Week 19: I throw my shoe at myself

Depending on where you’re standing, February is the month of presidents, valentines, or black history. Or perhaps just the gloomy bridge between winter and spring.

For those of us training with AIDS Project Los Angeles to run the LA marathon in May, February is the month of shoes. Not sneakers, not gym shoes, but running shoes.

The name itself reeks of the monied class. These are not all-purpose kicks that one can wear in normal life, but dedicated footwear whose sole purpose and destiny is to carry one along while in the sacred act of running.

I heard about the running-only rule from my friend Sara, a longtime runner who is also training for the marathon. “You can not, under any circumstances, wear them for anything else,” she told me. “Not until they’re dead.”

Dead meaning old and smelly and worn out and no longer any good for running. Only then may running shoes be put out to pasture, left for gardening, grocery shopping and other mundane chores, far from the glamour of relentless hours of pounding.

I first learned of the central role shoes play in the deep mythology of running back when I enlisted in this marathon experiment. I was instructed that, especially as a beginning runner, I needed to get myself to a specialty store so that my feet could be observed, measured and fitted with the shoes that were meant for me, and me alone.

These shoes, I was told, would likely cost me upwards of $100, but that was to be expected, because they were the very most important purchase I would make as a runner. Without them, or with a cheap and ill-fitted imitation, I was doomed to injury and failure.

I bought the shoes –one of which is featured, in near pristine condition, in the logo for this column—and indeed they set me back 120 bucks, even with the 10 percent APLA discount. I needed the particularly spendy model, I was informed, due to my tendency to overpronate, or roll in on my feet. The shoes, I was told, fix it.

Admittedly they have served me well. Or at least I think they have. I haven’t succumbed to shin splints or plantar fasciitis, and my toenails haven’t turned black.

But that was way back in September, a lifetime ago, in running shoe years. Our shoes, by his caculation, had logged upwards of 400 miles per pair. They were finished. Now, according to Coach Scott, everyone who has been training must pony up for another pair. If we don’t, he warned us, we will soon begin to suffer.

He made this announcement before our run on Saturday – an easy 8-miler on a sunny morning. But mid-way through, the power of suggestion took hold. I began to sense a slight give in my left shoe.

Still, I’ve resisted buying the shoes. These days the list of things I’m willing to spend $100 or more on is pretty short: groceries, ballet and gymnastics lessons for the kids, the mortgage.

Shoes? No way.

Scott did offer a tip: running shoe companies, like car companies, issue new and improved models from one year to the next. Often the changes are subtle, but once a new model is out, the price of the older model plummets.

My shoes are Asics GEL-Kayano 14, which at their peak retailed for $135. Now the GEL-Kayano 15 has arrived, and to give you a sense of deep runner-speak, here’s the ad copy:

The first thing revealed by a run in the GEL-Kayano® 15 is the lighter platform.

At 12.8 oz., almost an entire ounce has been shaved from the previous version, primarily the result of improved Solyte® midsole material.

The rear-foot features the largest heel GEL® Cushioning System yet used on the series for improved shock attenuation, while shearing forces are addressed by a more aggressively decoupled heel environment.

As with the previous version, heel stability is maintained by the TPU plate placed directly over the silicone gel unit.

I can’t wait to experience that aggressively decoupled heel environment.

But I’ll satisfy myself with the GEL-Kayano 14 for now, especially since I see -- as I toggle through websites while I’m writing this -- that price of the “14” has dropped, on one website as low as $79. Oh, they only have a size 12 left in stock.

Here’s my size on a site where the charge was $95, including tax and shipping, five bucks short of C-note guilt.

The shoes are in the mail.

3:44 PM Friday, February 6 2009 • Link •  
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