The meandering thoughts of an old fart thinking back on running shoes and how that search for Cinderella running shoes has been an adventure at times.
On one of the Facebook groups I am a member of one of the members showed an old Nike Ad and it brought back a bunch of memories of the different shoes from that ad that I had run in, along with a bunch of other old shoes.
At times I have to laugh at myself first and then at more than a few runners. No, it is not a mean-spirited or mocking kind of laugh, it is more of a chuckle when I hear or read what other runners and I have to say about our running shoe brands, styles, models and choices in today’s world and when we look back at the old running shoes.
Runners have been and will always be looking for their Cinderella running shoe. I know that I have been looking for mine since the 70’s, and once upon a time or two I even thought that I found them (until they wore out and the search started over).
Back in the day, there were basically 4-5 brands (Asics, Nike, Brooks or Adidas, with New Balance and Saucony somewhere in the background and add in whatever one was trying to break in or remain relevant (Etonic, Turntec, Skaja, Hersey, Reebok, Puma, Pony, Converse, etc.) all with limited styles and lines to choose from.
Things were a bit different back then though.
When you purchased a pair of shoes:
- you either took what the retailer had in stock or waited until they got their next shipment, maybe in 2-3 weeks, if you were in a small town, maybe a couple of months. Unfortunately, what they had in stock, often wasn’t the same as what your feet needed.
- If you dared to order shoes via mail order, you sent in an order form with a check, the check had to clear, then they sent out the shoes. The process could take up to a month to get a new pair of shoes. Phone order and credit cards made things a little quicker and you could get your shoes in a couple of weeks – maybe.
Also, the idea you could return a pair of running shoes after actually running in them didn’t exist, you stepped outside in them, you owned them – for better or worse.
Often it was definitely worse.
All too often those beautiful new running shoes tended to fit like crap, needed a long break-in and you just adjusted to them the best you could or attempted to adjust them to your feet. The idea Cinderella running shoe that fit perfectly out of the box was usually a figment of some twisted bastard’s imagination – yeah, even though more than likely he or she was a runner too.
When that brand spanky new running shoe didn’t fit too well, we had many options or solutions to MAKE them fit, until we could afford a different pair of running shoes, the next new shoes arrived, they fell apart, our spouses took pity on our whining about how badly our feet hurt or finally our feet adapted to the shoe.
Plus what the retailers had in stock didn’t always mean they had your size or width, especially if you had smaller or larger than “normal” feet. For us runners with smaller feet, it meant filling in that empty space between the end of your toes and the end of the shoe, which didn’t always work all that well or you learned to run with “extra” spring action from the shoe after you toed-off. Or you attempted to run in women’s shoes that didn’t look too feminine and tweaked the shoe to fit your foot.
Question. Have you ever dunked and soaked your running shoes in a cauldron of water or a sink filled with water, strode gallantly into a lake, stream or river with your brand new running shoes on, purposely wore them in the rain and then wore them until they dried out?
I have done all of those things.
Well for a long time many shoes had a cardboard last and lots of suede type leather, in addition to the synthetic material being used. Through trial and error many of us learned that if you soaked down the shoes and then let them dry on your feet, they might fit a little better.
Sometimes it worked, often it didn’t make too much of a difference, but when it did the shoes felt a LOT better on the feet.
I still remember the time that I attempted to “heat up” a pair of new, but poorly fitting running shoes. I did this after talking to an old running buddy about how you could make new running shoes more comfortable by putting them in the oven (it was similar idea to dunking them and wearing them around after they got warm – it had to be more comfortable than wearing wet, nasty shoes for several hours). Unfortunately, I got distracted by a Celtics game and suddenly smelled a certain burning rubber smell coming from the kitchen.
Open flames in the oven told me the shoes were overdone and after the fire extinguisher was needed to put out the flames, I had to do a super-cleanup on the oven and buy a new cookie sheet. I did get another pair of new running shoes out of it, but I learned that warming shoes in the oven was not something that worked too well for me.
If dunking or baking didn’t work, there was always surgically improving our shoes.
We learned how to cut down or remove heel counters that were too obnoxious, remove the cardboard lasting without tearing apart the shoe, having the upper disconnect from the sole or cutting into the midsole (too much). One of the most usual occurrences improving the fit of the toe box, by carefully removing a portion of the upper, whether it be the sewn on stuff or actually cutting holes in the upper so your feet didn’t feel like they were a stuffed sausage.
Sometimes the surgery wasn’t pretty. Duct tape covering holes was kind of gauche and not really permanent, but worked in pinch or when you were totally frustrated after a run. Other times when you took your time to sew the repair work or modifications back up or carefully cover the hole with a piece of fabric from a similar color shoe, it was harder to see how much damage, errr fixing you had done to the shoes.
At times, I think many runners from that period were cobblers reincarnated, because they might have bought new running shoes, but by the time they/we were done fixing our running shoes so we could run in them they might (or not) have the brand’s logo on them, but they sure as hell weren’t stock.
By the time our modified/specially fitted running shoes (if they survived) were just getting comfortable to run in, the damn things were worn out, but we still managed a few more miles out of them.
Looking back at most of the stuff and shoes I ran in back then, I don’t miss that much about them at all. Oh, I will wax nostalgic when I see old ads or photos of shoes that I used to run in back then.
However, I also know that if I tried to run in those same running shoes today, that for most of them I would quickly remember the not so great part of running in them.
Nowadays, so much has changed.
Runners might whine, complain, bitch, moan and groan today, if we can’t walk into a specialty running store or let’s get real, even a big box store and be able to try on a multitude of different styles, sizes, models and brands to find our individual Goldilocks shoe. You know that magical shoe that will allow us all to run farther, faster and never be injured in them.
- If we must order them online we expect to get them within 48 hours or less – it just costs a little extra – sometimes.
- All for less than we paid for a nice dinner and/or night out on the town, with “free” shipping and returns.
- Once we get those new shoes home and open the box again or for the first time, have the shoes fit perfectly, without any flaws or blemishes and be light as a feather.
- Then when we head out the door in our brand spanking new running shoes for the first time, we expect them (demand actually), to be comfortable, not require any break-in time and not ruin our feet during that first run.
- When they don’t fit perfectly or don’t feel right the store or online retailer must have generous return policies, including free return shipping, heaven forbid we pay for anything after the purchase price.
Once in a while I might complain about a pair of running shoes and how they don’t work for me (well it might happen quite often-actually). However, it is often less about the shoes and more about the way they do not fit my oddly shaped right foot.
Yeah, the running shoes and choices we have with today’s running shoes are light-years ahead of where they were during my formative running years. So when I hear some old fart like me waxing nostalgic and poetic for those good old days, back when running shoes were so great.
I just shake my head and think to myself, I wouldn’t want to go back to running in those shoes.
The bottom line is that most top quality running shoes are better today than they were in the past and we have so much more choice than we have had at any other time.
Our mythical Cinderella running shoes are out there somewhere, we just have to find them.
All I know is that I couldn’t imagine having to run in my imagined favorite running shoes from the past, today, especially if they were right out of the box. They wouldn’t match my fond memories.
I still have that big soaking pot, I know where there is a nice lake and I still have scissors, needle and thread, but I really don’t need those things to have comfortable running shoes. Although I do have a pair in the back of the garage that maybe if I tweak them just a little, I could get them to be a little more comfortable.
Naw, let it go Harold.