I bought my first pair of running shoes on Monday.

First, I have to tell you my disdain for shoe shopping is legendary among my family and friends. When my mom was still with us, she would shop for me. Later, I turned to friends (male and female), begging them to pick up shoes when they were out running errands for themselves. ďI just need a pair of black shoes, something flat, simple, size 11 wide. Hereís some money.Ē At which point Iíd just shove some cash in their hands and walk away before they realize what just happened. Iím telling you, this is true. Iím not exaggerating for effect. Ask Kim McMahan when you see her Saturday.

But on Monday, I couldnít wait to go pick out my running shoes. I'd been padding around Lake Anna wearing 2-year-old Skechers - comfy enough, but it was definitely time to upgrade. So I went to Second Sole in Akronís Merriman Valley, in that little shopping plaza across the street from the portaging Indian statue. A nice guy met me right as I came in the door. My first thought was, I clearly donít look like a runner and he probably thinks Iím coming in here to buy for someone else. But he didnít even flinch when I told him I was there for myself. Over the next 15 minutes, I got a personal lesson, not only on running shoes and the need for the right socks, but a little running advice, too. Turns out, the guy was the owner, Michael Dilisio, who opened Second Sole almost 12 years ago.

I hope some of you will make it to Wooster to support last Saturdayís speaker, the co-owner of Vertical Runner, Tammy Polen. But I know Second Sole is going to be a much easier alternative for people in Akron and northern Summit County.

So here are a few things I learned on my shopping trip:
1) Michael could tell by looking at my feet that I had a high arch and that I probably ran slightly on the outside of my foot. That called for a ďneutralĒ shoe. We tried a Nike Pegasus that fit beautifully. From the bottom, you could see where the top was wide, the middle swept in to cradle my arch, then filled out at the heel. It was very light and comfortable. But I actually left the store with the second shoe I tried on: A Brooks ďGhost 9Ē that was firmer and felt more substantial. He had me try it on in a menís size 9.5. For both shoes, he had me run a bit on the sidewalk outside the store. I thought I liked the Ghost a little better because of that firmness. As I was checking out, Michael said if I gave the Ghost a spin and decided it wasn't for me, I should come back and swap it for the Nike. And guess what? I did! On Wednesday, I did a quarter-mile jog in the Ghost and it turned out to be too firm. Truth is, if I don't have to wear shoes, you'll find me in my bare feet. I had really underestimated how much my feet were used to that flexibility. So on Thursday, Michael swapped the Ghost for the Nike and I immediately headed to the Towpath Trail to try them on a brisk walk. They felt wonderful. Even saved myself a few bucks. The Ghost 9 cost $120. The Nike Pegasus was $110.

2) Donít wear cotton socks. Thatís what I was carrying with me when I went in to try on the shoes. Cotton holds moisture and keeps your feet wet. Instead. Michael introduced me to a sock made with the fiber Olefin, which he declared would last me for years (if they donít disappear into another dimension that is only accessible from inside a dryer.) They fit snugly, but resist stretching and deterioration from detergents. The socks cost $12.99 each, though if you buy three, heíll throw in a fourth for free. Get your walking partner to split that deal with you.

3) Keep your toenails clipped, and donít try to get rid of your callouses. A little smoothing with one of those pedicure eggs is okay, but callouses are good for running, he said. And stop with the softening lotion. We are athletes in training now, folks, not foot models.

4) If you're like me, once you have a good shoe broken in, you never undo the laces. All my tenners are pretty much slip-ons at this point. Not a good idea for a good running shoe, though. Michael showed me how the hole for each lace is actually anchored to the bottom of the shoe to help the shoe form comfortably around your foot. If you don't adjust the laces every time you put your shoe on, you defeat the point of this technology.

5) Your feet will expand while running. If your shoes begin to feel tight, it's perfectly normal to have to stop and loosen the laces.

6) I wanted to pass along another tip if you missed Tammy Polenís talk on Saturday. A good running shoe has a limited life, perhaps 300 miles or more before it begins to break down. So donít waste your money by wearing your running shoes to run errands. Save them for training and racing.

I know $110† or more for a pair of shoes may be steep for some budgets and I'm sure there are less expensive options out there. The important thing is to understand your foot, your gait and your running/walking style so you pick out the right shoe. If you have to figure this out on your own, I found this story to guide you: http://www.therunningadvisor.com/running_shoes.html

- Paula