Out with the old, in with the (sort of) new (shoes)

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So ends another year of running with the inevitable highs and lows. A first London Marathon done and dusted, five half marathons, a worsening addiction to the instantly forgotten horror of 5Ks (still don’t enjoy them but somehow managed to do 35. Thanks, parkrun), two yes TWO spells in post-race first aid tents, and a hip injury (more of that later).

My running from May onwards was mainly done in what turned out to be a pair of miracle shoes, sold to me by a crocked professional ice-hockey player while on a shopping expedition to reward myself for completing the marathon in April.

The 4 months leading up to the marathon were plagued with an injury, which at times meant having to hobble my way through the first couple of miles of every run until the pain at various points around my left hip had been numbed away. I’d made several visits to an osteopath who tutted and shook her head but managed to patch me up and get me to the start line. I ran the 26.2 miles (in fact my Garmin said it was more than 27 miles) but it hurt and I wondered whether London might be my running swansong. Until, like a male Cinderella, I tried on those shoes.

I’d seen people wearing On running shoes before, and quietly scoffed at them thinking they were the runner equivalent of the kind of people who bought Sinclair C5 cars, all gimmick and no substance. However, I took a punt on them, sticking with my usual running rule of avoiding any hint of brand loyalty, impressed by the claims of “Swiss Engineering” and sceptical about the little cloud embossed “pillows” on the soles that were expected to cushion my future rides (hip willing).

The first few runs were done alone, in the dark, fearful that fellow runners might point and laugh at my new clown shoes, especially as the sky and mandarin colour combination screamed “look at me!”.

Ignorant of the claims that they provide a cushioned mid-foot landing with a barefoot toe-off (or something), the main thing I noticed was the immediate absence of hip pain. I could just go running again, without the grimacing. Later on I noticed they were light, smooth and people, even non-runners, commented on their good looks. And 450 miles later, with no injuries, I think my feet and On Cloudsurfers are an item.

Like all relationships, a bit of compromise and tolerance is sometimes required. My Cloudsurfers have a few endearing foibles:

1. Laces that don’t “stick” – this seems to be a problem with most running shoes. You lace them up and then they come undone again. Here are another pair you have to double knot to avoid mid-race flappy lace trauma.

2. Those “pillows” don’t work well with car pedals – I now avoid driving in Cloudsurfers as the pillows are like little hooks which cling onto your foot pedals with road chaos potentially ensuing.

3. Not sure how safe they are in the rain or ice – they make a a reassuring squelching noise as you hit and leave the pavement, and although I haven’t ended up face down on the sidewalk yet, in wet conditions I don’t get the impression they’re as grippy as they can be when presented with an accelerator pedal.

Overall the foibles are more like quibbles. Something’s helping me to continue to run slightly faster the older I get and as it’s certainly not careful nutrition and cross-training I suspect my footwear might have played its part. They also still look pristine, even after exposing them to most thee of winter weather.

A long term relationship with a brand of a shoe is a novelty to me, having been around the block with pretty much all the contenders over the past few years. However I’m now so monogamous that when it was time to retire the sky/mandarin ones, for the first time ever, I simply had to go online and order another pair (although in a slightly more sober black and lime colour way as variety is the spice of life) without worrying about size or gait.

So 2014, turned out to be the year when I tried a pair of running shoes so good I bought them twice.

Alternative Running Role Models #2 – Willy the Wimp

imageI’ve probably covered a few thousand miles since I started running around 2008. However, I reckon if I took the number of miles and doubled it, that would be the approximate number of children’s books I’ve read since becoming a parent in 1999. I’m probably a bit out of touch now, but I reckon I could get quite a high score on Mastermind with the specialist subject of “Children’s Picture Books, 2000-2010”. There’s one character in all of those books which I think left a lasting influence on me, helping me to realise that pretty much anybody can become a runner and that character isWilly the Wimp

Willy is a chimp who happens to be a runner. Not a sprinter or a marathoner, but someone who relaxes by lacing up his trainers and running around his local streets. I’ve only recently noticed that Willy’s serious enough about running to get some gait analysis and invest in a pair of New Balance shoes. However it’s hard to tell from the illustrations whether they’re neutral, stability or motion control.

Unfortunately Willy lives in a neighbourhood where his runs are often interrupted by a gang of “suburban gorillas”. It’s tempting to think that he goes on to order some weights and take up body-building to help him to stand up to the tyranny of the Suburban Gorilla Gang. Us runners will know better – Willy’s simply got to the stage as a runner where he finally heeds the advice that to make the leap to the next level, he needs to build his upper-body and strengthen his core. After some serious pumping of iron at home, Willy emerges a better runner. Author Anthony Browne realised that the subsequent smashing of Personal Bests wouldn’t really impress his target audience so he added a nice sub-plot where his bulked-up body sends the Suburban Gorilla Gang packing in fear.

If you haven’t read any Anthony Browne books then what have you been playing at? The illustrations are often surreal with little visual puns that will reveal something new every time you look at them (and if you’re a parent or spend a time with young children, you might have to revisit the same book a few hundred times). If you become a fan of Willy he goes on to have some other adventures as a Wizard, a Champ and with his friend Hugh. Personally I’m still (maybe misguidedly) hoping “Willy Makes the Transition to Barefoot” will be published soon.

Willy the Wimp, New Balance shod suburban runner with an increasingly stable core, we salute you.

Shoe Review?

ImageLast night saw Chapter 3 of the long, slow return to my hard fought status as a runner. Peter Pfitzinger told me to walk 3 minutes then run 7 minutes and repeat times three, so that’s exactly what I did.

The previous Saturday I’d treated myself to 45 minutes or so of expert gait analysis at Sweatshop and walked away with a pair of Brooks Ghost 5s. I’m a fickle shopper when it comes to shoes having flirted with no less than five brands since starting running 4 years ago. On Saturday I had the added bonus of being told I needed neutral shoes rather than the previous motion-control/stability “diagnosis”. It was something I’d long suspected ever since being told I had “the highest arches I’ve ever seen on a man” at a previous fitting.

This meant a previously out-of-bounds part of the running shop suddenly opened up to me. I tried a few brands and models and eventually plumped for the Brooks. I have to admit they felt good on the treadmill but might have been more swayed by the fact they were green and that I’d never “gone Brooks” before.

The shoes had been giving off their “come hither” vibes from their box ever since, but I was still in two minds over whether Sunday’s trudge through the cold mud had given Mr Stress Fracture the hump, so was nervous about trying a third run session. It was a bit like having a new car parked outside but needing to pass my test before being allowed to use it. Thursday evening presented me with a spare half hour with nobody in the house so I slipped them on and sloped off onto the streets.

What struck me as I walked and then ran around the block was how professional shoe reviewers managed to come up with so much detail about the “ride” that various shoes offer them. My views on the Ghosts were that they felt “good”. If Runner’s World were paying me by the word I might go on to say”Not clumpy but quite plush. Light as well”. And the green hue looked kind of fetching, although I might need to accessorise a bit more if I ever get fast enough to strut my stuff in the day time and fancy getting a nick name like “Green Flash”.

My shin held up nicely too!