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

Sun, 15 Aug 2004 09:08:47 -0400

Good Old New Balance

RUNNING COMMENTARY 532

We runners have a special bond with our shoes. This comes from spending so much time and effort together.

Recently I read about a runner from Omaha named Gary Julin. He owns an almost 20-year-old Jeep and takes pride in putting fewer miles on it (55,000 miles) than on himself (almost 59,000, in an extra 10 years).

"A couple times the odometer caught up with me," says the 57-year-old Julin in an Omaha World Herald interview. "So I parked it and didn't drive it until I got back ahead."

Running shoes wear away much faster than tires. Julin's Jeep has gone through two, maybe three, sets of rubber in its lifetime.

The runner has worn through that many pairs of shoes each year. That's the rub. These old friends don't last long.

The more you run in them, the shorter their life. Then comes the disturbing prospect of replacement.

Buy the exact same model again? You might do that once or twice. But as surely as shoes wear out within 500 miles, your favorite shoe will either go off the market or undergo improvements-that-often-aren't by the next model year.

Then comes that jarring time of giving up a proven shoe for an untested one. Recently I passed through this dreaded switch.

For two years I ran contentedly in the Nike Pegasus 2000. But no company makes bigger changes, faster than Nike. Though the Pegasus name goes back to the early 1980s, the product itself has passed through more updates than the Ford Mustang.

I couldn't wear any post-2000 Pegasus. The 2002 -- hard, stiff and making my knees ache even while walking -- seriously disappointed me. The next version, the 2004, felt slightly better but still too clunky for my tastes.

I tried another Nike model, the Skylon. It worked pretty well but not as well as another brand, New Balance.

Two pairs of NBs had waited patiently for their first run. They'd come as gifts from a dealer in Canada and had gone directly into my walkabout rotation.

They finally began to run when I went to summer camp, Dick Beardsley's Marathon Camp in Minnesota. Dick is a longtime NB athlete, recently re-signed to an endorsement contract.

That company helped sponsor the camp, so I honored its investment by wearing the shoes with "N" on the sides. I kept wearing them when no one was watching.

New Balance doesn't name its models. It numbers them, which confuses anyone but a connoisseur of this brand.

Mine are the 831 and its successor, the 833. Both stand among NB's lightest, most flexible and best-cushioned training models. We now run every mile together.

The first mile came on my latest birthday. That's fitting, because New Balance was present at my birth as a road runner in 1961.

This already old company advertised then on the back page of Long Distance Log. The NB Road Runner looked funky: white leather with a red saddle across the arch. Soles were rippled black rubber.

The NBs opened up the roads to me, first for training more miles and later for racing long. Our longest outing came in the 1963 National 30K Championships.

Youth is forgiving, and so were the Road Runners. They let me cover these 18-plus miles without foot-related suffering.

New Balance served me well for a few more years after that. The last pair went along to Army active duty, enduring dyeing (to all-black) to disguise my intentions when I sneaked out of the barracks for nighttime runs.

Soon after my escape from Fort Jackson I found a new advertiser on the back page of Long Distance Log. This was Tiger (later known as Asics), the logo I wore more than any other for the next 30 years.

The end of that period was a bad time for me, as the trends toward bulkier and stiffer models diverged from my wants and needs. Mostly I bought Asics's bottom-of-the-line models from a discount store.

The same store carried lesser-known New Balances for equally low prices. But I wasn't quite ready to complete the circle, back to the brand that had put me on the roads 40 years earlier.

First I had to pass through my infatuation with the Nike Pegasus 2000. Two pairs of New Balance waited out this fling, ready for for me whenever I needed them. We now run around happily together, till model changes do us part.

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