letting your belly push out, then exhaling through your mouth. The exhale should be about twice as long as the inhale.

Once I got the breathing under control, I stepped it up to 1 mile, then a mile and a 1/2, etc. Within a few weeks, I was running 2 miles at a time 2-3 days a week on the days I didn't feel like going to the gym.

Fast forward a couple of months. We moved to Easthampton and stopped going to the gym (new house = cutting back on “extras”). To compensate, I stepped up the running program again, now running 2-3 miles 5-6 days a week. A couple of weeks ago, my ankle started to feel stiff in the morning. One day after a run, it blew up like a balloon. Not good. I showed it to some experienced runners at work and they all said “What shoes are wearing?”

When I told them about my 6-month-old sneakers from Dick’s, they were thoroughly unimpressed. Every one of them told me to get to the Northampton Running Company and get some new shoes (well, as soon as my ankle healed anyway).

So I patiently (or not-so-patiently, as the hubby would recount) waited for my ankle to heal. After a week and half, my body was dying to run again. (I never used to believe people who said running was addictive, but now that I’ve experienced withdrawal, I’m a believer!) So last Sunday, off I went to Northampton to find a new pair of shoes.

The Northampton Running Company is tucked in a small shop on King Street between Subway and Pam’s Kickin’ Kuts. They specialize in running shoes and apparel. You can get further info, directions, hours, etc. on the Northampton Running Company Web site.

When I walked in the store, I was greeted by Kristen, who quickly asked how she could help. I explained my ankle trials and tribulations of late. She had me take off the shoes I was wearing and she watched me walk barefoot so she could see how my foot moved. She said I had high arches and was a little bit of a supinator (which means my ankle turns out when I walk). Based on that, she recommended a well-cushioned stability running shoe. I told her my size and off she went to the back to pull out some options.

She came back with 4 pairs of running shoes. As I tried them on, we talked about running and Kristen, an experienced runner and marathoner, gave me some tips for running on the road. Turns out my ankle strain could have been from always running on the edge of the road, where it dips off. She suggested running down the middle of the road. As she put it, “The cars will move!” She also said to stay off sidewalks because the concrete is harder on your joints than asphalt. As they say, you learn something new every day.

With each shoe I tried, Kristen encouraged me to walk around the store or even go out on the sidewalk if I wanted. For 2 of the shoes I was seriously considering, I took a little test jog down the sidewalk. I think this was key to finding the right shoe. As soon as I started jogging with the New Balance 765’s on my feet—I knew they were the right ones. They were light and bouncy and fit my wide feet very comfortably. It almost felt like I wasn’t wearing a shoe at all. The shoes came to about $90, which I felt was a good price considering the personalized service I’d received. Some other perks at the Northampton Running Company are that you can return the shoe if you try it out a couple of times and decide it doesn’t work for you, and if you’re a member of the Northampton Athletic Club, you get a 10% discount.

In addition to a good selection of men's and women's running shoes, they also carry a wide selection of running shorts, pants, tops, socks and accessories like sunglasses, reflective vests, etc. I’m planning on running this winter (my first attempt at cold weather running) and I will definitely be returning to the Northampton Running Company for some cold weather gear. They seem to have everything a runner needs, along the knowledge to help you figure it all out. I wished I known about them sooner!

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