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The thoroughly modern guide to buying trainers (for kids, too)

Written by Fiona February 21 2010

You don’t just pop into a high street shoe shop to buy a pair of trainers on special offer these days. Especially if you’re planning to do even the tiniest bit of serious jogging. The 21st century road to trainer wearing heaven is to find yourself a specialist sports shop and to then spend at least 45 minutes having your gait assessed, your foot analysed, your mileage accounted for and your goals considered.

After this you must then try on an eye-opening range of “running footwear” each with their own special piece of hi-tec gadgetry. This could include hexagon-shaped cushioning to better protect your joints, an improved support system for your arch, a wider/narrower front foot, plus support to deal with over-pronation or under pronation (this is what happens when you foot either rolls inwards or outwards when it strikes the ground). It’s even possible to buy “customised” trainers that can be created to almost perfectly fit your own foot shape, running gait and desired level of cushioning.

And if you think this is all a bit OTT even as a grown-up wannabe jogger, then imagine your incredulity as a parent of a child who needs a pair of new trainers when they are treated to almost the same level of attention.

While the ubiquitous slip-on black gym pumps will “do” for school, they most certainly won’t cut it at the local running club. Nor will any kind of lighting up trainers. Which is how I found myself at my own favourite specialist sports shop, Achilles Heel, inquiring about trainers for Little Miss Outdoors, who is a member of the excellent Garscube Harriers (a club that is somehow bucking the “kids-are-horribly-lazy” trend and boasts a waiting list for junior members).

And if I’d expected there to be a choice of a couple of pairs of mediocre-looking, scaled-down adult trainers for kids I couldn’t have been more wrong. In the 21st century just about every sports shoe manufacturer offers a range of trainers to suit different activities and different foot shapes and running gaits.

Even Little Miss Outdoors, with her long, thin feet and very narrow heels (just like her mum) had the choice of no less than six different pair of very-smart-looking-indeed trainers.

The Specialist – and very attentive – Footwear Fitting Assistant at Achilles Heel also dedicated an unbelievable amount of time to ensure that Little Miss Outdoors chose exactly the right shoe to suit her running style and ability.

* First the Very Attentive Assistant looked at how LMO walked barefoot and then ran barefoot. This is to assess one’s gait and to see how the foot strikes the ground.

* Then she carefully measured the length and width of her foot, and added on a small thumb’s width of space to the length. This extra space allows for the forward force and movement of the foot each time it strikes the ground.

* Then she asked about LMO’s running. Off-road, on-road, track, cross country, for fun, for competition, mileage?.
There are off-road trainers, cross-country shoes, cheaper trainers with less cushioning, more expensive trainers for more mileage with extra cushioning and support. As well as trainers for the gym, aerobics, indoor football, netball etc.

* Then the VAA went off to the stock room to select a range of trainers that might perfectly suit Little Miss Outdoors, her feet and her type of running.

And, boy, did my daughter love the attention. Carefully assessing every pair of trainers LMO paced and jogged up and down the shop, even trying out a different brand on each foot “just to see the differences,” suggested the VAA. The VAA also had LMO trying trainers with an additional cushioned insert in a bid to find the absolutely perfect fit. And added a nice pair of supportive elastic laces.

But why all the fuss, I asked? Well, it seems that just like adults who can incur injuries and strains to muscles, ligaments and tendons in the legs, hips, backs etc because of the combination of the repetitive action of running and ill-fitting trainers so, too, can children. It is unlikely that potential injuries will be as severe in youngsters because they should never be running as many miles as the grown-ups but the damage/pain could still occur.

And so it came down to just two pairs of trainers that LMO was “almost definitely sure about”. A pink pair and a blue pair. While both looked amazingly pretty (if trainers can ever be described in such a way) there came a final lesson from the VAA. “Be sure about the fit, not about the colour,” cautioned the VAA.

Hmm. Well, I knew that was going to be a tough call for LMO who has always had a very strong connection to all things girly, fluffy and, above-all, pink. Quite incredibly, however, it appears that she’d been taking the whole trainer buying experience rather seriously. For in the end (this bit did take several tedious minutes) she pointed at the blue pair. The Mizuno trainers are a mixture of bright white, navy blue and baby blue and the laces are white-and-sprakly-blue striped but they were definitely not pink. Or fluffy looking. Or flashy and lighting up.

The price also took me by surprise. While proper running trainers for adults can cost between £75 and £120, the Mizunos for kids were just £35. I felt I’d not only got my money’s worth thanks to the time and advice from the VAA but also because for once in her life LMO had been able to choose a pair of trainers from a wide range and come away with a pair she felt looked “really nice and trendy”. She says she can’t wait to go to the running club on Tuesday. “How marvellous and healthy!” I thought.

You want to come on a trip to buy school shoes to find out how different the whole experience normally is. Let’s just say that long, thin feet with narrow heels never, ever fit into pretty, attractive or vaguely trendy shoes. They only ever fit into the one pair of horribly sensible looking, lace-up shoes that most shoe shops stock only for those crestfallen-looking children with very, very narrow feet. But that’s another story.

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