Dead Running Shoes
J.D. Denton; reprinted with permission of RRCA and Footnotes
Maybe its true that only death and taxes are inevitable. That is, unless youre a runner. Then its inevitable that you pay taxes, you die, and, in between, you buy new running shoes.
Yes, someday after, of course, youve given all your unfair share to the public trust youll wear out and die, just like a blown rubber outsole. But before you go, youll take dozens, maybe hundreds, of pairs of running shoes with you. Nobody gets out of this world alive with an unredeemed qualifying time for Boston or with a clean pair of Air Eternity.
Running shoes die so that we may live and run. Yeah, I know, its hard to imagine on the day you buy a new pair that they will eventually wither, collapse, and pass on to that great landfill in the sky. For that kind of money not to mention the time invested in trying to make sense of the latest shoe buyers guide a bit of shoe immortality should be part of the deal.
They come out of the box so clean, powerful, and fresh. The soft synthetic suede trim is so supple and smooth, the resilient outsoles so black and beautiful. They embrace your feet with such plush, loving strength as you tighten the bright white laces for the first time.
Your shoes are new, your socks are dry, and the road awaits. All is right with the world.
The farthest thought from your mind is that inescapable day, several hundred miles from now, when these seemingly immortal shoes will die. Its a slow but steady process, as each delightful stride chips away a bit of shoe integrity.
You can even hasten the inevitable by wearing the shoes for things other than running, like hiking, working in a restaurant kitchen, or shudder step aerobics. The linear nature of running is something these shoes understand well, but the side-to-side and pivoting motions of lateral sports will confuse and kill them very quickly.
Even if you save them exclusively for running, your treasured shoes will eventually break down and die a slow, miserable, wretched death. The outsole will grow smooth and shallow, the midsole will wrinkle and deform, and those soft synthetic suede stabilizer straps will stiffen and crack. Dead shoes look very much the part.
But if the appearance of the shoes doesnt provide enough clues, your body may be the first harbinger of shoe death. Speed work and longer runs will require more recovery, or the first few steps out of bed each day will be a limping dance of sharp pain. Ultimately those final miles will be filled with screaming protests from every tendon, ligament, and muscle located south of your singlet.
Oh yeah, okay, go ahead and try the heroic measures routine. Attempt bypass surgery with a pair of new insoles. Theyre soft, they have a big arch support, and they slip right in to replace that gnarly piece of foam that, after 600 sweaty miles, breeds an unimaginable assortment of aggressive foot cooties.
Nice try. What you end up with is a live insole inside a very dead pair of shoes like pumping a tank of premium gasoline into a car with no spark plugs. Disconnect the life support, and call the coroner. Its time for the last rites.
So theyre gone. Even runners with a keen talent for denial redundancy mine must eventually come to terms with the passing of a beloved pair of shoes. And assuming the Visa credit limit cooperates, the mourning period can be shortened with a new pair.
And the oldies may be dead, but not completely out. While their running days are over, there are likely some casual walking days left or for ancient boomers, ambling days. Old racehorses may be put out to pasture, but old running shoes can always go on vacation.
And of course theres the garden. In their heyday you danced all over the roads and bike paths to avoid getting a tiny spot of mud on those shoes, but theres now no hesitancy in wading through a rice paddy. Gardening is a great second sport for runners, if only to milk every dime of wear out of three-digit-priced shoes.
There are also other runners. Shoes that are dead for your maybe-not-so-efficient biomechanics may still hold life for a runner with less demanding needs. Ask a high school track coach if there are any kids on the team running in beat-up basketball shoes because the family budget cant handle any better.
If the answer is yes, spend a few bucks on a new pair of insoles the old ones fit your feet and make a donation to the future of the sport. Running shoes that are dead for you may still be very much alive for the lighter, more efficient runner who has none.
Oh, and then there are always many nonrunners who just need shoes any shoes. Ive donated dozens of pairs to veterans groups, drug rehab clinics, and homeless shelters. To rework an old proverb: You can complain about your dead running shoes until you meet someone with cold, bare feet.
But some running shoes are, admittedly, very inappropriate for human re-consumption after youre finished with them. Clues might include your bare heel striking the ground through a shredded midsole and outsole. Chuckle if you must. Ive seen it.
Nike, innovating enterprise that it is, has found a use for deader-than-dead shoes. They grind them up to make new running shoe outsoles called Nike Regrind. This material is now used on all Nike performance trainers.
But before you call the company for the address to send your EVA-nylon carcasses, be advised that Nike has a plentiful supply from defective shoes returned by dealers and by-products from the making of new shoes.
Their environmentally friendly efforts, however, should be recognized. Maybe one day a concerned runner with a Ph.D. in an appropriate scientific field will be inspired to figure out a way to recycle all old running shoes. If we can do it with an empty Pepsi bottle, it seems like we should be able to do it with a pair of dead GRID Shadows.
Until that time when disposing of old shoes will reduce the price of new ones, when the new ones will stay that way even longer, and yes, when taxes really are lowered keep running.
Never stop killing off those shoes, and continue that eternal search for even better new ones. Its a sacred process, one that keeps you fit, healthy, and happy.
And, of course, it keeps people like me from having to go out and find a real job.
J.D. Denton, a nationally known running shoe expert and writer, spends most of his time replacing dead shoes in his Fleet Feet Sports running store in Davis, CA. His e-mail address is JDShoeguy@aol.com.
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