An ode to my shoes

I have been trying to deny this for a while now but I think the day has finally come when I need to admit it – my trail shoes may have reached the end of their life. Before you start to attempt to placate me with ‘they’re just shoes’, I need to tell you about what this particular object means to me.

My first running adventures were definitely road running. Well, actually, they were treadmill in my garage running as I was too embarrassed to run outdoors but, eventually, I took up road running. I remember seeing trail runners and thinking how much fun it looked but didn’t think I could do it. I’m not really sure why, just that trail runners were somehow cooler and more serious and absolutely fearless (or that’s what it looked like from the outside).

After a considerable amount of time, I signed up for and attended my first trail event. I wore road running shoes which was ok as it wasn’t too technical but I jealously looked at those who had trail shoes as they threw themselves down muddy hills without fear. And knew I had to get some.

And that is how my trail shoes came into my life. It was love from first wear. They contained some strange sort of magic. In them, I suddenly felt more confident to leap (kind of) over fallen trees, run through muddy puddles and weave along rocky trails. Realistically I know it’s not the shoes themselves but what they represented – with them on, I felt like the trail runner I wanted to be. Bit by bit, I became that trail runner.

Just putting these shoes on makes me smile because I know that I only run in amazing places when wearing them. These shoes have seen me through over 700km of trail adventures. Some of them have been small, local and pretty gentle. Others have been large, distant and hard. But there has rarely been a moment on the trail that I haven’t been grateful that I get to be there, experiencing this country’s beauty and either enjoying peaceful solitude or hanging out with fabulous trail running friends. Even when throwing up at various points of the Surf Coast half marathon last year, I was still (strangely) grateful and determined to see it through. It appears that I’ve become one of those ‘absolutely fearless’ trail runners (or rather full of fear but doing it anyway).

I do get that they’re ‘just shoes’ and that I can get new ones which I’m sure I’ll love. Just not quite as much. There is something about that first pair of trail shoes that I don’t think I’ll feel again – a membership card to a world I wasn’t expecting to be invited to and am so happy to be in.

trail shoe dilemmas

I have decided that buying new running shoes is actually kind of traumatic. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love being the proud new owner of shiny, clean running shoes (and love even more the first chance to get them dirty!) – I just don’t like the act of buying them. This has been made blatantly obvious to me this week as I went in search of my first pair of trail shoes.

My first mistake was letting my enthusiasm take over from my common sense. I’d headed over to Melbourne to pick up my bib for ‘Run Melbourne’ and browsed the running shoes at the time. I’d been curious about Hokas for a while and tried some on then listened to the sales assistant go on about how amazing they were. They felt a bit odd – cushioned, definitely but odd. I asked to try on another pair of a different brand but he assured me there were none in my size so I made my second mistake – I made a rash, on the spot decision and just bought them.

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I got them home and, unfortunately, gave in to the cold that had been brewing for a few days so ended up in bed and unable to test them out until later in the week. When I finally took them for a spin on the treadmill, I knew they just weren’t right. I’m all for cushioned shoes, believe me. I absolutely adore my Brooks Transcend which feel like I’m running on clouds. But these felt like I was running with mattresses strapped to my feet and my calves, which have to work hard enough anyway, were not happy. They also felt weird at the back, as if my feet were slipping out of them. Maybe I would have got used to them. Maybe running on the treadmill didn’t give me the best experience. Maybe I’d already talked myself into not liking them. But they had to go back.

The impact of my first mistake became more obvious when I went to return them. Obviously, the shop were unwilling to refund me for changing my mind (fair enough) but gave me a store credit. Great. Except they really didn’t have many trail shoes to choose from and, finally having done my homework, they didn’t have the ones I actually wanted. The store credit was also only valid in their actual store, not their online one which further limited my selection (and meant I couldn’t browse and spend online, instead having to drive an hour again to spend it). And, having already got my money, it felt like they weren’t really interested in helping me find more suitable shoes. I probably should have just walked away with my store credit, spent it later and got my shoes elsewhere but I was conscious that I have a trail event in 2 weeks and need time to try out the shoes so I made another snap decision – buy the Brooks.

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I’ve now got some sturdy but pretty looking Brooks Cascadias waiting for me to take them out and get them dirty. I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve actually run in them and am a little nervous as they weren’t the ones I wanted but I’m a lot happier with them than I was with the previous pair.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Stick to running shops where I actually feel comfortable and valued. I’m not saying that to bag the shop I went to – they did nothing ‘wrong’, it’s just there are varying degrees of ‘right’ when it comes to customer service and I’ve definitely experienced better elsewhere.
  2. Don’t make rash decisions, buoyed by pre-race enthusiasm.
  3. Listen to my instinct – if it doesn’t feel right, walk away and give it time.
  4. Just buy the Brooks. Have adored every pair of shoes of theirs I’ve ever worn and I have my fingers crossed that the Cascadias will follow that pattern. Stay tuned…