Recently, there were two articles that I found rather amusing, for different reasons.
No, no worries. They’re about running. I’m not going to ask you to sit through some lecture about time and space and the Hadza culture or whatever.
The first article was for the Wall Street Journal written by a guy who found the whole running, you know, thing to be at once absurd and somehow offensive. When I first read it, I thought it was a humor piece, and found myself laughing out loud. In a nutshell, he finds the pursuit of running and all its attendant benefits to be a selfish endeavor, and he wants us to know that. Many of his dislikes about runners and running really end up being snarky bits of nit-picking, so the whole thing comes across as a poorly written, curmudgeony mumble-grumble “You kids get off my lawn!”
Perhaps what I found even more entertaining were the instant and reactive replies, in open letter form, on internet forums and in online publications. People were piiiiiiiissssed! And why not? They took offense at their beloved sport/activity being teased by some guy who may or may not still live in his mother’s basement. Of course it got a bit out of hand, with ad hominem attacks and overly detailed deconstructions of his arguments; people bringing up his politics and all sorts of other personal characteristics. So that part was definitely not cool. But I get it.
I chose to reduce his diatribe to a poorly executed comedy sketch. It made the whole thing more palatable I guess. I mean, c’mon, how many of you have noticed that after a long run, we sit around the table at some coffee shop or restaurant, refueling with weapons grade carbohydrates and rehash—in real time—the last two hours we spent together on the roads, with notations referencing heart rate, training zones, our shoe offsets, our pace per mile or whatever—race pace percentages, for crying out loud? If we could step away from our own conversations for a bit and observe through objective eyes, we’re pretty funny to the outside world. And I’m cool with that.
The second article I found interesting was a more recent piece written by Peter Vigneron for Outside Magazine called Your Running Shoes Don’t Matter.
While this one didn’t get the broad traction that the WSJ piece got, the chat groups and shoe geek forums got pretty lit up. Vigneron references studies that, in his interpretation, when combined make clear the devalued importance of running shoes. Again, some people got to calling Vigneron names they really shouldn’t have called him, and referenced his ignorance in, well, everything. People got wound up. Over shoes. And that got me to thinking.
I’ll be the first to admit that I love me some running shoes. Since the late ‘70’s I have. And there was a time when I was absolutely convinced that each and every one of us had, somewhere out there, the perfect shoe. But now I’m not so sure. I’m not going to side with Vigneron, because I don’t necessarily agree and because I work in a, you know, running store, but I’ll venture that we probably place too much importance on our running footwear, at least in relation to all the other components of a healthy running practice.
It’s a spectrum thing, if you know what I mean. What I mean is that for some people, for whatever reason, there is going to be a greater need to get the shoe/orthotic thing just right. Maybe they have a congenital mechanical dysfunction or something, I don’t know. But they’re going to need things to be just so in order for them to get in their daily dose of miles on the path to happiness. I’ve known one woman now for several years who, when she runs, looks almost like she just took a shotgun blast from close range, even with her orthotics in. And if she doesn’t wear them, she simply is in too much discomfort to make the run worthwhile, by any stretch of the imagination. But she wears them so she can continue to run, and she runs with much happiness and contentment.
And then there are those who can put on just about any pair of shoes and hit the roads, tracks and trails and have nary a worry about injury. And I loathe them.
I’ve seen a guy in my neighborhood at least a couple times a week for a couple years now, rolling down the sidewalk—always on the sidewalk (!)—in a pair of shoes that is so broken down and destroyed that they would make most shoe geeks weep openly, in public. And this guy’s arches are so collapsed, he’s so overpronated, that the first time I saw him, I wanted to jump out of my car and stop him from doing himself any more obvious damage. And these shoes he wears, and has been wearing since I first saw him, are not shoes that one might find in a running specialty shop, even on clearance. The most technical component on them is probably the glue that holds the upper to the midsole. And when I say he’s rolling down the sidewalk, I mean that there is some serious hauling of the ass. He’s not messing around. So clearly, he’s good to go in just about anything.
But the thing that does get me, and I’m sure we all know someone like this, is the person who has no problem buying the latest, greatest, newest shoe to come out, because they are always looking for something to cure their ailments, but they won’t do their strength work, they won’t pay attention to recovery, they eat like crap; they don’t take care of themselves outside of the daily run, but they want the shoes to do just that. And that’s where I’ll go on record as saying that your running shoes don’t matter. They don’t matter as much as you do. And they’re probably not going to fix your problems—or cause them, for that matter. But you still need them and they still matter.