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Archive for running shoes

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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Why are these running shoes so ugly?

Here’s an incongruity. I’ve been running for the last 18 years on a near-daily basis. It’s only the last 18 months that I’ve given a damn about what color my shoes are.

Maybe it’s a peculiarity of aging, to be more picky about such things. It could be directly related to my full time job, in which I work on a team that includes some exceptionally talented and color-savvy graphic designers. On this team, I have acquired some mild notoriety for wearing cool shoes.

So when I made my last few decisions about what running trainers to buy, I cringed. The shoes I was ordering by rote were ASICS Gel Kayanos, which I have been wearing since their very first edition. Version 19 was just released this year, so my allegiance to the model and brand is exactly aligned with my running history. They fit, they feel great, and I enjoy running in them. These are all important things.

But for the last few editions, the colors are WRONG. And the 19th release of the shoe takes this to a whole new level. I think these metallic-accented monstrosities look like something that my Jazzercise Barbie would have worn with her leg warmers and belted unitard back in 1984.

Here’s the photographic proof:

Gel-Kayano 19 - Black/white/flash pink

In other words, YUCK. I know a lot of runners. I can’t think of a single one who would be excited about the look of these shoes. Meanwhile, designers for Skechers and Nike have been coming out with really great looking, monotone minimalist shoes that look adorable – but are unwearable for runners like me who log just a tad over 15 miles a week. (That’s running sarcasm, for the uninitiated.)

Sometimes I wear men’s Kayanos, simply because the toe box is wider which is good for my feet. But the guys’ Kayano 19 is no better. It’s blue and black and red and yellow and equally shiny. It looks like a toddler designed it by randomly scribbling with colored crayons on a piece of paper.

After doing a little more research, I learned that these crazy metallic shoes are limited editions, and there are other more mainstream editions of Kayano 19. But they aren’t much better looking than their flamboyant siblings. The women’s are black with pink accents or pink with white accents. And I hate pink. Hate it with a passion. Gave it up around the time I put away Jazzercise Barbie, and never looked back. I know I can’t be the only woman who feels this way.

Here’s the rub, ASICs designers. I need your top-of-the-line shoes because they keep me running healthy and happy. But I can’t justify spending $140 on shoes that look this ridiculous. You’ve taken a decision that’s been easy for me to make for nearly 20 years, and made it complicated and messy and upsetting. Take a nod from your counterparts at Skechers and Nike and please see what you can do for me. Anything simple and cool looking will be fine. Just no pink. Pretty please.