On Running

I enjoy a good run. Unlike Mr. Bolt, I’m not the fastest man alive or even close. I’m no ultra-marathoner, nothing near that level of dedication either. On a crisp morning, I lazily crawl out of bed and get out of the house, stretch my legs, and listen to a few good tunes. Guns n’ Roses. Kansas (I am proud to admit that Carry On My Wayward Son was the most played song in my music library last year). And Foo Fighters. Of late, I’ve switched to podcasts. On my morning jog, I’ve spent time with Tim Ferriss, Big Game James, Brian Koppelman, The Freakamonics guys, etc., You pick up a few things listening to these folks. I also took a Yale History course on the American Revolution last year. The true story of Benedict Arnold is fascinating.

But lately, running has been a challenge. My mileage has been on the downhill slide. I hate to admit it, but I may have done a Martina Hingis with my shoes.

Before drugs and the emergence of the tennis power game, I loved to watch her play. Great angles on the backhand, she could hit top spin to both sides of the court. Oh, she could hit a lob with such precision. Nobody had played like this in years. I could argue nobody will again because the power game absorbed her individual flair and style. She could be blown off the court from time to time toward the end of her career. She was great to watch, a throwback to another era.

Then, the foot injuries came. It’s hard to get a clear picture of what happened. Between a 40 million dollar lawsuit against an Italian shoe company, refusal to wear her contractually bound shoes, competition from the Williams sisters (that power game), and drug abuse, she ended up retiring, making a comeback and retiring again. The lawsuit against her shoe company was ultimately thrown out in the US, but I’m not sure it was ever resolved in Italy.

There were even rumors Martina didn’t like to change her shoes. Rumors persisted she didn’t buy a new pair of shoes for four plus years. I don’t believe that’s possible. I think some professionals tennis players change shoes between games. I watched World Number One, Novak Djokovic change his shoes three or four times in a set during a Masters Final last year.

Still, professional athletes are a curious lot. Rituals creep into everyone’s game. Bounce the ball three times. Toss it high into the air. Swing just after the apex. And then hit an ace down the tee. But if you dare bounce it four times, well the end is nigh. Your game could collapse.

You have to wonder if Martina’s shoes were part of the ritual. Perhaps, she didn’t change her shoes often enough. Believe the rumors or not, a great tennis player never was the same again potentially because of a pair of tennis shoes.

A year ago, I’d run about 25 to 30 miles a week. It’s nothing spectacular but I like to think I could show up at a half marathon and finish in less than two hours at a moment’s notice. That’s a true life skill. You never know when you’ll need to run a half marathon in less than two hours at a moment’s notice.

Sadly, I’ve been having knee problems lately. I’d even lost a few pounds. Logically, you’d think your mileage would increase after losing weight, not go in the opposite direction.

Yet, here I was barely hitting two miles before having to call it quits. I wasn’t calling it quits. I felt like I had a good ten miles left in the tank. My body was begging to go on, but the left tire just wasn’t willing.

Then, it hit me (actually, I need to give my wife credit for this one). The problem was my Martina Hingis shoes.

I didn’t forget to change the tires. I’m actually fairly careful with my shoes. For a time, I even used to track the mileage. I wanted to know if I was getting 500 miles or 1,000 miles on a pair. If only shoes had an odometer, the world would be a better place. For all of those darling entrepreneurs, you can take my idea. I would love to see mileage tick away on a pair of shoes.

I had been a Gel Kayano (Asics) runner from version 12 to 18, that’s a long time. I had fitted years ago and religiously went and picked up the same pair of shoes time after time. When the Kayanos wore out, I went back to the store or logged into Zappos and ordered the next version. Everything was working, so why change?

Then, my handy-dandy spreadsheet started to show wear in the Kayanos. This was blasphemy but the data proved out my mileage was getting worse and worse with each successive version.

I had a few theories. I could be pushing myself a little bit harder. I have a brute force way of running. I’m no cheetah or gazelle. Really, I’m a hulking WWII Sherman tank. I run loud. Most of the neighborhood hears each and every stride. Or, the Kayanos were beginning to break down. Perhaps, the old warhorse wasn’t what it used to be. When the spreadsheet said I only ran about 350 miles, I went with a new brand. Saucony.

I had been running in my fourth pair of these beauties and things were great. My mileage was up again, and I was flying. Then, I had an ankle injury. Setbacks get harder and harder to overcome. After coming back to the open road, my damn knees kept locking up in seething pain. The mileage was going down run after run. Seven miles. Six miles. And then I hit two miles.

I checked the wear on the shoes, cross referenced the spreadsheet and the data wasn’t jiving. These shoes had life left in them. The wear wasn’t terrible.

Before going to the doctor, I went back to the running store. I needed to start from scratch again. When I went with the Asics years ago, I had my foot measured. I’ve always had a high arch. This hasn’t changed. But when you look at the wear on the shoe, well, I actually run on the front of the foot. This is a completely different shoe than what the computerized measuring tool suggested.

I was running in a highly supported shoe with an immense amount of padding on the back of the foot. When I tried the Asics again (I briefly thought about going back to the old stand by), they ran about the same as the Saucony. Essentially, they felt like the same shoes. Basically, I was paying for something I wasn’t even using. Why support the arch if I wasn’t using it?

Worse, that support might have been killing my knees. Between losing a few pounds and an injury, this caught up with me. Losing a little fat around the knees may not be a good thing for running high mileage (at least it wasn’t for me) if you don’t adjust your stride.

So, I switched shoes. At least for now, my knees don’t lock up anymore. My mileage is going in the opposite direction again ever so slowly. I can get through a full podcast again. This is a plus. I want to take a class on Genghis Kahn and the Mongol horde. I know that doesn’t sound like fun, but it really is.

For years, I’ve complained about the puzzle of Martina Hingis. Why didn’t she just change her shoes or take better care of her feet? Yet, here I was going into the shoe store buying the same pair of shoes over and over. This was my habit. And it was killing me slowly. It’s good to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, not just for shoes but for anything in life. Sometimes, it’s the little things we don’t even notice that catch up to all of us.

Other Notes:

  • I’m not condoning or recommending any shoes. My new pair may not solve the problem. Both Saucony and Asics were good for me over many years. Stride and running conditions matter more than the shoe. And never ask what someone else wears. It’s truly a pointless question as everyone’s stride is a bit different.
  • Check out the Tim Ferriss podcast. One of the best.
  • Freakonomics and other rants (another great podcast). And you really should read one of their books. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.
  • The Moment with Brian Koppelman.
  • And the reigning king of podcasts, Big game James Altucher.
  • If you want to take a Yale History course. Try this one on the American Revolution. Pretty amazing that most of these courses are out there for free and openly available.
  • All of these podcasts can be found on iTunes, Android and Windows Phone. I actually use a few different third party podcast apps so try a few and see what works best for you.
  • And on the picture, I did a bing search for the fastest man alive and this is what I came up with. I know most of the post is about a tennis player, but he’s just cooler.