What runners really say when they say they want a new pair of shoes

The real reason behind the purchase could surprise you. A runner wanting a new pair of shoes will tell a respectful listener – and a good salesperson – why he needs them, and why he needs to run in them.

All those injuries and pain do make you reflect on life. Photo: © Salina Christmas / GLUE
All that trauma you inflict on your body does make you reflect on life. Photo: © Salina Christmas / GLUE

The time that I now spend on weekdays in the Square Mile, marketing for the fintech sector, makes me appreciate the hours left that I could fit in for running, cycling and swimming.

Rest, of course, is a factor as crucial as training in getting fit. Thus, I have to be selective of my races. I have to justify the time set aside to train for a particular race, and for the recovery afterwards, because I’d like to enjoy that experience, and also my work.

My time selling and marketing sportswear at a running specialist store has taught me a lot about assessing a customer’s need, and closing the deal, within a short time. It may not work for corporate sales, where the sales cycle is longer, but for fast-moving consumer goods environment, it works. A typical instance is when a customer comes looking for a pair of running shoes for a race, which could be a marathon, a cross country or a triathlon.

You are not here to buy a pair of shoes

A lesson in the various support in running shoes. There are many styles to suit a runner's gait, but the question is: why do you need to run the way you run?
A lesson in the various supports within running shoes. There are many styles to suit a runner’s gait, but the question is: why do you need to run the way you run? Photo: © Salina Christmas/GLUE

Ben Greenfield, a triathlon coach, has a method of figuring out his athletes’ “irrational want”, that is, the motive underlying their desire to be “in the 10%” to compete in triathlon. For instance, the first question: “Why do you do triathlon?” will prompt a logical answer such as “I’d like to feel better”. The second question, “Why do you want to feel better?” will elicit another logical response such as “I want to be more productive”. The third question, “And why is that?” will customarily invite an answer not necessarily logical, but a more emotional reason as to why someone wants that PB so bad, or so adamant to accomplish that Ironman.

By the third or fourth question, and normally minutes into my conversation with a customer, I’d get to the bottom of why some people need to run:

“My father passed away of cancer and I am running this marathon in his memory”.
“My mother died last winter of cancer and we want to do this for her memory”.
“My sister has a terminal illness. I want to live life the fullest”.
“I was in a middle of a divorce and decided to do an ultra for the first time”.
“I work long hours. I want to reclaim my life”.
“My triathlete training buddy died in an accident. I’d only run ever since”.
“I’m afraid of swimming but I’m a world duathlon champion. I have to do that triathlon”.

In the capacity of a salesperson, I’d close the deal as soon as possible by offering the right pair of shoes, and upsell by suggesting a pair of socks. As a marketer, I’d highlight the properties of a sporting brand and assess the type of brand persona that would agree with the runner. As an anthropologist, I don’t pass judgments.

What he talks about when he talks about running

In his novel, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”, Haruki Murakami says: “I run in order to acquire a void”. I try not to read Buddhism in his words, despite him and I belonging to that persuasion, but running has a way of elevating one’s mindfulness, if one chooses to. Not everyone is suited to running, though, Murakami observes. He feels that one should run a marathon when one feels it is time to run a marathon.

Get lucky

True. Photo: © Salina Christmas / GLUE
True. Photo: © Salina Christmas / GLUE

My running coaches won’t see it that way, of course, but I do feel that some of us run not to compete, but to manage certain aspects of our lives that we could control, like healthy living and keeping a sharp mind. In the article “Are You a Skilled or Lucky Athlete?”, Outside magazine explains that there are aspects within sports that we could control, and this is reflected in fields such as track cycling. However, there are also outcomes that are dependent on luck, and this is observed in endurance sports such as long-distance running and triathlon. We train to get skillful, and we also train so that we are able to handle things beyond our control, as explained by the Muay Thai Scholar’s article on not flinching during sparring.

So tell me why you want new running shoes again?

I ran 13k for the 2014 tube relay on severe shin splints. The tea was much needed, as I was not on painkillers. Photo: © GLUE
I ran 13k for the 2014 tube relay on severe shin splints. The tea was much needed. I was not on painkillers. Photo: © GLUE

Prior to my appointment in the City, I was asked during the vetting process why I’d persist in triathlon. Remember, I am not that good in swimming. Inadvertently, during this formal inquiry, I gave away my real reason for doing it:

“I’m afraid of swimming. That’s my fear.”

“So you don’t get frightened easily?”

I paused, and said: “I can’t afford to. I won’t be able to learn”.

Murakami says he is only able to grasp something “only when I’m given an actual physical burden and my muscles start to groan”. It is an emotional response consistent with the answers given by the triathletes in response to Ben Greenfield’s question: “Why do you do triathlon?” “Endurance sports are both challenging and humbling,” said one respondent.

You run, you live, you learn. And in the meantime, you want to look great in a new pair of shoes.

Twitter: @sothisischristmas. LinkedIn: Salina Christmas

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