Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 19 Mar 1999 09:27:34 -0500

Footwear Hall of Fame

(from RC 282)

We runners form a strong attachment to our shoes. Footwear goes beyond being pieces of equipment to become human-like friends.

This comes as no surprise when you realize that a runner spends more one-on-two time with shoes than with anyone outside the family.

My shoes and I run around together four or more hours a week for about half a year per pair. (I extend their life by alternating three different pairs, wearing each for a week at a time before give it a two-week rest.) As with any longtime companion, the shoes sometimes irritate me or poop out on me.

But the best of them protect and support me. I'll never forgot those that treated me the best. They make up my Footwear Hall of Fame.

This Hall honors the shoes that traveled with me through the most trouble-free running. They're the models I bought again and again, until something better replaced them or they left the marketplace.

Ten shoes stand out. I list them here from oldest to youngest. None remains in circulation.

This isn't to say that ancient models are better than modern ones. I can't compare a 1961 shoe with a 1999, any more than you could say Roger Maris was or wasn't a better hitter than Mark McGwire. Each performed under the conditions and against the competition of its own era.

The Hall of Famers:

1. New Balance Road Runner (first worn in 1961). I mail-ordered these ripple-soled, white-and-red leather shoes from an ad on the back page of Long Distance Log. They helped me log my first long-distance race, the National 30-K. And, camouflaged black, they sneaked out with me at night for AWOL runs during Army basic training.

2. Tiger Marathon (1967). These also came by mail, this time from Jeff Johnson at Blue Ribbon Sports. White canvas uppers preceded blue nylon. The former took me to my best one-hour run on the track, the latter to my longest run ever and second-fastest marathon.

3. Tiger Boston (1969). A cushy midsole joined the basic Marathon design in the shoe that Jeff Johnson again supplied. This was the shoe of my last sub-three-hour marathon. I didn't abandon the Boston until a broken-down foot required orthotics that wouldn't fit inside the shoe.

4. Tiger Jayhawk (1974). The company had separated from Blue Ribbon Sports, which now produced Nikes. In a move to spiff up its models, Tiger introduced the gleaming yellow Jayhawk. I wore it despite the bright color, because the ride was so smooth and comfortable. This shoe graces the cover of my book, Jog Run Race.

5. New Balance 305 (1976). NB now had new owners and a new look. Gone were the funky old saddle shoes. The 305s were a bland dark-blue-on-lighter blue. I have a picture with them on my feet during the hottest Boston Marathon, the "Run for the Hoses" of 1976.

6. Brooks Vantage (1977). This firm emerged as the hot new player of the Boom years. The success didn't impress me as much as the Varus Wedge did. The controversial canting of the heel hurt some runners, but not me. It allowed me to escape orthotics for the first time in five years.

7. Brooks RT-1 (1978). The "RT" stands for racing-training, meaning an all-purpose shoe. Also known as the "John Walker" in honor of the New Zealand miler, this model let me do my last six-minute-paced racing. Quality control was lacking, though, and an ill-made final pair led to a long-lasting injury.

8. Converse Lydiard (1985). Legendary New Zealander Arthur Lydiard designed this shoe for the American company, where Jim Howell was my supplier of the shoe that led me back to full health and an end to my nine-year marathon "retirement."

9. Asics Saga (1991). This was my ideal model of recent years -- light, well-cushioned, flexible -- and cheap at less than $50 a pair. It took me through eight marathons before disappearing from stores and catalogs.

10. Asics Run I (1997). The slightly less satisfactory replacement to the Saga. Alas, it too has now passed away. I'm left looking for a new Hall of Famer, which I trust will appear as needed, as it always has before.


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