Every shoe tells a story

Back in early January, while recovering from the Christmas excesses, I spent some time putting together my first training plan of the year, aiming towards a non-specific half marathon in March. I had a choice of four dates for the run, all on consecutive weekends: Silverstone (been there done that, literally got the T-shirt), Milton Keynes (flat, roundabouty, probably dull), Liverpool (emotional) or Wilmslow (already full).

I eventually plumped for Liverpool. I had such good memories from the marathon I’ve wanted to go back and do another run there for a while. As a half marathon, it avoided the first 13 miles round dirty Birkenhead entirely (and that fucking tunnel), and concentrated on the north side of the river only, through the centre of Liverpool, out round Sefton Park and back along the waterfront. So with a date now in mind, I mapped out my training plan for the coming months, totted up the expected mileage, and to my great annoyance that sickening feeling hit me that I would yet again need to splash out on a new pair of running shoes before the big day.

Now people always say that running is about as cheap and pure a form of sport as there is – you simply go out and do it. And they are right to a point I guess. If you go and run a couple of miles two or three times a week you probably won’t feel the need to get another pair of shoes until they are literally falling apart, which will probably take years. But when you become an obsessive idiot like I am, it all becomes a bit more serious – and expensive. I’m now on my sixth pair of running shoes, and at an average of around £70 a pop that’s a lot of cash just to make myself feel like shit every other day or so.

My first pair – Puma H Street (purchased 2006)
I didn’t actually know until today what these were called, I had to look on the internet, and it wasn’t the easiest job trying to find a nondescript pair of Puma running shoes from 2006.  They cost me £20 from TK Maxx and the sole was made of Goodyear tyres. I have no idea why someone thought that a tyre off a racing car would be a good compound for a running shoe, but I liked to imagine this would give me some sort of edge.

I’ll never know how many miles I ran in them, but they were in a right old state when I bid them an emotional farewell in 2011. No tread, sole hanging off, that sort of thing. I still miss them though – they got me into all this nonsense and I ran my very first event in them, the 2008 Sport Relief mile, which I actually won because I took it all A Bit Too Seriously and everyone else was there for a nice, fun charity day out. 75% of the field walked it, and some were actually pushing their kids in pushchairs. Five years on I still can’t work out if I am proud of this or not.

Unbelievably, somewhere is still selling them – go knock yourself out.


My first proper pair – Brooks GTS9 (2009)
Again I had no idea what these were called when I bought them. In the build up to the 2009 Great Manchester Run I was trying to do a sub 40-minute 10k and I had failed three times previously. I decided drastic action was called for and went to see a man in a proper running shop. He put me on a treadmill, looked how I was running then recommended me a pair of shoes and asked for £90. I nearly knocked him out. Up until then the most expensive pair of shoes I had ever bought was probably a pair of football boots for a third of that price. I trusted the man in the shop though, and walked out destitute. And then, a month later I smashed my 10k personal best and ran the Great Manchester Run in 39.29. I am still yet to beat this. Four months later, I did my first half-marathon and ran 1:29:38, which again I’ve never bettered. The man in the shop was right.

GT2160Replacements – ASICS GT2160 (2011)
This was where it all began to get a bit serious. I’d accidentally signed up for a marathon. I needed help. I’d had the other pair for two years. Surely they were no good for a summer of training followed by a marathon? The obvious answer was no, and even when buying them I had the nagging feeling that such was the effort involved in training I’d need another pair for the big day itself. And so it turned out.

When I bought these I still didn’t know what I was doing. I went back to the man in the shop with the old pair, asked for another and was told “we don’t do those any more, have these instead”. Just under 500 miles later, this pair are actually still in use for my short, slower runs, such as jogging home from work. They still have a bit of spring in them and although I’ve only ever done one actual race in them, they are a good, workmanlike pair that I keep going back to fairly often.

GTS11Good enough for 26.2 miles – Brooks GTS11 (2011)
With a month to go until the marathon, I did a bit of research. I found out what the pair were that I’d done so well in back in 2009, and ordered the latest model online saving myself a few quid. I felt a bit sad that I hadn’t gone to the man in the shop, and who knows what I would have been recommended, but I felt like I knew what I was doing a bit now. The first run I did in them was amazing, the second not so much. 20 miles the day immediately after, including calf pains and fatigue from about half distance onwards. Had I made a terrible mistake? The marathon was looming into view, I couldn’t afford another pair, and I couldn’t take these back now I’d worn them. So I went for it. And although I again cramped up, it was at around 23 miles which was the furthest I’d ever ran. I’ll never know if the shoes caused it, or if it was just the sheer distance I was running, but I got round in the bugger anyway so I must have been doing something right.

I also did the Silverstone half-marathon in these five months later, and the We Love Manchester 10k a few weeks after that, but they were pretty shot by then and I had a bit of a mare towards the end of both races. Maybe they are cursed. Maybe I picked the wrong ones when I bought them. Maybe Brooks just didn’t make as good a shoe this time around. Who knows.


More of the same – Brooks GTS12 (2012)
By last August, the 11s had now done well over 500 miles which is quite a bit beyond what you should use them for. I was still out running every so often even with no event to train for, so I bought the 2012 edition of the same shoe. Wearing them for the first time, I was a little disappointed as they didn’t have that new shoe spring and bounce that I know and love, in fact they felt a bit too firm for my liking, and this hasn’t really changed as I’ve worn them in. But I’m yet to cramp up wearing them so maybe the softness of the 11s was the problem. I also yet to run over 12 miles in them though so that’s possibly more likely the cause.

Now well over halfway through their life, I’ve never really had a chance to test them in anger sadly, as I bought them just before my bout of illness in August. I was hoping they might give me the odd top 3 finish at the South Manchester Parkrun, but the one time I wore them round there was when my body decided to tell me I had Man Flu halfway round and I nearly keeled over. I’ve not been back since. I went round Standalone in a decent time in them but I’ve not yet seen what they can do when push really comes to shove.

Elixir 8

An unknown quantity – Mizuno Elixir 8 (2013)
Much as I’ve had some cracking runs in the Brooks GTS series, a lot of the best ones were nearly four years ago now, and although they were obviously recommended to me for a  reason, I’ve started to have a nagging feeling that there must be a smaller, less chunky, shoe that will still give me some of the support I need. After a lot of research, I came to the conclusion that these were the ones for me. I have no idea what to expect from these really, as I have only ever run in full-on support shoes. Opening the box, they felt ridiculously small and light compared to what I am used to. They’ll definitely be good for the shorter runs and speedwork training, but whether I go with them for a full 13.1 mile race in three weeks time I am not yet sure yet.

So that’s where I’m at currently. Roughly a new pair every year, and goodness knows how far I have now run in total. Just on the four pairs I’ve been logging the mileage I’ve done 1,328 miles, and that’s not taking into account the orange pair that fell apart and the first pair of Brooks. Assuming 500 miles on each, that’s a terrifying amount of running. It’s enough to get to Turkey as the crow flies, or the US East coast in the opposite direction. Not that I’ve perfected the art of running on water yet, but you know.

It’s funny how you can get attached to your shoes. But I am, in a way, to each and every pair. I even still miss the old, dilapidated orange ones a bit. I can’t seem to chuck any of the others away.  The GTS9s probably should go really, but I’ve set PBs in them, and I wore them by accident for a seven mile training run a month or so back and absolutely smashed it, so they’ve got to stay. I thought the ASICS would be for the scrapheap soon as I’ve never ran particularly well in them, but then they’re still useable amazingly so will stop me wearing out the good ones so fast if I rotate them with my other shoes. The GTS11s are totally fucked now and I’ll never wear them again for running. But then I did my first marathon in them, so can’t chuck them. I’ll probably keep them for sentimental reasons and use them for cycling or something. The GTS12s still have plenty of life left and the Mizunos are brand new so they can’t go. It’s a bloody nightmare.

For years I’ve always prided myself on only having a couple of pairs of shoes (pair of Converse, pair of work shoes) and looked on despairingly at the other half and her millions of pairs sprawling all over the place. Now though I’m getting nearly as bad, and actually asking her to move some of hers so I can get another pair of bloody running shoes on the shoerack.

I don’t know if I’m abnormal amongst other runners for being unable to say goodbye to my shoes, or if everyone has a similar affliction, but when each one has its own little story, or means something to me that only I can understand, it’s difficult to bid them that final farewell. Those horrible, grimy slabs of fabric and rubber, that have propelled me over so many hundreds of miles, will be with me for a while yet I’m sure. And before I know it, it will be time for a new addition to the family. Best get clearing the shoerack.

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