April 25, 2018

The New Shoes

When I took on the challenge of going for a month without shopping, I felt sure that something would break during the month and I would have to buy a replacement. I did not know what that might be, but I was certainly not thinking of running shoes.

I had too many running shoes. I knew it. Part of my original idea about doing less shopping was that I could stop buying clothing and shoes for a few years while I prepared (I hope) to tear down my house and replace it.

I had at least ten pairs of running shoes. If all else failed, I could pull out the one pair of brand new running shoes I was saving. I had worn them only to verify their fit at the festival where I had bought them. They were still in their original shoebox.

But I also knew that I was getting ready to run a marathon. That is on the weekend coming up, in fact. And I knew one does not run a marathon in just any shoes. They have to be running shoes that fit well and are relatively new. When a pair of shoes has 400 miles on it, I can still wear it for “short” distances such as five miles, but it would be an unacceptable risk to wear them for the five hours of a marathon. I would surely get blisters and possibly a worse foot injury than that.

My memory had not served me well. I did not have ten pairs of running shoes. I had already worn out and thrown away some of them. There were only eight left. Some, I knew, were too old for running, though still suitable for walking. Some were no good for longer distances. Unfortunately, as I tried the others one by one, all had problems in one place or another.

That left the new shoes. I wasn’t entirely happy with the design, but they would stand up through a marathon.

Except that they wouldn’t. After just six runs totaling 63 miles in the new shoes, I noticed that they were coming unglued. A running shoe is made of about five discrete layers, and in these shoes, all the layers were separating from each other. I had never seen anything like it before.

How many years had I been keeping the new shoes in their box, saving them for this occasion? I couldn’t remember. Too many, apparently. I had stored them long enough that the adhesive had lost much of its elasticity.

I couldn’t realistically repair them. I have glue that will reattach a running shoe if it is coming loose in just one spot, but in these shoes, every layer was separating from the next. Even if I reglued them as well as I could, they would loosen somewhere else. They could literally fall apart with less than ten miles’ warning.

So off I went to the big shoe store in town to buy new shoes to run a marathon in.

This wasn’t the way I had planned the marathon. I have never run a marathon or even a half marathon in new shoes. It doesn’t seem like the cautious way to audition a new pair of shoes. But this time, I have no choice. Luckily, experts say not to worry. If you run a quarter mile in your new shoes, they say, that’s a long enough trial to bring any manufacturing defects to the surface. I will have to trust that they are right.

This also wasn’t the way I had planned my no-shopping month. It goes to show how hard it is to predict what will break. It is the nature of things breaking down that they do so at unpredictable times.

I hadn’t bought new running shoes in at least four years, and in that time, materials and designs had changed more than in the previous thirty. I didn’t quite know what I was looking at. The new running shoes weigh a third less. They have no visible seams, new fabrics, no leather at all. The designs don’t look as complicated. The styles have changed just as much as the industrial designs. The garish colors of the last half century are out of style. The best shoes I could find were almost solid black. What will it be like to run a long distance in shoes like these?

Of course, I’ll find out. About two hours into the marathon, I’ll be able to answer that question.

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