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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: The financial barrier to running

DTH Photo Illustration. The cost of running shoes adds to the inaccesability of running.

On my most recent Saturday run, I laced up my Brooks Glycerin 19s and rolled out to hit the American Tobacco Trail for a 9-mile long run. Unsurprisingly, the parking lot was filled with runners, bikers and walkers who all had the same idea as me — to take advantage of the early morning’s cool temperature. At a crisp 61 degrees and a light breeze, I knew it would be a good run. 

While I typically choose to entertain myself with a perfectly crafted playlist of my favorite Beyoncé or One Direction songs, I've lately found my entertainment on long runs with my eyes glued to the ground. No, I’m not an aspiring geologist interested in the types of rocks embedded in the trails — I’m a bit of a sneakerhead who is a little too interested in the running shoes of everyone I pass. 

Hoka, Asics and Brooks are among the three most popular brands I see on any given Saturday. 

It’s always a treat when I find someone wearing a plated racing shoe like a Saucony from the Endorphin Line. As I count the shoes, I start to count the dollars. Hoka Clifton– $140, Brooks Glycerin– $160, Asics Gel-Nimbus– $160, Saucony Endorphin Speed– $160. 

Not a single shoe on that trail was priced under $100. 

After my run, I decided to do some sleuthing. Surely there had to be a place one could find one of these shoes for cheaper than what’s listed on the seller's website. I went to Walmart’s website and found several pairs of Brooks and Asics, and although they were much older models and were pre-owned, they were all priced at under $100. 

The issue came when I went to pick my size. The only sizes available were under size 6.5, which very few adults wear. It's clear that a limited variety of shoe sizes makes stores like Walmart unreliable suppliers for the running community. 

When runners, myself included, evangelize about running, we like to talk about how cost-effective it is. We preach that "anyone can do it!" But running mile after mile, passing runner after runner, each wearing a different shoe with a different price, I realized how incorrect that statement is. 

But that's just not true. Not everyone can spend more than $100 on a pair of good running shoes. 

Running shoes have a life span of up to 300-500 miles, meaning if you consistently run at least three miles a day, you would need to replace your shoes after six months. That means purchasing at least two pairs of running shoes a year. 

Steep prices on a good pair of running shoes have created a barrier for potential new runners who simply cannot afford them. If you are a super casual runner, it makes sense why you wouldn’t spend more than $100 on a pair of nice running shoes. 

But a pair of shoes that you can get on the cheap will ultimately do more harm than good. 

As you ramp up the frequency of runs and the mileage, poorly cushioned shoes can cause excruciating pain in the feet and knees, making runs uncomfortable. The ones that offer the most cushion, the most support and reduce the risk of injury the most are also the most expensive shoes.

In short, expensive shoes are good shoes.

Most sports are exclusionary — whether it’s the price of equipment or the price of entry (club sports etc.), the more money you have, the more likely you are to participate in organized sports and have the resources to do well in them. 

It’s all too easy for runners like myself to take for granted the ability to acquire well-cushioned shoes

Quality shoes ensure that a runner can safely and effectively enjoy their sport. But when running shoes pose a huge financial hurdle, it’s clear that running is not quite as inclusive as it's made out to be. 


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