Despite reading numerous articles plainly stating that aggressively changing out your running shoes and getting an assessment from a trained running shop consultant are the keys to pain-free running, I've always liked to seek my own counsel. This means buying whatever shoes were on sale if they felt OK walking around the store and then wearing them for years until the bottoms split open like some train-humping hobo. The reason I do this is unknown to me, but I suspect that it points to me being some type of genius.
Running on trails and pavement hurt. Really hurt. Doing it was an exercise in character development more than cardio development since I'd finish my brief run with what felt like micro-fractures in my feet, shin splints, and a knee throbbing from a high school football injury. I would always conclude a feeble pained run thinking,"Jesus, these runners are stout bastards to endure this every day."
I self-diagnosed "chronic bad feet and ankles" and decided I'd been consigned to doing my cardio on treadmills, stairclimbers, and ellipticals for the rest of my life. A pity given the fact that I live in the most beautiful city on the planet, one block from an oceanside running trail that leads to the Golden Gate Bridge skirting the edge of San Francisco Bay. But hey, who would want to run outside in eternal 60 degree weather next to the ocean and some of the most beautiful architecture on the planet when I can shoehorn myself into a crowded health club to watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians on the TVs that the disgruntled gym workers won't change to NBA playoffs?
A bridge too far?
Finally, I sought help. For context, I seek help as adeptly as the Fonz says "I'm Sorry." If you didn't see that Happy Days episode, let's just say I'm a bit of rugged individualist. Seeking help is a sign of flaccid weakness. It's like showing Jack The Ripper your exposed belly and asking "Does you fancy it, guv'nah?" Now this rugged independence has many positive manifestations in my life, but the proper fitting of running shoes is not one of them.
So I sought help at Sports Basement. I approached a staff zen running gnome with wispy facial hair and a general air of podiatric facility. Or maybe that's just the hashish. "Uh, do you know stuff about running shoes?" He confessed that he did. I pointed at my shoes and mumbled,"Need help. Need shoes." He chortled at what I had on my feet as if I were wearing Guatemalan tire treads cut out with child's safety scissors. "You've tried to run in those? They're completely worn, you have no padding or protection, and those are designed for a supine neo-pronating motion control Mark V vector cyborg. You're a medium stability flagellant with docile arch poltergeists. Hey Mark, come look at this guy's shoes..." I had become an object of wonder. OK, he didn't say those things exactly, but it sounded technical and basically intimated that whatever I was doing was super fucked up. He examined the bottoms of my shoes like Tonto reading coyote sign and then watched me run down a store aisle. He walked off decisively and returned with New Balance 768s. I tried them on.
Nick Burns, your local running store guy
Oh. This is good.
I bought them. Then I bought another pair. Then I bought some fancy $9 socks, the kind that promise you you'll go really fast because of the completeness of their wicking. Then I high fived my personal running geek on the way out of the store cackling like I was holding Jessica Biel's phone number.
I don't care if it's Friday night. Cancel all plans. I've got my focus on. I'm running. I brew a pot of coffee, throw down two Advils - still convinced that I'm about to endure another Bataan Death March - and set out at 11:00 PM. Let's not overdo it though. Just a nice little 20 minute jog. I haven't run on a hard surface in eons and I need to take it easy.
The night is perfect: clear, a crisp 50 degrees, with no wind and a jogging trail as empty as London in the first few frames of 28 Days Later. I put on my mp3, cue something violent, and start out.
I feel nothing. Sweet nothing. No pain. I am comfortably numb. No unrelenting microscopic pitchforks being propelled into my feet by hateful invisible imps. A thousand blessings on the house of New Balance. Thou art a company of Gods.
Begone demon! New Balance compels thee!
I take a deep breath. A slight breeze is coming off of the Pacific and it's like taking hits off of an oxygen bottle. I pass the Palace of Fine Arts, its expanse lit with floodlights, an extraordinary structure that belongs in 9th century Byzantium. I pass the Presidio, a massive forest in the middle of a city. On my right is the beach and the calm solitude of the bay. Before me is the massiveness of Golden Gate, lit up like a nativity scene. Twenty minutes have gone by. I slap the support column on the Golden Gate Bridge at the point of the bay, watching the ocean crash spray against the rocks. Then I turn back, feeling just fine. I'm actually enjoying myself.
42 minutes, 18 seconds and 4.5 miles later, I'm back home. I feel great. I could have gone for an hour.
Consider this my PSA Carnivalers: Go get the right shoes.
Its gotta be the shoes, money