JUST RUN WITH IT!

If the shoe fits…

(part one of a two-part series on footwear)

Sneakers is an American word used to describe soft rubber-soled athletic shoes. They have been around since the mid to late 1800s and go by many names. In England, they are referred to as trainers or joggers. Other names include: Tennis shoes, running shoes, runners, track shoes, sports shoes, gym shoes, kicks, and a plethora of other slang terms relating to usage, style, or manufacturers. Sneakers are so ubiquitous that they have crossed the divide from athletic usage to everyday casual footwear, and  the dreaded fashion sneaker.     

Just as people come in all shapes and sizes, so do sneakers. Just as all people are not runners, all sneakers are not running shoes. You should NOT be running in fashion sneakers. So if you’re going out for a run (an ACTUAL run, not a metaphorical one), or you’re gearing up for a race,  leave the Chuck Taylors and Vans® at home.

“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.”

Henry Ford

It’s probably easier to pick out a car than it is to pick out running shoes. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, not all sneakers are running shoes, but all running shoes are sneakers, so for the remainder of this article, when the words sneaker or shoe appears, it is specifically referring to running shoes.

Just as there are many auto manufacturers, makes, models, and colors, the same holds true for sneakers. The list that follows is by no means exhaustive, but it was exhausting to compile.  (If I missed any popular ones, let me know in the comments)

Adidas.  Allbirds. Altra.  APL.  ASICS.  Brooks. FILA.  HOKA. Inov-8. Karhu. La Sportiva. Mizuno. Merrill. New Balance. Newton Running . Nike.  Puma. Reebok. Salomon. Saucony . Sketchers. Under Armor. Veja. VJ Shoes . Xero Shoes.

There are high end brands, and low end ones.  A sneaker does not have to cost an arm and a leg to be good, and sometimes the extra bucks are just paying for the company logo.

Brand loyalty will lock you into a particular company with shoes faster than you can say ‘RUNNERS, READY’. And sometimes, you will have a very limited color choice in that style. You may have a strong desire to own a particular brand, only to discover that they don’t fit your feet properly. Running is a very individual sport and everyone’s foot is different. Small, large, narrow, or wide all play their part as to what shoe is best for your individual foot. Just because your BFF running partner wears the latest from Saucony, doesn’t mean that they make it in your size.

When it comes to buying sneakers, you really have to do your homework, and you can’t buy cut-rate. Stick to well known brands and get your shoes fitted at a shoe store, one where they specialize in running shoes like Fleet Feet does.

Most quality running shoes will set you back about $150. Do NOT go to a place like a department store and buy  $20 sneakers. You get what you pay for. Before I actually committed to becoming a runner, I didn’t know any better. When you’re a newbie, sneakers are sneakers. I purchased a pair of no name running shoes in 2018 which I barely ever wore before I got my Nikes.  I was on vacation August 24th 2019 and I had ONLY the ‘no-names’ with me, so I decided one morning to go for a run on the boardwalk in Ocean City MD. This happened:

Yep. I ran so fast that my sole left my body.

So two lessons learned that day:

  • NEVER EVER EVER buy cheap no-name, or counterfeit running shoes.
  • ALWAYS have two to three pairs of running shoes in rotation, and a spare pair with you in your gym bag.

When  you do get around to shopping for your shoes, don’t fret about the color or obsess over a brand and style.      

There are only two real considerations you should be concerned with.

  1. What surface are you running on? Road, or trail. Some brands have both types, others specialize, but you need trail shoes for trails, and road shoes for roads. They are made different for a very good reason!
  2. How do they feel on your feet. It doesn’t matter if they’re the prettiest pink shoes you’ve ever seen, and all the girls in track have them. It doesn’t matter if your hero who took the Gold at the Olympics wears them. If they don’t fit, and they hurt YOUR feet, they’re worthless. And when you do go to buy shoes, always wear the same type of socks that you usually wear when you run, because you want these shoes to fit perfectly when you hit the road. Never wear brand new shoes for a race, or a long run. It takes five to ten miles to break-in new sneakers so take them out for two or three 5K training runs before you race with them.

BE PREPARED to spend about $150. You might get lucky and catch a sale, or a closeout on last year’s model, but don’t get your hopes up.

BUT EVERYONE WEARS THEM
Look , I understand that you may love your special brand, and that’s wonderful. My road race sneakers are my Nike Initiator running shoes, and for trails I don my  Inov-8 X-Talon 200 trail shoes.  I always wear MudGear brand socks.

The reality is, when it comes to sneakers, most Olympic runners wear Nike. Does it mean you should wear Nike? Not at all. I wear these particular shoes because I have an odd size foot, and finding shoes that fit me is a challenge.  If you find a brand that appeals to you, run with it! The only wrong running shoes are cheaply made no-names. If that’s ALL you can really afford, run with it. It’s better to run with inexpensive (but inferior) shoes than to not run at all. Just buy the sneakers you can afford without breaking your budget.

As for why elite runners chose Nike more than any other brand, the answer is simple. Nike is courting these athletes and seeking endorsements, while the athletes in turn are looking for sponsorships to pay for their training costs. For professional athletes and corporations, it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Plus if everyone is wearing the exact same shoe at the Olympics, They’re all competing on a level playing field.  The moment  someone breaks the trend for something ‘new’, everyone cries foul!

The  Nike ‘Alphafly’ prototype shoes worn by Eliud Kipchoge when he became the first athlete to run a marathon in under two hours in October 2019 have now been banned.

In 2019, 31 of the 36 podium positions in the six world marathon majors were won by elite athletes wearing Nike Vaporfly, as reported by the Guardian.

According to Runnersworld, at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials, 404 of the 565 finishers wore Nikes.

Vaporflys have not been banned, but Nike must adhere to strict new guidelines. Critics state that these shoes which have thick, foam soles and carbon-fibre plates to improve speed give the wearers an unfair advantage during competition, but again, if all the athletes wear them no one can complain.

As of this writing, a pair of men’s  Nike Vaporflys cost about $425 depending on size and style. No, I’m not planning on buying a pair. I would never spend THAT MUCH on a pair of running shoes, plus Amazon doesn’t have them in my size.  

All good things must end
Remember the car buying analogy I made at the beginning? Just as car manufactures retire a certain style and replace it with a new model, the same applies to sneakers. The new model offered by your favorite brand might not fit the same or feel as comfortable as the old style of the same shoe. I’ve heard many a runner moan over the changes made to a specific shoe that they felt was ‘perfect’. The reason manufactures do this  is planned obsolescence.  The shoe must wear out after so much usage, and styles get changed and updated to keep the customers coming back to try the latest model.  If a particular brand and model feel AMAZING, buy two or three extra pairs and stockpile them as soon as possible. I am down to my last brand new pair of Nike Initiator running shoes, and I my ONLY Inov-8 X-Talon 200 trail shoes.

These are no longer in production, and as soon as they wear out, I’m going to have to find new sneakers that make my feel ‘happy’.

Running shoes last about 300 to 500 miles depending on the runner’s weight and running style.  If you have an uneven gait, and you get edge wear, or on the heal, your sneakers will not last as long.  Uneven sole wear will kill your shoes.

Also the more you weigh, the heavier you pound the pavement. A 250lb male will wear out his shoes faster than a 99lb female even if they both run identical distances on the same trails with the same frequency.  It’s not ‘fat shaming’, it’s science. Just another reason why it’s tough to be a Clydesdale. (But Clydesdales ARE tough!)

Lastly clean your sneakers regularly, spraying the interiors with a sneaker spray to kill bacteria and mold which can form in dark, damp areas of your shoe.

If you have additional running tips and tricks, please leave a comment. If you are local to me, you can find me at these upcoming races:

March 2021

Ugly Mudder 10k Trail Race March 7 @ 10:00 am Reading PA

Shiver by the River 10K March 14 @ 10:00 am Muhlenberg, PA

April 2021

Shiver by the River 10K April 11 @ 10:00 am Muhlenberg, PA

Third Thirsty Thursday   5K Race Series – Race 1/7 April 15 @7:00 pm Reading PA

April Foolish 10 Hour Endurance Trail Run April 18 @ 9:00 am – 7:00 pm Elverson, PA 19520

Be sure to check back in two weeks for part two of this series on running shoes, The Bare Facts.

As always, I wish you success and happiness!

SNOW IS A ‘FOUR-LETTER’ WORD!

Are you running in a winter wonderland?

Idiomatically a four-letter word is a swearword, considered rude and unacceptable in certain contexts.

Today is February 14th 2021 and its 23°F (-5°C) here in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. I was ‘supposed’ to be running a 10K race today, but it was postponed until the 28th due to safety concerns. The recent heavy snowfall has left many city streets narrowed down to single car widths with few accesses from the curb to the sidewalk due to the mounds of snow. Even where streets and sidewalks are cleared, there are still patches of snow and ice. So road races are not very safe under the present conditions.

Last Sunday, I drove 27 miles in a blizzard to run 11K (6.75 miles) up and down a snow covered mountain.  Mount Penn is a small mountain in Berks County  where Pretzel City Sports holds several trail races during the year. I ran up this mountain last year for the first time for the UGLY MUDDER 13K back on Feb 23rd 2020. It was warmer then, and there was no snow. This time the mountain was covered with two feet (66cm) of snow, it was still snowing, and it was much colder. This was my first snow-trail run, the CHILLY CHEEKS 11K.

193 runners showed up for the race that day.  

Whenever I do trail runs, I swap out my Nike Initiator running shoes for my  Inov-8 X-Talon 200 trail shoes. 

I always wear Mud Gear brand socks. I’ve run in cold weather, but I have never run in snow before, so I had no idea how the Inov-8s would perform. The aggressive cleats built into the sole of the shoe worked great on mud and dirt, and ‘should’ work as well on snow and soft ice. They also meant that I could not wear STABILicers ,YakTrax or any other brand of ice spikes. I briefly toyed with the idea of trying out a pair of electric socks to keep my feet warm, but opted instead to wear two pairs of socks.

While the Inov-8 X-Talons 200s did indeed work, the double socks failed to keep my toes warm. I SHOULD have purchased toe warmers, but as with doing anything the first time, you only discover these things after the fact.

Several of my fellow runners also used trek poles, a set of folding walking sticks that resemble ski poles and can help with navigating tough terrain. Unfortunately I have zero experience using these, so I had to rely on grabbing trees as I made my way up or down steep climbs. More than once, I chose to slide down the icy landscape feet first in the seated position like a sledder without a sled.

For half of the trek, I fell in with a group of 3 other runners led by Barry Elder.

We were the last group of runners on the mountain, and three of us were Clydesdales. People come in all sizes and shapes, and there is nothing wrong with being a Clydesdale. We may not be as fast as ‘the skinnies’ , but it takes a lot more physical effort for larger runners to maintain that pace. At about mile three, I could no longer keep pace with Barry, and stepped to the side and let Erin and Vanessa pass me while I took a breather.  I almost managed to catch back up to the group twice, but eventually I lost sight of them and was alone on the mountain.

Once again, I had come to a new challenge, only to discover that I had way underestimated the difficulty level. CHILLY CHEEKS is the toughest trail course Pretzel City Sports has developed. When you run with a buddy, you motivate one another to keep pace. Iron sharpens iron! Alone, you begin to play mind games with yourself as you begin to experience mounting levels of self doubt. If you’ve done something before, you know you can do it again, but the first time really tests your metal.

Just as I had hit the point of giving up, one of Pretzel City’s employees showed up.

Jules’ job that day was to remove the trail markers at the conclusion of the race. For the last half of the race, she managed to keep me motivated to press on and not give up. If she had not shown up when she did, I would probably still be up on Mount Penn sitting in the snow like a frozen Buddha. My quads were beginning to cramp from the effort, I was out of water, and my toes were numb from the cold. I was also sweating profusely since I had worn several layers but couldn’t really remove them because I had no place to stash them.

Now DFL is not a palatable position for me, I hate being last. Yes, I know ‘someone’ has to be last, but I’d rather that someone not be me.  It’s a matter of personal pride. Of course DFL is much better than DNF, or DID NOT FINISH. This was only the second time I’ve ever come in last, the first was my 1st ever trail run, The Chobert Challenge 15K in 2019. That was in the summer,  and here I was in mid-winter forcing myself to dig deep, being prodded onward by Jules as she keep telling me “you’ve got this, you’re almost there!”

And after 3:34 minutes, I did crawl up the final hill to the finish line, to cheers of Helene Horn calling me a rockstar, saying that she’s proud of me, and telling me I’m awesome!

The moral of the story? If you don’t push yourself to the limit, you will never know how far you could go. Many of your limitations exist only in your mind, and you will never have a positive life if you have a negative mind. So instead of saying ‘I can’t’ TRY, and if you struggle, don’t quit! There are people watching you and rooting for you that you are unaware of, and your accomplishments fuel their hopes, dreams and aspirations. No one wants to emulate a loser, so be a winner! If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for THEM. Like Sir Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through Hell, KEEP GOING!”

If you have additional cold weather running tips and tricks, please leave a comment. If you are local to me, you can find me at these upcoming races:

February 2021

Shiver by the River 10K February 28 @ 10:00 am Muhlenberg, PA

Arctic Blast 5K February 20 @ 10:00 am  Reading, PA (Relocated to Trooper Thorn’s)

March 2021

Ugly Mudder 10k Trail Race March 7 @ 10:00 am Reading PA

Shiver by the River 10K March 14 @ 10:00 am Muhlenberg, PA

As always, I wish you success and happiness!