“Basically when you look at a shoe,” says Curt Jones, 52, twirling an old pair of red and white Asics sneakers, “it generally has a wear pattern like a car, like on a tire. If a car tire is out of alignment, it will wear more on one side.” He points to the edge of the shoe’s sole to prove his point.
Curt notices these things. As the co-owner, with his wife, Cindy, of Ultimate Fit, a one-stop-shop selling shoes, clothing, and athletic equipment for athletic enthusiasts at 1308 S. Green River Road, Curt is used to picking up well-worn running shoes, turning them around, and examining them closely. He’s looking, he’ll tell you, not just at the brand name, but also at the way his customers have made the most of their shoes.
Does the customer standing beside him overpronate, he’ll wonder, looking at the shoe’s sole? Does she underpronate? These terms describe the inward roll of the foot after the foot hits the ground. Overpronators roll their foot inward more than the ideal 15 percent, while underpronators roll their foot inward below that 15 percent. Each problem causes additional foot stress and can lead to injuries for those who run and walk quite a bit. That’s one reason why Curt is so focused on finding the right shoes for his customers and in making sure they don’t run or walk in shoes that are well past their prime.
“It’s huge, really,” he says, of the importance of having shoes that provide adequate support. “Most of the time when it is overlooked is when people are younger, because your feet aren’t giving you any trouble. It’s whenever it starts to be a problem, that you think, maybe I should have had better shoes, or should have better shoes. And the big thing is going to be the cushioning and arch support, and the comfort, the wrap-around support, and overall comfort.”
Curt was in his early 30s when he began to study these topics. He came to running through his son, Cory, who took part in field days in grade school. Some of those events involved running. “My enthusiasm for him doing that kind of built enthusiasm for this,” Curt says.
Now, Curt and Cindy run Ultimate Fit, which shares a building with Dan’s Competition. Longtime Evansville residents may recognize the location as the former Gilles Cycling and Fitness, then owned by Scott Gilles. At the time, Curt was a manager at Gilles, and he often heard a fellow employee complain about lost sales because the store didn’t have certain shoes customers were looking for.
“The potential I could see here was huge,” Jones says, leaning back in his chair, against a wall of shoeboxes. “And when Scott Gilles was originally going to look for somebody to buy this, I thought … ‘Man, I should talk to him about this.’” Curt and Cindy later purchased the small store from Gilles in 2010.
Today, Ultimate Fit carries seven specialty brand shoes, alongside workout clothing, gear, and equipment. Its main customers are long- and short-distance runners and walkers, and no pair of shoes are less than $30. The store offers specialized slow motion video gait analysis. Customers walk at a fast pace on a treadmill while their gait is recorded by video. “Then we can show them and say, ‘Here is what is going on, here is what you’re doing. Here is why you need a shoe with stability,’” Curt says.
One shoe in particular, the Hoka One One, is marketed toward all types of runners but is an especially good fit for ultra runners. “We have nurses in these, people who stand on their feet all day,” he says. “We have the half-marathon people, the full marathon people, the ultra marathon people, shorter distance people. It is just really broad. And it is just exploding, because people put them on and the wow factor is there because of the cushioning.”
The Hoka One One is described as having maximal cushioning, softer density, and greater rebounding foam than standard running shoes. But most people will likely notice the extra thickness of its soles and how it has a “rolling rocker design to promote consistent rhythm in the runner’s foot strike,” the company’s website says. The shoe costs $170 and has about the same mileage as most other running shoes.
Ultimate Fit also sells lightweight, minimalist shoes. The debate continues on the merits of minimalist running wear. Runners who are used to running in shoes that offer more sole and ankle support and are interested in trying minimalist shoes are advised to transition to minimalist footwear slowly. Running in minimalist shoes can strengthen the feet and ankles but also requires a different running gait. “There was a doctor here recently who looked at our wall and picked up a minimalist shoe and said, ‘Oh yes, just keep selling these. This is what gives me business.’”
“I think for the right runner, somebody who is young, somebody who (has a neutral pronation), and is an efficient runner, maybe,” Curt says. “But not every day. There is a big debate on it one way or another. Being older, probably, I fall to the side of give me more protection.”
“We don’t just sell you the shoe,” he says, looking toward his blue sneakers. “We can give you an idea of what to do, how to use it, and we’ve done that for some time. We are a specialty store, and part of what comes out of buying at a specialty store is the customer service. I personally don’t think there is any place in Evansville, in any industry that you could go to, and get better service.”
For more information about Ultimate Fit, call 812-431-0201 or visit ultimatefit.biz.