Thanks to school and kids and all those trivial things, I’m about a week behind in my blog, so forgive me as I try to catch up. I’ve got a few runs (including a good, 12 mile run to work this Monday) and a few product reviews to get to.
Last Wednesday, a package I’d been anxiously waiting for finally arrived at my school: my new shoes, the Altra Instincts! (You know you’re a running nerd when a new pair of shoes gets you distracted you have a hard time working for the next few hours). The second the school day was over, I laced up and headed out to give them an initial test-drive, which just happened to be during a monsoon-like rainstorm. So I’ve two things to review: the Altra Instincts (obviously), as well as fantastic company I bought them from: The Natural Running Store.
Without a hint of exaggeration, ordering from the Natural Running Store is the best experience I’ve ever had buying anything online, bar-none. I had been pining over the Altra Instincts for months, ever since I found their site and before their shoes were even in production. Once they launched, however, I had a problem: no store in New York carried them. Trying a new running shoe at all makes me nervous, let alone buying one that I have never tried on. Walking in a shoe is one thing, running is quite another, and even when you can try the shoe on in the store and even test it out on the treadmill, it often feels very different 3 or 4 miles into a run. It also doesn’t help that usually wear 2E or 3E (extra and extra-extra wide) shoes, a fact that has historically limited my shoe options to only two or three models.
The Natural Running Store, however, was offering 10% off the Instincts, plus throwing in free shipping, an offer I found quite tempting. There return policy, however, was what pushed me into actually making the purchase: 30 days of road-tested satisfaction or your money back. That’s been something I feel I need when trying out a new shoe; it might not just take 3 or 4 miles, but five runs, 25 miles, or even more, before you can decide if the toe-box is wide enough, or if the ankle collar is going to keep rubbing your heel. I felt a bit guilty about cheating on my local running shop, but since they weren’t offering to sell me the Instinct, I placed an order.
An hour or so later, I got a personal e-mail from Patton, the president of the company, thanking me for my order, checking to make sure I knew that the Instincts tended to run about a half-size too small, and asking if I had any questions. Oh, and that Brooklyn was his favorite part of New York City. I wrote back, thanking him for his personal attention, and saying that I actually had a few questions about transitioning to a zero-drop shoe, like the Instinct. He wrote back with a page of questions and advice, and asked I wanted a copy of a bare-foot training program he was developing for running moving to reduced running shoes. Two days later, I got another long e-mail with more advice and an excel file outlining a two-week program to help condition your feet and legs to handle the different stresses of a minimalist shoe.
It seems that $85 gets you pair of running shoes, two day shipping, and a personal running coach, which is about the best deal I’ve come across. Then when the shoes arrived, inside the box were two Larabars and a handwritten note wishing me luck with my new shoes! Needless to say, The Natural Running Store has recruited me as a reoccurring customer, and this isn’t even covering the videos they have on their site about running form and the obvious devotion they have to the shoes they carry. That is their only limitation – they carry a very select style of shoes from a just half a dozen companies, all of which promote natural running form. If you want a wide variety of shoes, or your more standard Brooks, Saucony, or New Balance brands, they aren’t here. What is, however, is the most amazing customer service and a company that truly believes in the products they sell.