A few ago I was sitting in my office at work when a co-worker came in. He was bidding a sales counter for A Running Start in West Reading and needed me to run off a set of prints on our large format plotter.
I didn’t think much of it until a few weeks later when I made a lifestyle change to lose weight and get healthy. My old pair of Brooks Revenna 3 were long overdue for replacement. I had a couple of issues with those shoes and I didn’t want to blindly order something new from from Zappos without first trying them on.
I kept telling myself that I’d get over to A Running Start eventually and browse their selection. When I mentioned it on Facebook, I got a reply from Lindsay Heller suggesting that I go in and get fitted for a new running shoe. She explained that it would be well worth my time and money.
I’ve been watching Lindsay post status updates about running for months and she recently began training for the New York City Marathon. When it comes to running, she is one of two people on my friends list that I would consider an authority on the subject. I took Lindsay’s advice and stopped in after work on July 10th.
Visiting A Running Start
A Running Start is located on Penn Ave between Seventh and Eighth in West Reading. It is one of many small businesses nestled into the local shopping district. From the outside, the store looks small but inviting. A variety of shoes are displayed in the window but the lack of price-tags causes me to worry.
As I walked through the door, I was immediately greeted by a pleasant smile and asked if there was anything they could help me with. I explained that I was in need of a new pair of running shoes and the young woman, Mary, was happy to help.
Analyzing My Stride
Leading up to this point, I had conjured up a crazy fitting process in my mind. They would probably have me get on a treadmill, they would probably have a video camera zoomed in on my feet, they would probably analyze the footage on a high tech computer to see just what type of shoe was best for me.
The process was nothing like that and was actually very simple. Mary had me remove my shoes and socks and simply watched me walk back and forth across the store. After that she had me balance on one foot and get into a squat position, of sorts. After about a minute of hardly-intensive analytics, she informed me that I would need a neutral shoe.
Finding The Right Pair of Running Shoes
Before leaving to grab a variety of shoes to try on, Mary asked my shoe size. All my adult life I have been buying size 11. I was a little taken aback when she asked ‘Are you sure?’ To be safe, she measured by foot and I was a bit surprised to learn that I was actually a size 10.
Mary disappeared down a flight of stairs and came back with an armload of shoes. She must have had boxes for a half-dozen different pairs of shoes. She had me put one shoe on one foot and a different style shoe on the other. The idea was to get a feel for two different shoes at the same time. It was kind of like going to the optometrist – which is better, one or two?
We went through each of the shoes and the one that felt most comfortable was the first shoe she had me to put on, the Asics Gel Cumulus 17.
Making the Purchase
The night before visiting A Running Start, I asked my wife her opinion on a budget for shoes. My last pair of running shoes were the previous years model, purchased at a discount from Zappos, and cost something like $80. I was hoping to spend about the same this time around and I wanted to get my wife’s opinion before making a purchase.
Her take on it was pretty simple. “You’re doing a lot of running lately so you should get a good pair. I think $100 would be fine but if you go over a little bit it isn’t a big deal”. With my birthday coming up in just a couple of days, a new pair of running shoes would make for a practical gift that I’d enjoy. I liked her way of thinking.
When Mary sat the boxes of shoes down onto the floor, my eyes bulged a bit at the price. Each pair was listed at $120. I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much on a pair of shoes. Being a younger couple, then a father, you tend to cut costs where you can. Expensive shoes were never something I was in to.
Even though the Asics Gel Cumulus 17 was outside of my intended budget, I wanted to support a local business. On top of that, the service was excellent. When I took a step back for a moment and looked at the entire experience, the price didn’t seem out of line and I made the purchase.
30 Day Guarantee
One of the big selling points of buying from A Running Start is their 30 Day Guarantee. If you take the shoe home and don’t like them, simply bring them back within 30 Days and swap them out for something else. I loved the concept because no matter how much you try them on at the store, you’ll never know if the shoes are going to be comfortable until you use them for their intended purpose.
My new shoes felt comfortable in the store. From there I tried them on a treadmill (where I do the majority of my running) and they were amazing. I could go for a long run without fear of stepping off the treadmill with aching feet.
Next I wore them for a run around a paved trail at my local park. I ran for three miles and was mostly happy with my Cumulus 17’s. The minor issue that I had came during the hills and curves. The shoe is so soft that it felt as though my foot wasn’t completely stable and was rolling a bit. This wasn’t enough of a problem to warrant returning them but knowing that I could, had the problem been worse, was comforting.
Unfortunately, I didn’t read the fine print. It wasn’t until a couple of days ago that I noticed some additional information on the bottom of my receipt. “All shoes worn outside cannot be returned” . I was a little disappointed but I understand the reasoning. Shoes that are scuffed and/or dirty are difficult to resell at full price.
Think of it this way though, if I were to have bought these shoes with the sole purpose of outdoor recreational running and it turned out that they were uncomfortable outside, I would be stuck with them. As I learned with my shoes, running on a treadmill and running outside with hills and curves are very different.
Customer Loyalty Program
One of the cool things that A Running Start does is track customer purchases. Anything you buy from the store is logged under your own personal account. When six purchases are made, those purchases are totaled up and you receive 10% back in the form of a gift card.
So, if I understand the process correctly, my shoes added $120 in purchases to my account. If I were to go back and spend another $20 on socks, then follow that up with another $60 in accessory purchases over the course of 4 more visits, I would have a total of $200 and would receive a $20 gift certificate to use in the future. It isn’t a huge discount but I find it to be a very nice way of saying Thank You to loyal customers.
Will I Buy More From A Running Start?
One thing that is worth noting is that after I made my purchase, I went on Zappos.com to compare prices. To my surprise, Asics Gel Cumulus 17 in the same size and color were listed at exactly the same price at both stores.
I can buy the same shoe locally, for the same price that I would pay at the online shoe-giant, and get a level of service that is completely lacking from online purchasing. Of course I will be visiting A Running Start again in the future.
Since I seemed to have gotten the perfect treadmill shoe for me this time, maybe in a few months I’ll go back and try to get something exclusively for outdoor running.
If you are in the Reading Area, stop in at A Running Start and give them a try. If your experience is as good as mine, I’m sure you’ll become a loyal customer.
A Running Start
705 Penn Ave.
West Reading, PA 19611