4

A goodbye to my running shoe

One pair gets ushered out while a new one gets called up to action.

Arguably, the most important possessions for any runner are her running shoes. Sure, we all have our favorite shorts, bras, tanks tops, gels, gloves, etc. But nothing is more important than those slabs of rubber we strap to our feet. They take the biggest brunt of the intensity of our sport. They hit the pavement. The slosh through mud and puddles. They absorb forces equating to multiple times our body weight.

Not only are our shoes the workhorses of our sport, but they’re also our protectors. They protect our feet—which are weak and soft thanks to modern life—from the harshness of the ground, but they also protect us from ourselves. Our shoes can correct our strides and much of our form can be either corrected or hindered by them. Because of this, runners can struggle for years to find the right pair of shoes. Everyone has different needs and preferences. Some need stability and like to feel like they’re running on clouds. Others like less shoe, something that just gets out of the way.

Look at that beautiful fresh green!

When I started running, I didn’t think much about shoes. I just got a pair of Asics and ran in them everyday. Then I became intrigued by Vibram FiveFingers back when they were all the rage. I went through a few pairs of them. I could never take myself seriously in them, but I liked how they felt. I liked feeling the ground. Unfortunately, I developed posterior tibial tendonitis because of them after a couple of years. I tried a few different shoes after that, but returned them all for just not feeling right—shoutout to Road Runner Sports for their Test Run program that lets you try out shoes for up to 90 days and return them if you don’t like them.

That’s when I found the New Balance RC 1600. I was in love! 5.6oz of bliss. These shoes practically feel like nothing. On paper, the 8mm heel-toe drop is more than I’d prefer and they’re a little on the narrow side (I’ve got wide feet so I run in the men’s version), but something about how they felt while running was just perfect. It almost felt like nothing at all.

This was in the summer of 2012. Four and a half years ago. I’m on my 14th pair of them, currently. And I still have two unopened pairs in boxes. I’ve run over 5,000 miles in 1600s. Six of my ten marathons have been in 1600s.

Technically, the 1600 is a racing flat. It’s not meant to be worn day-in and day-out, but I love them for everything. I love them for races. I love them for speedwork and tempo runs. I love them on long runs. I’d wear them for everything except recovery runs.

If you go through every Flat Amy photo I’ve posted before a race, you’ll seem them there ready to go!

Flat Amy 2016 Chicago Marathon

Look them ready to go snag a BQ and PR in Chicago!

A line up of the RC 1600 v1.

Like most runners who find the perfect shoe, I’d buy multiple pairs at a time and lived in constant fear of New Balance discontinuing them. When the v1 got replaced with the v2, I panicked. But luckily, I loved the v2 just as much. Last year, when stock of the v2 dried up everywhere, I freaked and took to Twitter!

A couple of winters ago, I even took an older pair that was about to get retired and screwed a few screws in soles as makeshift Yaktrax for the ice. I wanted nothing else on my feet. Eventually, I was rotating three pairs of RC 1600s and a pair of RC 1400s—another New Balance shoe in the same family, with a bit more to them.

New Balance RC 1600 with screws in the soles

Doesn’t look like much, but it actually made a difference!

But, sadly, this post is a goodbye. This isn’t a happy ending.

A few weeks ago, I started to have some pain in my right foot out of nowhere. It started at the Women’s March and I feared it might be a stress fracture. Not that I know what a stress fracture feels like, but my physical therapist was very cautious when I first talked to her about it and I didn’t know what else it could be.

A trip to a podiatrist with experience dealing with athletes (and he’s an runner himself), ruled out the stress fracture to my relief. However, it wasn’t all good news. It turns out, my feet are a mess. My left foot’s arch collapses a bit which puts stress on my posterior tibial tendon and, in turn, causes the tendinitis I deal with. This I already knew. The surprise was my right foot. What a mess! My big toe is out of alignment. Currently, it’s at the high end of moderate. This is causing me to start to develop a bunion and arthritis. Fun! And the pain I’ve been having is bursitis, also caused by my toe being out of alignment. There’s a lot going on.

While none of this is an injury in the sense that I need to stop running to let it heal, it does mean I could be headed down the road to needing surgery. Blargh. However, my doctor’s treatment for this is rather simple. A change of shoes, some decent over-the-counter insoles, and some physical therapy exercises. This won’t realign my toe, but it could keep it from getting worse.

Cat curled up on running shoes

Even Hattie loves the RC 1600!

I was devastated when he told me I needed to change me shoe. He told me I need more cushioning and less of a heel-toe drop. I was about ready to storm out like a child throwing a tantrum, but…you know, I really don’t want to have to have surgery if I can avoid it.

My doctor’s recommendation? The Saucony Kinvara. Not quite as light as my 1600s, but at 7.7oz, light enough that I couldn’t really tell the difference. And a 4mm drop, which I’m more than okay with. But so much cushioning! At least compared to the 1600.

I left his office and ordered a pair of Kinvara 7s and insoles and waited for them to arrive. Before trying them on my own, I brought them to my next physical therapy appointment and we talked things over. My physical therapist had me put them on and try them out first on the AlterG treadmill and then on a regular treadmill. We wanted to make sure they were the right shoe and doing what we wanted them to do before I dove headfirst into wearing them. After about a mile on the treadmill with the Kinvara, I didn’t hate them. I was willing to give them a try.

I’ve now run nearly 20 miles in the Kinvara and, well, I guess they’re not the worst thing ever. They certainly don’t feel wrong. I can see them becoming my main shoe. I’m not happy about it, but it is what it is. I’ll learn to love them…I guess. 🙄

Up to the sky!

Still, leaving behind my 1600s feels like a breakup. To a non-runner this may sound absurd, but we runners get attached to our shoes. I look over at them sitting by the door and it’s like looking at an ex-girlfriend I’m not over yet. I want to text them in the middle of the night and tell them I miss them. I wonder if we can still be friends. My physical therapist says I can still work them in for speed work and races, but with the possibility of surgery on the line, I’m afraid.

I’ll miss you, 1600s. We had a really good run (pun intended) over the last four and a half years. We spent so much time together and ran thousands of miles. We’ve set new PRs. We’ve qualified for Boston. We’ve done Dopey Challenges. ❤️

PS: Something I didn’t mention up above, but don’t want to gloss over is New Balance’s positive stance on Donald Trump. While they tried to walk it back a little, their statement seemed soft. Either you’re explicitly against hate and oppression or you implicitly support it. For this reason, I am actually very happy to move away from New Balance and this was something I was likely going to be looking into doing after my stockpile of 1600s ran dry. As long as I have a choice, I would prefer not to support any company that has made statements in support of Trump.

 

1

An open letter to New Balance

New Balance, we have to talk, okay?

Over the last fifteen years, I’ve gladly given you a lot of money. I’ve owned somewhere around 50-60 pairs of your shoes. That sounds like a lot to me too, but fifteen years ago, I decided I didn’t want to buy other brands of sneakers anymore. You guys made your shoes in the US and denounced sweatshop labor. I was young and idealistic at the time so this was all it took to sell me.

Being a pretty casual person, t-shirt and jeans all the time, for the last fifteen years or so prior to my transitioning, your 373s, 574s, and other casual models were my footwear of choice. To say I wore your sneakers a lot wouldn’t quite cover it. Unless I had to dress up nice (which I don’t for work), your sneakers were on my feet every single day.

NB 1600When I got into running, I eventually found that the New Balance 1600 was pretty much the best running shoe ever made. I love the heck out of these things. I’m currently on my fifth pair of them in less than a year and a half.

Up until two years ago, our relationship was great. You’d make shoes I loved and I’d fork over money for them. I’d say we were both happy.

Then it happened. I finally had a problem with a pair of New Balances. No big deal, we’d had an amazing run and it was bound to happen. I had pair of 574s start to come apart at the seams after only a few weeks of owning them. No problem, I thought, I’ll just contact you and you’d replace them for me. Unfortunately, your customer service wasn’t able to replace them with the exact shoe, I had to choose a different pair that was in stock. I went with a pair of 610s.

A couple months later, the replacements, the 610s, also started coming apart at the seams. This can’t be right I thought. I spent some time on the phone with customer service who agreed to again replace the shoes, but this time it was the 610s that were out of stock. I opted for the New Balance 01 as my replacement (I ended up loving these shoes, by the way). I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to your quality control. Surely something had changed in your manufacturing and quality assurance processes, but I was willing to let it slide.

Fast forward to a few months ago and my current pair of sneakers, New Balance 373s, started coming apart. What?! I had just gotten these! Around the same time I had also purchased a new pair of 1600s after having worn through a few pairs of them already. To make matters worse, these 160os started falling apart with only 50 miles on them! I couldn’t believe it!

I again contacted customer support regarding both pairs and just like the other times, customer support agreed to replace the shoes. However, the 373s couldn’t be replaced, they were out of stock. No matter, I spent a few minutes picking out an alternate pair of shoes and a few backups in case that pair was also out of stock. No luck! Both were “out of stock” despite showing in stock on the website. Things continued like this through five or so other options. Finally, after a call from customer support, I was told they’d been able to find a pair of the original 373s to send me. However, I was also told I had to pop for shipping to send both pairs back. That hardly seemed fair, it was your shoddy manufacturing which caused this problem! And besides, I had already paid to have them shipped once when I bought them.

Through all the back and forth over trying to find a pair of shoes that were in stock, weeks passed. Customer service would take days to email me back. The whole process, to replace both pairs, took six weeks. Now, keep in mind, I wear these shoes every day and I run six days a week. I needed both these shoes!

Oh! And let’s not gloss over the fact that each time I had to go pick out a potential replacement pair of shoes, your website wouldn’t work properly. Images wouldn’t load. Clicking things wouldn’t do anything. Pages would take forever to load. Frustrating.

Over the course of fifteen years and 50-60 pairs of shoes, four problems doesn’t sound like a lot, but let’s put into perspective here that all of these issues were in the last two years. I don’t know what you changed, but something is different on your end and I don’t like it.

This post was originally going to be about how I’d never give you another dime again because you just can’t be trusted, but the problem, for me anyway, is that I just can’t quit these 1600s. I love everything about them. The day you stop making them may be the day you and I part ways.

New Balance, you need to get it together here. I would like to mend our relationship, but I’m going to need some commitment from you. I need for you to not just tell me you care about me, but show me. Stop making shoes that fall apart after a few weeks.

Sincerely,
Amelia