Will Eden is the best advertisement Nike has never met.
Stacked in a closet in Eden's parents' home in Edgewater are 20 pairs of Nike running shoes that the Annapolis High cross country runner has worn since he started running competitively in the seventh grade.
And much to the chagrin of his mother, Eden has no intention of parting with his sizable collection.
"They are a big part of my life," said Eden, who is the reigning Anne Arundel County champion in cross country. "I spend three hours a day in them at least."
Eden's loyalty illustrates the attachment many area cross country runners have to their running shoes.
In the arena of cross country, running shoes are the athlete's version of a gladiator's sword, and can bridge the gap between a top-10 ribbon and a gold medal.
As Mercy coach and former Marine Randy Fowler said, "A running shoe is as important to a runner as a rifle is to a combat soldier. You won't survive very long without it."
Running shoes can be broken up into two categories: training shoes and racing flats or spikes.
Many runners said the most important factor in buying a training shoe is cushioning.
Runners will typically log up to 500 miles in a training shoe and need enough padding and support to protect their feet from the daily pounding on asphalt, hills and mud.
Seton Keough's Kerry Shea said she switched from Adidas to the New Balance 751 because the latter brand cushioned a broken bone and torn tendon in her right foot.
Similarly, Alyssa Super of St. Mary's dumped a pair of Nikes for the Asics GT 2080 when she developed nagging blisters while training in the Nikes.
When it's time to race, however, runners sacrifice the padding for lightweight material to facilitate speed on the course.
While some buy their shoes at traditional sports equipment stores or through online shoe warehouses, many said they trust outlets like Fleet Feet and the Falls Road Running Store in Baltimore and Feet First in Columbia.
In fact, customers can test shoes on a treadmill at Fleet Feet, while Feet First allows patrons to jog around the block in its shoes.
"They're all runners," Maryvale Prep's Kelly Sullivan said of the staff at Charm City Run in Timonium. "They know what they're talking about."
Mount Hebron's Elise Lindenmayer is one of several who said they research shoes once a month. Besides perusing her subscription to Fitness Runner, Lindenmayer also goes to running Web sites to read shoe reviews.
"I think it definitely helps to know your shoes," said Lindenmayer, who alternates between the Asics Kayano and the Mizuno Wave Rider for training and wears Nike Cross Country Spikes for racing. "Shoes are your only equipment. It's not like field hockey or soccer where you have a stick and a ball. You have to pay attention to them."
Laura Drossner, who wears the Mizuno Alchemy for training and the Asics DS Trainer for racing, said she understands the attachment some runners have toward their shoes.
"I think there's something sentimental about shoes," said Drossner, Bryn Mawr's top runner. "I think it would be nice to pull out my old shoes. It'll bring back my high school memories."
Which brings us back to Eden, who said he keeps his shoes because he hates to throw stuff away.
Eden, who developed an affinity for Nike after watching the lead character in Forrest Gump wearing the same brand, runs through about five pairs of running shoes a year - an expense that costs his parents, Scott Eden and Jan Bird, about $400.
But Scott Eden, a former high school and collegiate runner, said he and his son are of the same mind when it comes to running shoes.
"I can make the rationalization that running is a cheap expense compared to something like lacrosse," Scott Eden said. "You can never have too many pairs of shoes."