OK, so maybe I sound like my own grandma here. But seriously, what will they think of next? I shouldn't be surprised in the era of one-size-fits-all bashing; everything has to be customizable and personalizable these days. Why not running shoes?
That was ostensibly the thought process behind the new Santa Cruz, CA-based company Somnio, which is on a mission to help runners, athletes, and anyone with injured or sensitive feet (hello, PWDs!) to find the perfect fit — or in their words, "to help people achieve their lifestyle goals and do so while remaining injury and pain free."
Somnio means "dream" in Latin, and the visionary behind this one is Sean Sullivan, a veteran bicyclist who believed running shoes could / should be tweaked and adjusted to match a runner's unique anatomy and biomechanics, just the way bike gear is for serious cyclists.
The shoes, which have been on the market for about 18 months now, feature three types of exchangeable inserts: small cushions with differing densities for the heel and forefoot areas, and varus wedge inserts made to help align the foot and lower leg. I understand that "when mixed and matched, these components and custom configurations can create 648 unique shoe types, including different setups for the right and left foot."
There's a whole science behind the fitting process to determine which inserts are best for you. Somnio has been placing treadmill "gait analysis" systems in retail stores to help salespeople get customers fitted. But they also want to make this a do-it-yourself gig, by soon including a full set of inserts along with an instructional DVD in the box so customers can order online and easily conduct their own "self-assessment" at home to achieve just the right fit. Sullivan is convinced that within five years, this will be the way most people will buy running footwear.
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The shoes run around $100-$130, a good deal according to Wired magazine, because this includes "more in-shoe customization than you can get from anything shy of custom orthopedics, which cost hundreds of dollars, plus cushioning customization that no one else can match."
I was lucky enough to be fitted for a pair a few weeks ago. Full disclosure: the company offered me a pair for free for the purposes of providing them feedback on level of interest of the diabetic community. What aspects would matter most to PWDs? There was no pressure, but I'm sure they foresaw a blog review as well.
I honestly like the shoes a lot. I didn't find them perfect (what is?). But I can tell you that I've become a strong believer in looking for the RIGHT FIT. First off, it would be unfair for me to compare them to my other shoes, since I've been wearing some pretty beat-up old pairs for far too long.
Here's how I usually acquire athletic shoes:
- drive very quickly to closest Sports Authority or equivalent store
- peruse the sale shelves for anything in size 8 that looks cute, and has a recognizable brand name
- pay and drive home in time to help with homework, make dinner, pack sack lunches, sort laundry, work on next post, etc., before anybody misses me
Only afterwards, once I start running in them, do I notice any possible downsides of the shoes — pressure points or too-wide/ too-narrow areas. Some of them have given me nasty blisters, but I've stubbornly insisted on "breaking them in." (One $75 Nike pair in particular gave me huge red irritations on the instep of my feet every time I'd wear them.)
The problem is I'm not only strapped for time, but cheap. I now have quite a collection of "over the hill" athletic shoes that are still "OK," but aren't necessarily healthy for my feet because they don't provide the right support where I need it. I couldn't get myself to throw them away. Only now, after wearing these heavenly-feeling Somnios, am I getting there.
As company rep Tommy Davies told me while he was doing my fitting, "many people don't realize how important it is to get a personal fit and a correct fit. For people who already have foot problems... pain is a pretty big motivator."
The Somnios definitely feel custom-fitted to my feet — thick and supportive on the bottom, and light on top. I especially like the firm support I feel right under the ball of my foot, which seems to "anchor" me somehow. My first two runs with them were positively luxurious, but the third time around I did get a bit of a blister on my instep. It hasn't happened again, so I'm thinking I may have just tied them too tight and thus irritated the "legacy blister" that was still there. Wearing them in the gym, however, made my usual routine feel like a whole new workout. Boing!
I'm told that athletic shoes break down after the equivalent of 500 miles running (which takes about six months for a modest runner like me). So would I buy the Somnios again rather than some one-shape-fits-all off-the-shelf pair? You betcha. These feet ain't getting any younger.
Somnio shoes are now available 60 stores nationwide, specialty running, comfort shoe stores and even the mainstream chain store Foot Locker.