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Taking the first steps to becoming a runner

Daddy needs a new (first) pair of shoes

Buying your first pair of running shoes is a right of passage. It means that you're making a $100-ish investment in a piece of equipment that you will use to start a new venture, one that has already grabbed millions of people by the tech shirt and tossed into a new world of tempo runs, personal records, and something called a fartlek.

It's also an important step toward not getting hurt. Choosing the right shoes for your feet and gait can stop any small injuries before the they start, because something wrong in the foot can move up to the ankle, to the knee, to the hip, etc.

It can also be fun. Let's take, for example, my dad, Bob Miller.

On a brisk morning after a hike in the Wissahickon last week, I met my dad at his office in Bala Cynwyd and escorted him to the Manayunk location of Philadelphia Runner. My dad, who plays baseball - fast pitch baseball, not slow, loping, beer paced softball - with men 15 years younger than him, had finally been hit by running's cupid arrow that lanced through my family in the last 10 years, taking me, then my mom, then my brother and his wife, then my sister and her husband, with it.

This was unexpected. Dad had said for years he was going to run a 5k to no avail. Before the 2013 New Jersey Marathon, he told me that if I died, he'd be the one to bury me. But something finally clicked. Maybe it was a friendly push of competition from my mom doing two triathlons and my sister doing her first marathon in 2015. Maybe it was his recent divorce (not from my mom - they split when I was 18 years old). Whatever it was, he finally took to the treadmill to do something between a walk in a run while watching old episodes of Emergency.

That's a fantastic way to start. I kept myself entertained on my first treadmill runs by watching Phillies games (back when they weren't terrible), but the problem with his jaunts was that he was doing so while wearing New Balance sneakers designed for walking. That last thing I wanted was for him to get hurt when the sport was still so new to him.

Fortunately, Kelsey O'Donnell of Philadelphia Runner was there to help. An employee had my dad take off his dress shoes and walk back and forth across the showroom floor. It turns out that he needed a natural shoe, just like I do, and presented him three different options.

"You're not here to pick a shoe based on appearance," I warned, and he immediately rejected the Brooks Ghost based on appearance. But no matter. He walked about the store in the New Balance Vazee Pace and the Mizuno Wave Rider. I gently leaned him toward the Wave Rider because that's my shoe (and has been, on and off, since I bought my first pair in 2006). But in the end, he said that the New Balance felt more comfortable.

"That's not surprising since that's what you already wear," O'Donnell said, brightly. She rung up his shoes and off he went back to work, and off I went for a coffee.

My dad says he's run in them on the treadmill three times so far. His shoe review: "they feel amazing, like running on clouds."

I've been running long enough that I sometimes forget how intimidating those first steps can be, not just in making them on a treadmill or on your block or a trail in a park, but in choosing the equipment you'll need to get you to the finish line. Taking a friend can help, or bringing along a daughter who promises you that if you're good she'll put you in her column.

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