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

Fri, 26 Nov 1999 09:18:11 -0500

Shoe Abuse

Is this any way to treat a new pair of shoes, which I claim to embrace as an object of affection? Fresh out of the box, before I'd run a step in them, I gutted their original insoles.

These shoes escaped with less abuse than the typical pair. Usually I follow the gutting with cutting by taking a razor to the seams that bind my forefeet too tightly, but this was a rare pair offering enough room for my duck-like quadruple-E's.

Abusing shoes is a longstanding practice of mine. I don't recall any brand or model ever going onto my feet without needing alterations. I know without running in it where the shoe will cause trouble, and take corrective action before it does.

The surgery is less severe than it once was. I've been known to slice across the width of the sole to increase forefoot flexibility... put heels to a grinder to decrease their flare... take a hole-punch to the toe box to increase ventilation.

I've never cut away the upper at the front, exposing my toes to the breeze as ultrarunners do. This was the only way that Paul Reese (author of three books on multi-day running) could make room for his swelling feet while crossing the United States. I'd probably do the same if I ever ran to such lengths.

As is, the surgery I perform is rather minor compared to past practices. But it's still necessary if my feet are to stay happy in direct contact with the shoes, without any socks intervening.

Let's follow the trail of my latest pair, from store to road. I've given up looking for the elusive Perfect Shoe, but I keep searching for a better one.

Each new pair props up my hopes, then more often than not dashes them. This happened recently with a model that's best left unnamed here.

It started life on the road -- after the customary alterations -- with great promise. But it soon left me with a groin-hip problem that eased only after I retired these shoes.

This left me one pair short in my usual three-shoe rotation. I went shopping at my favorite discount sports store, which specializes in closeout and unpopular models.

There I found a nearly obsolete Asics model. It met my all of my requirements except one.

This Asics is cushy, flexible and fairly light. I paid more than my normal $60 limit, then a few days later groaned when it on sale for $39.95.

Paying too much wasn't the reason I abused the shoe. Even the most promising shoes need some whipping into shape.

This pair's design avoided the too-tight strapping design of the forefoot that's nearly standard in running shoes. But this shoe carried two features that are becoming almost standard: round laces that don't stay tied as well as the flat ones, and glued-down insoles that are winning out again over the removable type.

The first change was easy. I yanked out the round laces and replaced them with a grungy old flat pair.

Surgery on the insoles was more difficult. I first attacked them with pliers, then followed with a screwdriver to gouge out the rubber left inside so my orthotics would lie flat. Finally, in went a used insole over the orthotics.

The first runs weren't perfect. But these shoes would have abused me much more if I hadn't worked them over first.


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