Cross­ing the Line

Three Decades of Love, Loss, and Love Again

Canadian Running - - CONTENTS - By Kelly Bouchard Kelly Bouchard is a jour­nal­ist and re­searcher based in Toronto.

Run­ning Shoes

My love for run­ning shoes be­gan in the mid-’90s. It was the early days of the In­ter­net, and shoe com­pa­nies like Nike and Ree­bok were cap­i­tal­iz­ing on tech­no­log­i­cal op­ti­mism. Ads cast run­ning shoes as fu­tur­is­tic mar­vels equipped with pumps, pro­pri­etary air and even lights that were guar­an­teed to make you faster than the Flash. If you hap­pened to be in el­e­men­tary school, as I was, you couldn’t help but be se­duced. I truly be­lieved shoes could make you un­beat­able, in­de­pen­dent of your ath­letic abil­ity, un­til one re­cess I con­vinced the fastest kid in my grade to take a fork to the clear plas­tic air pock­ets in the heels of his Nike Air Max’s, and he still beat me in a two lap race around the school field.

From then on, I de­vel­oped a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to run­ning that grad­u­ally drew me to­ward brands with more se­ri­ous im­ages. Asics and Saucony were in the run­ning for my af­fec­tions un­til my cross-coun­try coach clinched my loy­alty to New Bal­ance. Dur­ing my grade-eight sea­son, he gave us a stun­ningly ar­tic­u­late speech on how New Bal­ance’s North Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tured, never-celebrity-en­dorsed shoes epit­o­mized the blue-col­lar ethics on which our north­ern town was built. That speech, which re­ally should be part of New Bal­ance’s ad cam­paigns, si­mul­ta­ne­ously awak­ened me to an en­tire ethos and kept me in New Bal­ance right through my se­nior year.

But, in univer­sity, a friend in my fresh­man dor­mi­tory suc­ceeded in win­ning my fickle heart for the emerg­ing bare­foot run­ning school. Grace­ful and gazelle-like in her Vi­bram Five Fin­gers, she warned against im­pris­on­ing my feet in blocks of foam, waxed po­etic about fore­foot strik­ing and gave me a sci­ence ar­ti­cle ti­tled “The Evo­lu­tion of Marathon Run­ning” that said my bare­footed an­ces­tors had used their unique run­ning abil­i­ties to out­com­pete other preda­tors for prey. Filled with Ne­an­derthal pieties, I tippy-toed off to buy ul­tra­mod­ern Five Fin­gers and Nike Frees to help fa­cil­i­tate my re­dis­cov­ery of hu­man­ity’s an­cient past.

Of course, it didn’t oc­cur to me that pa­le­olithic hu­mans likely didn’t en­counter much ce­ment on the African sa­van­nah, un­til I grad­u­ated and started in­cur­ring knee in­juries on train­ing runs as a wild­fire fighter in B.C. A crewmem­ber turned me on to max­i­mal­ist shoes like the Adi­das Su­per­nova Glide, but no amount of cush­ion­ing could stop the pain. In 2015, I fi­nally went to a phys­io­ther­a­pist who put me on a tread­mill, pro­nounced me a chronic over-strider and told me, in the weary tone of some­one tired of say­ing the same thing, that how I ran made a lot more dif­fer­ence than what I ran in.

Since then, I’ve re­ally, truly tried to take his ad­vice to heart. Now, when I look back over 30 years of love and heartache, I can see how lit­tle run­ning has changed while shoes have come and gone. The lac­tic burn, the synap­tic singing of en­dor­phins and the pe­riph­eral blur of road or trail­side are all the same, as are the facts that no shoes have been con­clu­sively shown to re­duce in­juries, and that the most im­por­tant vari­ables in any race re­main the run­ners them­selves. But I still find my­self lin­ger­ing over ads in mag­a­zines and con­stantly drift­ing in and out of shoe stores. And some­times, when I’m lac­ing up a new pair, I still choose to for­get ev­ery­thing I’ve learned, and won­der earnestly if these will be the shoes that fi­nally make me faster than the Flash.

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