- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 1, 2004

A while ago, I reviewed all of the specialty running stores in the metropolitan area.

There truly is nothing like a specialty shop to find the appropriate shoes, apparel and other running-related items. Many are owned and staffed by runners or former runners, so there usually is a wealth of knowledge of the sport available.

But there are times when you just don’t need the full service and the accompanying full price of a specialty running store. And there are plenty of online alternatives.

Example: You have been running in a particular shoe for years and you absolutely are convinced this model is the right one for you, so you find the lowest price you can by going online or searching the runner’s expos for the previous year’s discounted version.

Example: You have been running in a particular pair of shoes for months now and you can nearly see the bottom of your foot through the soles, but you are just way too busy to drop by your local running store. The click-and-ship idea from your office desk could be the solution before you end up visiting an orthopedic surgeon.

Example: You have grown to love a certain shoe model or performance shirt, but your local running store does not have the model or your size. Often you can get the item online faster than the store can get it on special order.

I often have used two online services: Road Runner Sports and Holabird Sports, the former in Southern California and the latter in Baltimore. But I recently received a catalogue in the mail from Wisconsin-based Eastbay promoting its 2-month-old venture, Extra Mile. So I did a little comparison shopping to see who truly was the cheapest.

The online gorilla in the running business has been Road Runner Sports (roadrunnersports.com). It has been around for a long time. The company has the most extensive inventory of running shoes and apparel and often carries models from the previous year or two at highly discounted prices.

I always have thought RRS was the cheapest. That’s true if you compare it to most retail specialty stores. But then I was yakking with running partner Patrick Griffith, and he vehemently promoted Holabird Sports (holabirdsports.com).

In a comparison among RRS, Holabird and Extra Mile (runtheextramile.com), I found obvious differences in selection of shoes and apparel, as well as differences in shipping and handling costs.

RRS has the widest variety of running shoes, apparel, nutrition items and accessories. Holabird, in business since 1981 with a showroom outlet in Baltimore, also sells tennis, racquetball and squash attire. Extra Mile is fairly limited in its running offerings.

Searching for one of my favorite running shoes — the ASICS Gel DS Trainer, with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $100 — RRS charged $79.99 or $75.99 if you join its RunAmerica Club. Extra Mile was $69.99 and Holabird $59.95.

I also checked, on the women’s side, the Nike Air Moto II, MSRP of $85. RRS had the shoe for $84.99, with $4 off for Club members, Holabird chimed in at $65.95 and Extra Mile won with a price of $59.99.

On shipping, I prefer Holabird’s easy policy. All orders are shipped out within two business days, with one low shipping rate of $4.95 for all quantities. Extra Mile, through Oct.17, is virtually matching that with a $4.99 rate.

RRS is more complicated. You can become a member of the Club for $19.99 a year and save 5 percent on everything you buy, receive free upgraded two- to three-day shipping, a free subscription to Fitness Runner and an extra 5 percent off when you order online on the fourth Wednesday of every month. If you order more than a few times a year, it might be worth it.

Broe goes — Olympic trials 5,000-meter champion Tim Broe of Ann Arbor, Mich., finalized his spot on the U.S. Olympic team Friday by meeting the Olympic “A” standard in his event. Broe, 27, ran 13:18.61, a personal best by six seconds, at the Norwich Union Grand Prix in London.

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