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

Mon, 22 Mar 2004 08:07:30 -0500

Shoe Abuse

RUNNING COMMENTARY 511

(rerun from March 1999 RC)

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 the shoes exactly where they will cause trouble, and take corrective action before they do.

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 sometimes 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 great lengths.

As is, the surgery I now 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 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 a sports store that specializes in closeout and unpopular models.

There I found the Asics 990. It met my all of my requirements except one.

The 990 is cushy, flexible and fairly light. I paid more than my normal $60 limit, then a few days later groaned when it went on sale for $39.95.

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 the 990s 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 run in the Asics 990s wasn't perfect. But these shoes would have abused me much more if I hadn't worked them over first.

UPDATE. A running-shop owner called this column "disgusting... probably the worst piece you've ever written." I lost him as a reader but didn't stop abusing my shoes. Five years later my current preferred model, the Nike Pegasus, goes under the knife to loosen the seams that would pinch my forefoot.

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