Imposter syndrome. The paranoia I experience when thinking about stepping over the threshold into a running shop has a name. That sense that I will be unmasked as a non-runner at any moment. My flailing physique and limited grasp of running jargon will betray me. However much the staff may have tried to perfect the art of appearing to be non-judgemental in the face of overwhelming evidence of lack of running prowess, they will surely crumble confronted with my self-evident ineptitude. They may not actually laugh and point, but something within them may die as they try to convey some crucial detail about the relative merits of different sorts of running socks and come to realise that I am experiencing their insights as white noise. I want to understand, I really, really do, but the learning curve is practically vertical, the concepts alien and as I try desperately to keep up with the key points of the debate I feel my understanding slipping away from me and a rising sense of panic akin to that experienced in school ‘games’ (what a misnomer is that) sessions, when waiting to be picked for a team. Oh the horror, oh the shame. As someone who previously only ever purchased my ankle socks in packs of three along with the groceries at Asda, it was a shocking realisation that socks could be so pricey and so complex…. and even more of a revelation that actually, they do make a difference. Who wants blisters running, a good pair of socks are indeed a fine investment, but oh my, the time it took to get to that outcome, that was a painful lesson indeed…
I like stationery shops – I nearly said stationary shops, which would greatly upset the grammar police, who are many and manifest, though I suppose a shop that stays still may be dull and predictable, but does have some merit. My appreciation of stationery means I do sort of get how for some even the scent of a running specialist shop can set their hearts racing. I can get very excited over pencil types and post-it notes. Others can lose themselves amongst rails of running gloves or bins of discounted running tights; gaze at racks of technical tops; lovingly tease themselves by caressing display pairs of fell shoes and positively drool over the gadgetry on offer that may pare precious micro-seconds off their personal bests. For them, time stands still in such an environment, they could die happy amongst the buffs and Garmins inhaling the heady scent that is a mixture of deep heat and fresh sweat from other runners similarly browsing this playroom for runners, each for now suspended in their own personal paradise.
Unfortunately, this is not me. I feel out of my depth, and this is compounded by my perception that many running shops – particularly the independent ones, are managed and/or owned by actual runners who know what they are talking about. This means that on the one hand you can access remarkable expertise, but on the other it is inevitable I will be exposed as a ringer, fraudulently crossing the threshold. Plus I fear I will disappoint, they have all that expertise, and I need help in knowing how to thread the laces on my trainers properly. (No, really, I do – it was a revelation to me when I discovered a way to secure them with a back-loop thing through that mysterious ‘extra’ eye hole that I always thought was an implausible design statement rather than a functional feature). My anxiety is further compounded because too many running shops seem to stock specialist women’s clothing that is entirely based on the physique of an adolescent boy’s fantasy girlfriend. This fictitious creature dresses only in violent pinks apparently (turquoise or sparkly purple at a pinch) and, being solid muscle, has a physique that is ideally suited to donning a compression-Lycra size six vest with no inconvenient wayward bust to ruin the line and fit of the garment. For me, a middle aged hobbit, running shops are places to be feared. They play havoc with my already fragile self-esteem
Nevertheless, I do recognise in my heart of hearts, that if I can over-come this phobia, the pay off is usually significant. Access to professional expertise and knowledge. I don’t go to my local independent running shop very often – mainly just to pick up race numbers or for something really specific, like a head torch, but I’ve never made a dud purchase there. They do know their stuff and care about getting it right, I’d never have the confidence to buy online, and they will take the time to help. The time has come, I have a couple of purchases that I ‘need’ to make, and I can’t do this alone. I am still not confident enough to just breeze in though, I phone ahead first. It will be easier to fess up to my base level of ignorance over the phone than face to face, I can hide my phone-number and identity, if necessary lie about my name, and talk through a scrunched up tea-towel, then if I’ve over-stepped the neediness mark, they will never be able to trace me. Other people phone ahead to shops, granted, normally because they are celebrities in need of personalised and confidential services, rather than because they are so needy they feel they need to give the proprietors the opportunity to close shop for the day rather than stay open to serve them, but the principle is the same.
So, my ‘necessary’ purchases were as follows:
- Trail running shoes. I had a perfectly OK pair of Innov8 ones, but over time they have started to develop open wounds on the inside heel of the shoe where the fabric has rubbed away. My cheetah running buddy carried out extensive surgery on them with plasters and special padding to prolong their life. I helped by drinking coffee and looking on whilst she did this repair on my behalf. I think it’s called strategic incompetence, or possibly ‘taking the piss’ I’m not sure. In any event she did rescue me for a bit. However, on my most recent run out this patching technique finally failed, that, combined with complete saturation of my socks and shoes following poor decision making during bog-crossing on Eyam moor led to me having trainers full of water for the last few miles home resulting in open wounds in my actual heels, misery, and me falling out of love with my trail shoes. Replacement is therefore genuinely necessary.
- Less essential, but highly desirable. I have been flirting with the idea of entering the technological age. I’ve not been able to participate in some recent club running challenges because I lack a gps watch of any description and a strava profile. No-one is more surprised than me to discover that I am starting to realise I may be missing out. However, I am what might be charitably termed a late-adopter with technology. I still lack a smart phone, and whilst I’m not actually stupid, and I daresay I could be more IT literate if I could be bothered to engage in using it, I lack patience in learning technical stuff and I’m not really interested in how things work, I just want them to do so. The thought of having to learn how to get all these things up and running has been a major deterrent in entering the strava age, but it seems the time has come to be dragged kicking and screaming into this brave new world of monitoring distance, altitude, terrain and pace. I fear it, but it is inevitable.
There is no doubt in my mind, these desires do necessitate that I step across the threshold of a running shop, but I am too fearful to do this without testing the waters first. Hence the anticipatory phone call. I ring the day before my planned visit in. I state my aspiration to join the technological age, but my utter ignorance in how to do so. It is actually a bit of a relief to come out, and not as bad as I feared. Yes, they can help, I just need to bring down my laptop (of course I don’t have a smartphone, what do you take me for?) and they can help set me up. I could have cried with gratitude.
Even so, I felt pretty nervous heading down to the running shop for the consultation and shopping. This is ridiculous. The running shop is very local, just a quick walk through the park to get there. The guys that run it are really knowledgeable and friendly, but I still feel a bit like I’m trespassing when I go in. I don’t feel I have quite earned the right to be there as they are very talented and knowledgeable runners and I’m… well, I’m not. They have given me great advice in relation to equipment in the past – see previous reference to head torches – once again I am to throw myself on their mercy. They will have to work hard to earn any profit today.
I step over the threshold just after opening time. Initially I can’t see anyone around. I wonder if they have actually taken the precaution of hiding as soon as they saw me approaching on the CCTV. When I lived in Leamington and was self-employed, I used to use the local post office almost daily. Raj the postmaster there hilariously used to dive under the counter to hide from me every time I called in – how we laughed! I like to think it was our little joke, but maybe it was just an early warning sign of how shop staff and proprietors all seek to avoid me given half a chance? Who knows. (No answers on a postcard please, some things are better left unsaid). Well, if they were trying to hide, they weren’t very good at it, because soon enough the guy appeared. It was like in Mr Ben, where the proprietor of the fancy dress shop magically materialises as if from thin air. Anyway, once he’d made eye contact, I had him in my powers. I explained the projects, and he remembered my call from yesterday and was up for the challenge. At just this moment a friend of his called in bringing a hot cup of coffee and a mince pie. I came between this man and those refreshments. The guilt will haunt me possibly forever. Such was his professionalism he said he was fine without them, but how could he have been? It isn’t possible is it, to be deprived of a caffeine fix seems cruel and inhuman treatment to me.
So first up, technology. I am illiterate re running GPS gadgets so just went with the recommendation which for those of you who care about such things, was for an entry level tomtom, which was set to charge up on my laptop whilst we looked at shoes. Sorry, trainers, or do you call them running shoes? I don’t know actually.
The fitting of shoes was altogether a bit more problematic, I do have hobbit feet, and whilst I am aware of this there was some metaphorical dancing around the issue as the poor proprietor guy tried desperately to avoid using the Bunion word, for fear of causing offence. Throughout his linguistic acrobatics I blinked expressionlessly into space, wondering how on earth he would maintain this feat of not stating the obvious, when my deformed feet with arthritic rigidity, combined with bumps and swellings that would add interest to any landscape are nigh on impossible to ignore. He did pretty well, working largely with euphemisms like ‘individual foot structure does vary’, and ‘it’s actually very common for feet to be a bit asymmetrical’, even experimenting with ‘there is always some getting used to with any new shoe’ and so on. I did actually think he might achieve this seemingly impossible goal, and so it was I really felt for him when he eventually said ‘the thing is, I’m not saying it is a bunion but with a widening of the foot in the mid area… ‘ he’d failed in his evasions. It reminded me of that time I’d had some 12 year old girl do a fitness assessment on me at the gym, and watched her writhe in agony as she plucked up the courage to tell me that according to her computer print out that calculated my BMI based on height and weight I was actually fat. It was as if this news would come as an absolute shock to me. I was quite tempted to let out a shout of horror, screaming into a void with ‘Noooooooooooooo, it can’t be so, I had no idea?’ Likewise with my feet, I am all too aware of their idiosyncrasies, it really is OK to call them what they are. Arthritic, and in possession of bunions. Frankly, it’s a miracle I can walk, let alone run. Let’s just celebrate this achievement in the face of adversity and not agonise over the terminology.
Anyway, it seems that whilst gadgetry is great, the shoes are also from the fantasy girlfriend range on the whole. This fictitious individual has sleek, petite narrow feet instead of big round plates like me. She also has feet of the same size, so doesn’t have to try on every shoe in the shop, to the repeated complaint that one seems too tight whilst the other seems too big. There was a great deal of getting on and off the treadmill, repeatedly trying different trainers on and off. I found it nigh on impossible. The sad truth is that I’ve never been wholly satisfied with any shoes I’ve ever bought, it’s always a question of least worse option because I’m always in pain when I run. I still hold on to this dream that one day I’ll find a pair that make me feel light, pain free and like I could run for ever, but this miracle is yet to occur. In the meantime I fret and sweat over the available options. I’m so used to my existing shoes that even though they’ve started to give me heel blisters they still fall into the category of ‘the devil I know’. I was in the shop for hours. I feel some guilt, because that’s a couple of hours of his life the poor guy will never get back, but equally, I suppose it is an occupational hazard in his job, and it was not an insignificant purchase in the end.
Eventually I settle on some Brookes which are a half size bigger than I usually wear, and are an acceptable level of discomfort, especially with some deft re-lacing courtesy of the shop guy who found a bunion-avoiding strategy to ease some of the pressure – check out that corsetry below. Phew, it was hard work! They don’t sell them muddy by the way, this is them picture taken after their first trial trail run on Christmas Eve.
Back to the tomtom setting up process. This brought about further paranoia, as the helpful proprietor knew my name, and used it throughout our discussion. On the one hand, this was companionable and quite friendly and appropriate. On the other, how the hell did he know me? I don’t go in very often, am I really so demanding that I am now recognised (and dreaded) within the running community? It was only when I got home that I twigged it’s because my name comes up on my laptop as I log in. Duh. Anyway, there isn’t anything very much to remark on in terms of setting me up with my tomtom and strava. Basically, this was all achieved by magic, whilst I looked on. He even set up a request for me to join the Smiley Paces running group on Strava, that’s surely quality service. It does indeed look straight forward to use now it’s on my computer, but I think impatience would have got the better of me if I’d tried to put it all on myself. I am quite excited about whether or not this gizmo will motivate me to get out more, I think it may, we shall see.
So just a little question of emptying my bank account into Frontrunner’s, but I do not begrudge them, they are fab. I also got a ‘free’ T-shirt for spending over £100 (quite a lot over actually, but hey ho, seeing as it’s Christmas). It is in fetching purple. I got medium. I could fit into the small, but it was rather unforgiving, so I prefer the more drapery option whereby fabric gently wafts over my spare tyres blurring my silhouette into a less clearly defined form.
So, that was me, enduring swamping, as a technique for over-coming my running shop phobia. You know, when you get exposed to the thing you are scared of as a technique for becoming de-sensitized to it? I don’t think I’ll ever experience relaxation in a running shop, I feel too out of place, but I was happy with my purchases. Plus, it gave me a bit of a boost to my confidence that nobody actually laughed in my face, and whilst he didn’t take the opportunity of watching me using the treadmill to talent spot me as their next sponsored runner, my running mentor did engage in small talk around whether I was planning to do the Sheffield Half in a few months time, implying such an idea is not actual insanity. Stranger things have happened it would seem….
So thank you nice folk at Frontrunner for helping me out. I shall enter 2016 fully equipped to take on the running trails with gusto. Bring it on!