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Life on California's beautiful Central Coast

Ugly running shoes: This is something America cares about

A few months ago I wrote a blog post that bemoaned an unfortunate truth: A lot of high end running shoes are really ugly.

Much to my surprise, this post got a lot of attention out there on the interweb. Strangers commented. People search for the term “why are running shoes so ugly” on a daily basis. It’s one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written, and it keeps getting traffic week in and week out.

It’s time for me to buy another pair of running shoes, so naturally this ugly shoe issue has been on my mind again. Right now I’m leaning toward a pair of Asics Kayanos that are gray and pink. Yes, pink, a color I despise. But it’s one of the only Kayano models available right now that doesn’t look like it was designed for a disco clown going to a Palm Springs rave.

I started searching around online to see if I could find any models of shoes that I found truly attractive. But my search couldn’t be limited to aesthetics. Performance of the shoe should be every runners’ priority, even if you make that final purchase decision based on the fact that you like the way you look. (Sidebar: I don’t understand how Men’s Wearhouse could get rid of George Zimmer. And I feel like his ouster means I have to stop saying “I guarantee it” all the time.)

Just this week I finished reading the fantastic “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. I was late to the party on this book, which was mostly as good as everyone said. I was more interested in the culture of the Tarahumara Indians, though, and McDougall spends a lot of time delving into the evolutionary science that allows us to run and the pros and cons of conventional running shoes.

Based partially on the immense popularity of McDougall’s book and the high number of people who adopted minimalist running footwear in its wake, you’ll now find minimalist shoes everywhere you go. I own a couple pairs, and when I first bought them I made a stupid mistake: I went running in them. Keep in mind that I am a six-foot-tall, 150-pound woman who mostly runs on asphalt and tackles a lot of hills. I quickly discovered, thanks to horrible shooting pain in my legs, that minimalist shoes were not going to work for me as running footwear. Then a few months later I got serious plantar fasciitis, which took months to recover from. I’m sure that some of the assertions of McDougall’s text are accurate – our running form is often unnatural, and our feet are not conditioned to run without shoes, and shoe companies make a lot of money. But I’m not running to hunt down an antelope for dinner, a practice that he devotes great time to in his book. I’m running to be healthy, ease stress, enjoy the city where I live, and impress my friends. I’ll continue wearing shoes to do so for the foreseeable future. (Occasional beach runs excluded.)

Back at square one: I need to buy shoes and I don’t like the way they look. I scrolled through a slideshow of the “25 Best Running Shoes of 2013” and found most to be away from my taste. There were two I found acceptable, but both were for trail running. I tend to stay away from trails, as they are  great places to sprain my ankles.

Next I navigated over to Runner’s World. They’re known for their expertise at shoe selection, and the midpack runner listens to their footwear recommendations as gospel. I follow their hilarious editor at large Mark Remy on Facebook. To my delight, I found that he had just written about a new REMY shoe, the Gimmùk. It’s a game changer, according to a news release he got. He writes: “Gimmùk is a Tarahumaran word meaning, roughly, ‘product differentiation.'”

At this point I was laughing so hard that I had trouble getting back to my original mission. Focus, Etling! I scrolled through the 2013 Summer Shoe Guide. Overwhelming shades of lime green, neon yellow and orange sherbert made me crave margaritas and frozen yogurt. How about some simple blues, reds and grays, shoe companies? Is that really too much to ask? I jumped over to the Spring Shoe Guide. Here I found something that didn’t totally offend me – the Asics Gel Lyte 33 2. Classic Asics design with a deep blue hue. Hmmm. I might have to give these babies a try. If I was still a fast runner, I’d even venture to the Newton Gravity Neutral Performance Trainer. Their flashy red blue and yellow combo is Olympic-caliber, though, and my mile splits aren’t speedy enough to pull that off, especially at a $175 price point.

For now, I am still running in the Kayanos I purchased six months ago. The heels are completely worn out and they smell like a dead animal. Maybe the Tarahumara were right. Sandals made out of old tires might be a better way to go.

At my most recent 15K, Semana Nautica in Goleta on July 4.

At my most recent 15K, Semana Nautica in Goleta on July 4.

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1 Comment»

  Jillian (Birds and Baking) wrote @

I am new to running and I bought my first pair of running shoes today. I had no idea what to look for, but I knew the prospects were going to be ugly. After no luck in big box store I went to a local running store and let the sales lady pick out shoes for me to try based on her evaluation of my needs. I ended up with sliver/purple/turquoise Ascics GT-1000s. Things could have been a lot worse. At least there’s no fluorescent orange or lime involved.


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