Basic Triathlon Terms

When I first started the sport of triathlon, I had little knowledge of triathlon terminology. I asked what some of these terms meant if I didn’t know, or I requested an explanation in conversation. Below is a list of basic triathlon lingo and definitions. There are many more, so if you have a favorite, please leave a comment below.

T1: The transition between the swim and the bike. Transition is where all of your gear is stored during the race; you will have a designated spot, or you’ll find a spot. Rack your bike by the saddle or handlebars and place your gear at the front tire. You have about 12 inches of space in width off of your tire.

T2: The transition between the bike and the run.

Pro: A professional athlete

Age Grouper: Amateur athlete–most athletes fall in this category.

Athena: Division for women 165 lbs. or more. These athletes can still be age groupers if they choose.

Clydesdale: Division for men 200 lbs. or more. These athletes can also be age groupers.

Aero: Riding with your arms on the aero bars. It makes your body smaller and more aerodynamic so you can ride faster.

Clipless Pedals: Triangular clip on the bottom of a road shoe. If you are attached to the bike by the pedals, you can push and pull through each pedal stroke, making you a more efficient cyclist than simply riding on platform pedals (flat pedals that come with most bikes).

Road shoes: Usually have a triangular clip on the bottom of the shoe and have more support for long rides. Adding special inserts are a good idea to keep your arch from collapsing, causing toe numbness and/or lower back pain.

Triathlon Shoes: Similar to road shoes, but there is a loop on the back of the shoe for flying mounts. These shoes are more breathable, but may be less comfortable for really long rides.

Hybrid Bike: heavy and multipurpose bike for the road or trails. Some new triathletes will have this bike. Great for commuting.

TT Bike: The geometry is a bit different from the road bike, with a steeper seat tube angle that forces the rider over the handlebars for a more aero position. Great for fast and flat courses or spring or Olympic triathlons. Shifting is in aero, but brakes are on the hoods.

Triathlon Bike: A road bike with aero bars that came with the bike. More comfortable than a TT bike. Shifting and brakes are on the hood with a ram horn handlebar setup.

Road Bike: Similar to the triathlon bike, but no aero bars (can be added later if you get a different fit for the bike). Has a ram horn handlebar, shifting and brakes are on the hoods.

Cockpit: The whole front area of the bike where all of your stuff is located.

Bento: Bag for food and fuel (original word is from Japanese and refers to a packed meal).

Saddle: The bike seat. There are TT saddles and road saddles. Find one that is right for you. If you go numb, get a new saddle.

Bar ends: Caps for the end of your handlebars. If you don’t have these, officials won’t let you race.

Draft Legal: Refers to cycling close to other cyclists to save energy, especially when windy. If a race is draft legal, you can draft off of other cyclists. Most triathlons are not draft legal, so you need to leave three bike lengths in between you and the next cyclist. If you enter this zone, you have 15 seconds to pass or you may receive a time penalty from the officials.

Drafting: Drafting is legal in swimming. You can draft off the hip of a slightly faster swimmer or at their feet and swim in the bubbles coming off of their feet. You may swim any stroke in a triathlon, so be careful if the swimmer you are drafting off of starts doing breaststroke! You might just get kicked in the chest or lose your goggles.

Sighting: Bringing your eyes to the surface to look for buoys on the swim course.

Kayak: Lifeguards in kayaks. If you run into trouble, swim over to a kayak or signal for one, rest and/or get assistance. You cannot make forward progress with a kayak or paddle board, but you are allowed to rest.

Duathlon: A race where you run, bike, run.

Aquabike: A race where you swim and bike, and then you’re finished! No running. These races are great for athletes who can’t run, are injured, etc.

Aquathon: A race where you swim and run.

Tri Kit: A one or two-piece suit to wear for all three sports.

Wetsuit: Worn over the tri kit if the water is cold. Wetsuit legal is below 78 degrees F for age groupers and below 68 degrees F for pros.

If you have anything else you would like to add to the list, comment below!

Do What You Gotta Do

Streetlights lit the rain slick roads before sunrise. The headache that started on Friday throbbed above my right eye, making it droop with the weight of pain. Ikaiku was already waiting on the trainer with six water bottles lined up and muffins wrapped tightly on the ironing board near the charging iPad in preparation for a five hour trainer ride. I planned to binge watch episodes of The Crown and check in with athletes racing in Lake Placid.

But, this wasn’t how everything was supposed to go. I was scheduled to ride outside for six hours on a hilly course, meeting a local group ride in the middle of my long ride that was to be followed by a one hour run. I was signed up for the NJ State Triathlon on Sunday too. But, I’m still in recovery mode from over-training. And, then the rain rolled in and spiraled around a low pressure system overnight and with that–all of my plans flew away. Plus, Phil had Navy Reserves all weekend, which left me alone with the kid and the weather. Should I have gone early at 6am and rode on wet roads up to 45 miles away from home before the rain came back? Who would come and get me if I got a flat? What if I slipped off the wet roads while going downhill?

All of these thoughts stressed me out. I don’t mind riding in the rain, but I like to have backup at home–someone to call and pick me up if necessary. So, I did what many triathletes do: I rode on the trainer for five hours in the basement, starting at 5am to minimize the time suck on the day. Because I still have a kid at home. Because I am a mom. Because Phil was gone for the weekend. Because I still had laundry to do later, the house to straighten up, and dinner to make, the kid to check on from time to time, and a movie to go see. Because like most Ironmen before me, I am not a professional athlete and need to find the time for training in my schedule and balance a life outside of the sport. I marked the hours with each episode of The Crown and moved one finished water bottle at a time from the desk to the ironing board each hour. I ate a muffin, cranberries, or a banana every forty-five minutes to keep from bonking. There are plenty of worse things to be doing for five hours straight than riding my bike on the trainer–driving a car because I fall asleep at the wheel, being stuck on a plane on the tarmac for mechanical difficulties (two hours), spring cleaning the house, packing or unpacking for a move, waiting at the DMV for any length of time…

So, even though the rain held off until late in the evening on Sunday, the roads were dry by mid-morning, and all of my other plans fell through: I did what I had to do despite the long list of “buts” filling my head because I got it done instead of not doing it at all. That’s what makes an Ironman: getting it done as best as you can.

Searching for the Light

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While wandering through the darkness, trying to find the light, my toes catch the side of the dresser; the bed stabs my knee. All I want to do is find that light switch to see everything in the room clearly, find my phone, and set my alarm for morning. But that switch is not where I thought it was on the wall, so I sit down in the middle of the room that is so dark I can’t see my hand in front of my face. I see nothing.

This is where I am in training for my Ironman in September–trapped in the darkest room during the time of year with the most light. Ironic. I am sitting on the floor with my eyes closed waiting. Waiting and recovering from the deep fatigue that has set in as evident by too high of heart rates on charts in Training Peaks–all of the analysis and science pointing to the same conclusion. Waiting to make a move and hop back on the bike or to go for another run. I can’t do any of that now, until I find the light. I’ve been jabbed and hit too many times by all of the obstacles around me. So now, I wait and visualize what the room looks like before coming out of the dark.

I’ll get out of the darkness, eventually–out maneuver the what ifs and possibilities of a DNF.  I am better than that and can already go the distance necessary. I know that. I can swim 2.5 miles easily (.1 miles longer than the Ironman), and I can run a marathon on tired legs–I’ve done that five times. When I ran Chicago three weeks out from the half Ironman, I wanted to quit at the 5K. I didn’t and kept going. I’ve been on my bike for almost five hours, so what’s a few more?

I know what I am capable of. So right now, I’ll rest and recover. I’ll enjoy the midsummer free time to garden, to read, to paint, and to do all the things I was too tired to do a week ago. Because in the darkness, I can see the layout, and I’ll follow the plan.

Philly Women’s Triathlon

The Philadelphia Women’s Triathlon with Delmo Sports had a 400 meter swim in Kelly Pool, a nine mile ride, and a 5K run through Fairmount Park. I couldn’t have asked for a better day: low humidity and a beautiful setting.

The pool swim began with two swimmers side by side and sent off five seconds apart, which made it more like a free for all open water swim, but in a pool. I noticed a few swimmers bottlenecking at the turns, which meant that flip turns were out, and some swimmers thought they could swim faster and went in an earlier heat, but slowed down after 50 meters.

After observing the first heat, it was time for my heat. I knew I couldn’t do flip turns under the lane lines with all of those swimmers in the way, and I planned to pass people who were slower. That’s just what I did. I kept pace with a woman I was talking to before the race, and we flew by the slower swimmers ahead of us; at one point I passed in between two swimmers, and she passed on the far left. Boom!  When I could, I drafted right at her feet because she was a tiny bit faster than I am. When I got out of the pool, I ran the longer than usual distance to my bike in transition.

My T1 was quick, and I was off on the downhill of the bike course in no time. MLK Drive still had potholes, and I’m getting used to aero on my new bike, so I stayed upright the whole time. I passed a bunch of cyclists, and only three people passed me. I felt strong on the bike, despite my high heart rate, enjoyed the scenery, and then rode up the big hill to transition after the short nine mile ride.

T2 took even less time than T1. Soon after I started, a new triathlete caught up to me and asked if she could run with me for a bit. Her goal was to not walk at all during the 5K, and she wasn’t sure if she could keep up with my pace. I thought she could maintain the pace I was running, and she stayed with me throughout the whole 5K. We ran by Shofuso House, sculptures in the garden, and a beautiful fountain before making our way back to the finish, talking throughout the run. She kept saying she wasn’t a good runner, but I reminded her that she was indeed running and running well for her first triathlon.

About a half mile from the finish, I told her that we need to pick up the pace and take bigger strides. Being six feet tall, she had no problem with that. I took faster little steps to match her big stride, and we finished strong. Best of all, she didn’t walk for the entire 5K and met her goal.

Could I have run faster? Maybe. But that’s not what this sport is about. Congratulations, Anastasia! I hope you’re celebrating with friends and family tonight! Maybe I’ll see you next year at the Philly Women’s Triathlon! I plan to race again, especially for that medal the size of a small plate! Congratulations to the athletes who train with me at the Y and raced today! You know who you are and you all ROCK!

Firecracker Kids’ Triathlon

This little gymnast did her second triathlon over the Independence Day holiday in Cambridge, MD, where Ironman Maryland is held, with her BFF from Norfolk, VA. She’s done more than her fair share of 5Ks, and even though triathlon is not her main sport, she can still hold her own in a race with swift kicking on the swim, an easy transition to the bike, and then nailing the run. She’s strong and determined to succeed.

The kid already has her eye on my road bike with the aero bars to replace her current hybrid so she can ride faster. Maybe when I upgrade my roadie, she’ll get my old one? She already hops on it while it’s on the trainer even though her feet barely reach the pedals with the road shoes attached. Her eyes are aglow when gazing at my time trial bike that she refers to as my “Ferrari”. She can’t have that one though.

She’ll have to wait on a new bike until she outgrows her old one. In the mean time, she’s still fast on her hybrid and is learning about the support from other athletes on the course, especially from her BFF.  In one of the photos, her friend took off her shoes since she finished earlier, but she wanted to run her friend in, which is exactly what she did–barefoot.

Triathlon is always more fun with friends who are willing to go on this crazy journey with you. I hope that these two will do many more races together and have a sport they can grow into.

Philadelphia Escape Triathlon

It took me awhile to get to this post because even though I was looking forward to my first triathlon of the season, I felt broken going into race day, mentally and physically. I was fighting chronic fatigue: getting sick once a month, too high of heart rates in training, and all of my muscles seemed to revolt and refuse to move. I knew I was overtrained, but didn’t comment on any of my workouts in Training Peaks for my coach to assess since I am so focused on Ironman Chattanooga, not wanting to miss a single workout.

This is also the time in the training cycle when things get tough–long, lonely rides and runs, early morning swims, not keeping up with the Meet Up group I started–all of that shook my confidence.

I raced anyway. The swim went well. The water temperature was 74 degrees, and even though everyone and their grandma had on wetsuits, I left mine on the shore with gear check: I knew I would get too hot. The cold water only felt cold for the first 100 meters–I flew by the buoys marking every 100 meters, fought the swirling current at times and made it to the swim finish in a respectable time. But, my nagging headache from the day before was still there, I had menstrual cramps, so I drank a bottle of Tailwind in T1 to keep dehydration away because today was going to be HOT and humid as the day went on.

I set off on my bike and almost crashed within the first ten minutes while messing around with my bike bento. I’m glad no one was around me at the time. I climbed the first hill of the ride, which made me want to quit. My legs burned so much that I wasn’t sure if I could possibly do another hill let alone eight total on the course followed by a run. No matter how my legs felt, I pushed through the bike, rode by athletes walking their bikes uphill, and clung desperately to my brakes on steep downhills that totally scared the crap out of me on my new bike. I am not used to going that fast since my road bike is much heavier.

As soon as I racked my bike, I set out on the run. The course was shaded for the first quarter mile, but then it was in full sun. My cramping returned, and my headache worsened. I thought I was going to pass out more than once. I walked a bit to prevent going to medical and finished the run and the race.

But, I was pissed off. I trained hard, too hard, and I paid for it. I don’t even want to discuss my finish time or place because it just plain sucked. I could have done better. I know I could do better.

I talked to my coach and ran with her while she was passing through Philadelphia. I cried on that short run because I felt like such a failure. She understood.

So, I’m taking about two weeks to recover. The workouts are less demanding, I have more time to think, read, write, paint, garden, and do all the things I usually don’t have time for in the middle of triathlon training, especially during Ironman training. I saw my friends over Independence Day and made plans to meet for some of those long and lonely five to six hour rides rides to make them a bit less lonely and a little more fun. I also went to a sports massage therapist to help with my sloping shoulders–I plan to go back once or twice more before the Ironman. In other words, I plan to use these two weeks to remind myself why I do this and why I should take care of myself first.

This race will be a reminder of what I am capable of because it was one of the hardest races I’ve done. I am looking forward to the Philly Womens’ Triathlon this weekend, rested and ready. And as for Ironman Chattanooga, I’m coming for you.

Triathlon on the Cheap

 

I kind of see the sport of triathlon as mid-life crisis sport because it’s so freaking expensive. TT bikes, aero helmets, designer tri kits, fancy bike shoes–all of that costs lots of money brand spankin’ new. And it’s nothing short of intimidating to see athletes donned in full tri gear when you have a hybrid bike and a regular swim suit. So, how can you get into this sport if it’s so expensive? It’s possible with a little bit of cash saved up and some patience. In fact, lots of triathletes didn’t buy all of their gear new before they even did a triathlon, so why should you?

Your biggest expenses will be a bike and a gym membership with a pool. Many road bikes can be purchased used for around $500, and gym memberships vary. Oftentimes, if you teach at least one class at your local gym, you can get a discounted membership, so look into that. I pay $120 a month for a family membership to the local Y, but since I work there, it’s a lot less now. For the record, my road bike cost $500. However, a word of caution if you’re like me: your bike(s) will be a hole that you throw money at all the time on maintenance and gear. The thing to remember is that the cheapest way to buy speed without upgrading your bike, helmet, jersey, tri kit or whatever is to become a better cyclist. Anyway…

You’ll need some bike tools, spare tubes, and a helmet. But other than that, here’s what you really need:

  1. A swimsuit–buy on sale on Swim Outlet or your local shop. I got a Speedo Endurance swimsuit for $50 at Toad Hollow in Paoli, and it will last me for a few years. Yes, a Speedo Endurance suit will last for a very long time, so buy one you like! And, it’s cheaper than spending $20 on a suit that will only last a month (I did that and won’t do it again).
  2. Cap and goggles–$15 for both. Make sure the goggles fit your eye sockets without the strap before you buy. The most expensive pair may not be the best pair.
  3. Running shoes–look for sales! I got a new pair of Brooks Adrenaline for $80 instead of $120 at my local store. Replace them every 300-500 miles.
  4. Cheap running shorts or cycling shorts.
  5. A used road bike $500-$800.
  6. Helmet, spare tubes, saddle bag with tools, CO2 cartridges. $20-$60 for a helmet and $40 for everything else. Bonus if you buy cycling glasses to protect your eyes from rocks and whatnot. Tifosi is a less expensive option compared to Oakleys. $70 vs. $120.
  7. Beach towel–for your transition mat (find one at home).
  8. A bag to put it all in–check thrift stores, use a canvas grocery bag, anything works.
  9. Water bottles–free at many races or pick up two for $10 each or less.

I guarantee that you will not be the only one at a triathlon to swim in a regular swimsuit and throw on a pair of running shorts for the bike with your running shoes, especially for a local sprint tri. That’s another thing: do local sprint races that are way cheaper than branded races.

It took me a few years to get a tri kit, clip in shoes for my bike with the new pedals, an aero helmet, Roka goggles, a TT bike (I bought mine used for $1800 on Ebay), and all of the other stuff that goes with the sport. Heck, I’m still saving up for gear like new racing wheels for my awesome TT bike because my bike and gear is how I like to spend my money besides family trips. So what are you waiting for? Borrow a bike, get a used one, and sign up for one of your local triathlons!

Hilly Ride

Hills are unavoidable around where I live, so I usually head to the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) since it’s the flattest and fastest ride near me; however, with Ironman Chattanooga coming up, I need to practice on hills with my TT bike, Ikaika. Sadly, Ikaika is in the shop getting some new bright red tape and longer shifting cables because I had the aero bars raised, which means that this ride was on my road bike, Bia, and she’s perfect for hills and steep climbs.

I had a three hour ride to complete, but I wanted to head for the hills for the first half of my ride before cruising on the SRT. I looped around Valley Forge’s ribbons of trails and roads at least three times–past Washington’s Quarters where he stayed during the war in the actual valley that was a forge for making all kinds of items out of iron. His house was modest and near the workshop, but it was way better than the cabins and rustic living of most of the troops in the wintry mud of the valley. I’ve been in Washington’s Quarters a few times and glided my hand up the railing he and others touched. It’s kind of gross if you think about it too hard, and my family has a running joke about Washington with all of the signs in the area about “George Washington slept here.” If he slept there, he must have peed there too, so I remind everyone that George Washington peed here, or somewhere around here anyway.

I passed the cabins too along with replicas of the forts the troops built to look out for the British. I rode by the church where they all worshipped, past monuments with spectacular views of the valley below. Valley Forge is a day’s march from Philadelphia, so if needed, the troops could swoop down and defend the city. Although, they may have been too late if the situation was dire.

You can get an idea of how the hills are from the photo on the left, but there’s no substitute for running or cycling up and down them. I went up that hill three times, which is a good 5-8 minute climb. Around Valley Forge, you’re either climbing or descending; there are no flats. When I had enough, I headed to the SRT for some easy riding.

French Creek Racing Swim Series

It’s hard to believe with the Philadelphia Escape Triathlon coming up on June 24 that this was my first open water swim of the season. Weather rolled in and scheduling changes prevented me from taking the plunge in May and earlier this week, but I’m fortunate to live in an area that offers all kinds of open water swimming opportunities. This is the first year that I’ve tried one of French Creek Racing’s open water swim races: 800 meters in the Schuylkill River north of Philadelphia. I signed up for the whole swim series and plan to go to most of them along with a few at Marsh Creek Lake with Mid Atlantic Multisport. French Creek Racing has some awesome swag though, and after the swim is a BBQ, which I highly recommend.

The water temp was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the river cast for pollution was green due to a lack of rainfall and runoff, and the current was moving at over 3000 cubic feet per second (cfs). I have a sense of what that means for swimming since I’ve been in the ocean currents before and a few lakes with a current, but I didn’t fully appreciate the power of the Schuylkill that creates world class Olympic rowers from the famed Boathouse Row.

I have a better idea of what 3000 cfs feels like now.

The swim started from a small dock with the course running clockwise around the buoys. Swimmers were told to keep the buoys on the right and to swim on the far left in order to stay out of the strongest part of the current, except for the end when we all had to swim between two buoys before slapping the timing board. Kayakers and lifeguards were out and had to keep paddling to remain in one place. I got worried when I noticed that.

I started my swim with the current for 25 meters and rounded the first two buoys, breaking out ahead of all of the swimmers in my heat except for two men who kept up with me the whole time. As soon as I rounded the second buoy, it was into the current for all three of us. The water was frigid and numbed my hands and feet. I tried to sight the two buoys in front of the 422 bridge, but I couldn’t see them with the setting sun. I looked towards the shore where we started to get some sort of visual and then took about ten to fifteen strokes before glancing to the shore again, but I was in the same spot in the water. What is this? A water treadmill? Am I swimming uphill? I took another fifteen strokes and had the same view on my right. Another fifteen strokes reinforced the fact that I was going nowhere fast–literally. I headed for the opposite shore even farther left and finally hit some warm water, which meant it wasn’t moving as quickly. Then, and only then, did I start making progress after five to eight minutes of swimming in place.

The kayaker and buoy up ahead started to appear closer as I drafted off the feet of the guy in front of me to save some energy. When I rounded the third and fourth buoy, the current helped carry me to the finish.

Wetsuit or not, the power of the Schuylkill is no joke. I plan to swim here again and swim smarter, and I’m relieved that the Philly Escape Triathlon is a point to point swim with the river’s current.

To sign up for any of the French Creek Racing Open Water Swims, click on this link:

Open Water Swim Series

Tri Shoes or Road Shoes?

So, which shoe is better for you: triathlon shoes or road shoes? As a triathlete, I’m all about the gear that goes along with the sport, but I am also frugal when it comes to dropping my paycheck on unnecessary accoutrements. Yes, I have a road bike and a TT bike, but I bought them used after a long search. The hybrid I have is my beater commuter bike, and that one was free! Sure, I have a wetsuit that I found on sale online. Of course I have more than one swimsuit; swimming is my first love with this sport. Three pairs of running shoes line my staircase, and I have a drawer full of running and cycling clothes. And, yes, I do have a pair of Roka open water goggles because I love them so much.

But when it comes to my bike shoes, I have two pairs: a mountain bike shoe with SPDs that I use for spin classes, and road shoes that go with my Shimano Ultegra Pedals for all of my trainer rides, outdoor rides and races. Many athletes will ask: aren’t they harder to put on after the swim than triathlon specific shoes? What about the flying mount and dismount? Doesn’t that save you time in transition? Will my feet be soaking wet after the swim in a pair of road shoes? To answer all of these questions, I ask questions: how far do you ride and how comfortable do you want to be?

You see, road shoes are way more comfortable than triathlon shoes, and if you’re an athlete who enjoys long course races or rides lasting a couple hours on a Sunday, then you need a pair of road shoes. I’m all about comfort over squeezing a few extra seconds out of transition time for most age group athletes. If you don’t believe me, time yourself in a mock transition. Do one time trial by putting your cycling shoes completely on, then reaching for your bike, and then mounting your bike. Next, do it with a flying mount with the same distance to the mount line. Which one is faster? And which one is safer in the mounting zone when other athletes are scrambling to get on their bikes as well? Unless you practice the flying mount and dismount so you can do it flawlessly, it won’t save you time, and it might even cause you to fall over or hit another cyclist before the bike portion.

But, if you want to spend the money on two pairs of shoes, keep the triathlon shoes for short races and rides–sprint or Olympic distances and draft legal races, and use the road shoes for long rides or long course races. If you are only buying one pair to save cash, I recommend the road shoes.

This video is really helpful when deciding which shoe to buy:

Tri Shoes or Road Shoes?

Pictured above are my current road shoes. To make it easier in transition, I loosen the velcro so I only have to worry about closing and tightening the top, and sometimes, I leave it open on a short ride, but still take the time to put on socks, always. Gasp! I know, socks? Like I said: for a long course race comfort is key. If you’re a draft legal athlete, elite, or pro, you probably have a pair of triathlon shoes for your draft legal races or short distance races. That’s OK. There’s a shoe for everyone.

Last of all, I made my road shoes even more comfortable by adding inserts so that they feel like a pair of Birkenstocks. The inserts keep my arches from collapsing on a long ride and prevent lower back pain as I pedal. So, when cycling shoes cost almost as much as running shoes and don’t need to be replaced as often, I’ll have one pair, please: road shoes.

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Last, last of all, these are my mountain bike shoes with SPDs. The clip is embedded so you can actually run through transition with these on; however, since the sole is softer, it doesn’t offer as much support for really long rides. I use these for spin classes now, but they were my first pair of bike shoes that I used in a triathlon. I went with these shoes for a few years when I first started the sport because they were less slick when starting and stopping at traffic lights (road shoes take some practice), I could walk or run in them through transition without a problem, and I still got the benefits of riding while clipped in by pushing and pulling the pedals. I switched to a standard road shoe since I’m riding longer outside, and I needed more support for my arches.

So, when you go to the shop to buy a pair of cycling shoes be honest about how you ride and what you do. Try on different shoes and pick the one that best suits your needs and wallet.