Monday, 14 November 2011

The disastrous hyper-evolution of running shoes

When I bought my first pair of running shoes, it was a complete revelation. Never had a pair of shoes fitted better. Ever. Never had I spent so much time carefully choosing what I would put on my feet. They were miraculous. My knees felt bouncier, my ankles felt stronger, there was no pain anywhere. It was magnificent.

But it didn’t last. I got them in December 2008, with a view to using them for the 2009 Paris Marathon. They performed wonderfully on the day, but afterwards I could feel them becoming less effective. Running shoes have a useful life of anything from 4-700 road miles, depending on who you believe. Less still if you use them on tracks or trails or for general day-to-day wear. After that they lose their bounce, the soles becoming hard and unyielding, jarring rather than dampening impact. When I wore my original shoes to climb Ben Nevis in June 2009, I knew they were knackered, and binned them shortly afterwards.

It was when I made to replace them that I learnt a ridiculous truth – it is nigh on impossible to buy the same shoes twice. Just 6 months after buying the first pair, I walked back into the same running shop, with same feet, and said that my Asics had been great and I’d like exactly the same again, please. No chance, they replied, because good news! Asics have improved them!

Well I was excited. The old ones were fantastic, so the new version would probably be extraordinary. I tried them on, went for a cursory run on the shop’s treadmill, and, fairly satisfied, paid for them. Some weeks later, when they were broken in and should be performing at their best, I decided that they were quite good but not actually as good as the old version, which was a shame. I wish they’d just left them alone.

This routine has since been played out another half dozen times. Every time I need a new pair, I am forced to experiment with something different. If I dislike them, I have to start again from scratch. If I like them, I always attempt to replace them like-for-like when they’ve reached the end of their efficacy, and every single time I am disappointed.

Out with the old...
I know what you’re thinking- when I find the right shoe I should just buy a lifetime supply, right? Well at £75-90 a pair, and me needing at least two pairs a year, you’re talking about nearly thirteen grand’s worth of shoes (assuming I’m still running marathons age 84). That’s just silly.

No, the real fault lies at the over-analysed feet of the shoemakers, ‘reinventing’ the market at regular intervals to create demand for their latest innovation in spongy plastic and something new for their franchises and high-street stockists to display.

This week, I bought new shoes. My Asics 3030s have done two marathons and a good few hundred other miles besides, and they are showing their wear and tear. But as usual neither of my three local running shops stocked them, instead offering ‘similar’ shoes which were variously uncomfortable and significantly more expensive. So screw you, running franchises. I bought a pair of 3030s online, discounted because they’re end-of-line. Victory!

Next up: becoming a full-time barefoot runner. That’ll show ‘em.

Happy running


2011 to date: miles: 1053.91, parkruns: 6, races: 6, miles biked: 155, metres swum: 1225