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Can new shoes really make me a better runner?

Pierre-Luc Bernier/Getty Images/iStockphoto

I'm not your typical shoe-obsessed girl. Like boyfriends, when they work well I keep them around. I've had the same pair of trusty black heels for four years - they're comfortable and they go with everything. If it ain't broke, I say.

After my shameful confession last week that I've quit three 10K races, I was told that if I'm serious about crossing the finish line in May, I needed to get new shoes.

Only two years old, my Saucony sneakers aren't visibly worn. They fit just fine and they get me where I'm going (which, admittedly, is not all that far). But after the first week of 10K training, my feet ache.

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I reluctantly meet up with Bruce Hefler, a shoe guru at the Running Room in Toronto for a gait assessment and sneaker fitting.

He gives my old shoes the once-over and agrees that it's time to say goodbye. He says running shoes should be replaced every six to eight months or 600 kilometres, whichever comes first. (I assure him that I'm not clocking anywhere near 100 km a month; he's nonplussed.)

What follows is an exhausting hour-long session of awkwardly jogging down clothing aisles with a different shoe on each foot, lacing and unlacing an endless parade of footwear - all with equally ridiculous names such as Nirvana, Nimbus and Supernova.

"You don't pick the shoe," Mr. Hefler says with a straight face. "The shoe picks you." It felt like the footwear edition of Say Yes to the Dress.

I settle on a pair of $139 New Balance 860 - I tell myself that it's because of the fit and feel, and not because the pink and black matches perfectly with my one and only running outfit.

Just when I think we're done, I'm suddenly facing a giant wall of running socks. Who knew such a tyranny of choice even existed? Double layers reduce friction, compression speeds recovery, "smart" wool prevents blisters. To the disgust of nearly every runner I've spoken with, I've been wearing everyday cotton socks.

Cynic that I was, I'm a changed woman after my first run in the new shoes - 4 km in about 30 minutes on a frigid but sunny day. Truthfully, I could live without the fancy socks. Maybe I don't run far or fast enough to notice, but my feet were just as warm and dry in my Costco athletic socks as they were in sweat wicking wool. There are better ways to spend $20. But the sneaks are fantastic. I feel lighter. There's a comforting squish with each stride, and I've got a new bounce to my step. I am a speed demon (in slo-mo).

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Follow my training progress here, pick your training program here, and share your stories and advice in the comment field.

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About the Author
Editor in the Opinion section

Amberly McAteer is an editor in the Opinion section at The Globe and Mail. She has been a homepage editor, online editor and community editor in Features - including Life, Travel, Style, Arts and Books. She's written columns about her quest to run a 10K and find the perfect dog. More

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