Have you ever considered the dismal plight of the running shoe?
You are slapped together, most probably in a dingy, sweat-filled factory in China and shipped to a retailer, where you are forced to wait for your owner to make the adoption. If you are slightly lucky, you may land at Zappos, where you can experience happiness for a time (I only have anecdotal information to support that view).
As you await your ultimate destiny, a destiny totally out of your control, you face crushing psychological uncertainty. Will you experience a life of cushy prosperity or exist in a meat-grinder of sole-crushing wear and tear?
Sneakers, Childhood, and Sprinting in Heavy Denim
I attended a small Roman Catholic School in Stratford, Connecticut — Holy Name of Jesus School. The average class size was about 30 students. The school required the students to wear uniforms that included a button-up dress shirt (white) and a tie (mostly of the clip-on variety).
On the positive side, the nuns were adept at recognizing innately talented students. They selected me for the role of Jesus in the big first-grade play, and my sister, sitting near the front of the audience, cried when the Roman Soldiers nailed me to the cross — I digress.
The school generally prohibited sneakers, but we could don them for gym class a few times a week and for the annual physical Competition Day. During Competition Day, we were pitted against each other in a veritable decathlon of events, such as sprinting, broad jumps, distance running, and chin-ups. Wearing the sneakers was a big deal, particularly for such deprived Catholic schoolers.
I remember lining up for the 100-yard dash wearing sneakers and, of all things, denim jeans — such a competitive amateur at that age. I should blame my parents, right? My mother was one of the starting judges, ensuring the athletes didn’t leave the blocks prematurely. The whistle blew, and I was off — jeans and my cheap blue sneakers.
Later that evening over dinner, my mother said, “I thought you won.” I most certainly did not win but was good for a solid bronze. Considering the jeans, I was ill-fitted and without the correct equipment.
Let’s say, for example, you are a men’s size 11 running shoe. You sit patiently on a quiet warehouse shelf, having no control over your future. A well-placed Internet ad or a gym referral can significantly impact the random walk that is your future. You have no control, and apart from a secondhand sale on eBay or Poshmark, you are bound to your future with no opportunity to elevate a class level or two.
If you’re lucky, the ultimate purchaser is Phillip. Phillip is a nice enough guy; he’s smart, reliable, but more to the point, Phillip is a soaking-wet 130 pounds. You will spend the bulk of your life (now extended) on his feet. You will traipse across cushy, plush, hypoallergenic carpeting with nary a bead of sweat or foot odor in your future.
You, my versatile friend, have hit the retail store lottery.
High School and College
Toward the end of high school, I stumbled upon an excellent training partner. His name was Bob. Bob was a former cross-country runner. We spoke at a party, and he expressed the desire to bulk up through weight training, which he knew nothing about. I recall inviting him to my garage to show him the ropes. Bob was a great pupil. At the time, we didn’t have access to the best equipment. We had my homemade bench and portable squat stands that my grandfather had welded together (car wheels and steel pipes).
In high school and beyond, the qualities of a great training partner are consistently showing up for each training session, working hard, and demonstrating the ability to drag your partner through the workout on days during which his internal motivation wanes. Showing up for training is of the utmost importance. If you haven’t experienced it firsthand, you would be shocked at how many would-be trainees drop the ball at Step 1 — they cannot commit or they cannot endure.
Bob worked at The Athletic Shoe Factory, a small retail chain that sold running shoes and other athletic wear. In the middle of a challenging squat day, I asked Bob if he could get me a deal on cross-training sneakers, which were all the rage (think Bo Jackson advertisements). Bob suggested that he could hook me up. He was well versed in athletic shoe quality and eventually decided to push me in a different direction. Bob intended to ensure I had the proper equipment.
Now, let’s say, you are that same men’s size 11 running shoe, and Chuck grabs you off the shelf at the local Walmart, pays cash at the counter, and tosses you in the back of his pickup truck, where you bounce around, awaiting additional information concerning the random event that has occurred and will dictate the future of your life.
Unfortunately for you, my athletic friend, in contrast to Phillip, Chuck is a road-grader of a man. Standing at six-foot-two and tipping the scales at a hefty 330 pounds, you are condemned to a life (albeit short) of abnormal wear and tear, as Chuck spends most of his day trekking across asphalt and rough concrete surfaces, grinding your face in the dirt.
The Wilson Pro Staffs
Circling back to my former training partner, Bob (of The Athletic Shoe Factory), and his training shoe recommendation. Bob had both recommended and delivered a pair of Wilson Pro Staff Tennis Shoes — these sweet shoes came with the Indy 500 Plus Goodyear Sole; now I don’t know how that sole stacks against the proverbial best, but I can tell you that I had these suckers in college, I graduated in 1992, and I still have them today! That is nearly 27 years of wear and tear. My oldest son is 21 years old — I have athletic shoes older than he is! Comparable to classic flat-soled Converse Chuck Taylors, the Pro Staffs were sturdy and capable for both training and running.
My previous column discussed the #75HARD program I am currently completing. It’s a mental and physical challenge devised to build mental toughness. The physical part of the program requires two workouts per day for a minimum of 45 minutes each (one must be outside).
Before the program, my training frequency had faded to only two or three training sessions per week. Ramping training sessions from two to fourteen a week, particularly considering the program’s stipulations, which require the addition of significant amounts of outdoor cardio and would necessitate the proper footwear — the appropriate equipment.
I outfitted myself with a new pair of running shoes to handle the new training rigors. It pains me to mention that after only 50 days, the new sneakers are effectively obliterated — the Texas roadwork and the incredible force generated by my massive quads has worn the soles almost entirely through.
I failed to heed the adage I had initially heard from Jim Wendler: Buy nice; don’t buy twice. That saying always brings elitefts equipment to mind.
For the record, I have been accused of excessive frugality, and the recent running shoe purchase is no exception. I have topped out at about $80 for a new pair of kicks. Going forward, I may have to raise the spending ceiling to get the required quality to ensure I have the proper equipment.
I see the excitement in my son’s eyes when he removes a new pair of running shoes from the tissue paper inside the otherwise nondescript packaging, and I know immediately I am cut from a different cloth.
Concerning footwear in general, neither the style nor the prospect of a lifted social status excites me. When it comes to running shoes, I seek pure functionality and significant durability. I need to re-outfit in short order, and all suggestions are welcome, as I, apparently, am a running shoe meat-grinder of sole-crushing wear and tear.