Forrest Gump’s momma was a wise women. One of her pearls of wisdom was that “You can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, where they going, where they been”. I got to thinking the other day and began to wonder about where my own shoes have taken me and where I still have to go. I had just been in to the shoe shop in Dunkeld, got my feet measured for no reason because I was just getting the latest version of my now trusted running shoes, New Balance 880 version 7’s, which were replacing the now worn down version 6’s I had worn for more than 18 months which themselves had replaced a pair of version 5s. The 880s are one of the few running shoes that actually come in my size; UK 10s with 2E width, so I am pretty much limited to them. And I began recalling all the shoes I have worn.
Well not all the shoes of course, cos I can’t remember all of them. The first pair I can recall must be buckle up sandals we had as kids. And then there were school shoes. I think they were called Idlers, the soft leather grandfather shoes that gave birth to grasshoppers I think. We wore them because they were meant to be good for growing feet. And because they were the shoes my grandfather wore. I remember having to polish them every Sunday before school on Monday. And outside of school we either wore no shoes at all or those black and blue thong sandals. Mostly those were more trouble than they were worth though as they would get lost because they were taken off and left behind, or one of the straps would cut or they ended up as hand sandals because it was faster to run barefoot. For much of my childhood, outside of school shoes, sandals were worn to get where you were going, and then discarded when you got there only to be worn hours later when you were going back home. Or when you hit the ball into the bush and had to wear them to protect your feet from being mercilessly poked by the lurking thorns.
I can’t remember owning takkies until after I had got to high school. I must have, I’m sure, but barefoot was just better to do everything in. But for all the wrong reasons I remember that particular pair that I must have got in Standard 5 or 6. Because I was not very proud of them. The other kids were starting to wear branded shoes. Nike and Reebok (I missed the Excitement shoes with the neon laces because of being barefoot!) mostly and maybe Fila. And the pair I got was a bad Nike knock off I think. The “tick” was upside down and looked more like an F and I remember trying to pull the tick off so they would immediately show. But eventually I accepted them and wore them till they gave up. The next pair after them were Olympic that I saved up for partially and got from Game (or as it was known in Durban Games). They were actually quite decent even though they weren’t one of the big 3 or 4 brands at the time. They held up for a bit longer and only had to be replaced because my feet eventually outgrew them. I was already wearing size 8s when I got them but somehow the feet kept growing. I remember that in high school the grandfather grasshoppers were replaced with a pair of police issue shoes from my uncle. They were huge on my feet to start with so I packed the front with paper but eventually grew into them. The habit of shining them every Sunday mostly remained though. Everyone else at school was in those super shiny Dakotas I think which we again couldn’t afford. Kiwi polish was a little bit cheaper and went a little bit further so police shoes were good enough.
Not being able to afford most branded shoes put me off actually buying shoes for a long while. I tended to stick to shoes that were purely there to serve the purpose of being shoes. Eventually I got a part time job and got myself some Reeboks. And the thing about them I remember the most was that they smelled, actually reeked, of draught beer from the job I held to buy them in the first place at the rugby stadium. If it rained, as it often did in Durban, they would be soaked and covered in mud to boot. But with no more growth in shoe size and textbooks to be bought there was no need to replace them for a while. I remember towards the end of my studies I also got a pair of indoor soccer boots as well. To actually play indoor soccer in because there was a period in the early 2000s were wearing indoor boots was the in thing to do. And after campus it became easier and shoes were actually given to me in the shape of clunky safety boots. As Forrest would have said – One less thing to worry about…
When I started running in 2011 I think I began in a pair of Adidas I had at the time. I remember walking/running my first Sasolburg 10km and then almost not being able to walk the next day due to sore feet. So I went out and got a proper pair of running Asics. And I stayed in Asics for the first couple years, changing the colour only. Then I went out to a running shop in Pretoria where they video recorded your stride and measured your feet and recommended shoes that would suit you. Brookes were just coming into South Africa at the time and for some reason the sales assistant recommended switching to them. They were a wrong fit though – Brookes didn’t (and I think, still don’t) make a cut that was wide enough. So for about a year I ran in shoes that were too narrow for my feet without knowing it. They were good running shoes and to that point the most expensive pair of shoes I had bought so I wasn’t going to change them!
Not too long into running with them, the Brookes began to tear at the little toe on each foot. And so they had to be replaced. So it was off to the Sweat Shop in Dunkeld where they didn’t have any fancy equipment to record stride. In fact they measure your feet on sliding scales and then make you run up and down the passageway. But the guys in the shop have been doing it for so long and have seen so many feet run through that I think by experience alone they can tell more than any recording does. I was fitted wider and into neutral shoes (no compensation for my very mild pronation). New balance 1080s in UK10 and 2E width. The next year brought a shift down to the 880s because the N of the New Balance logo on the 1080s was changed to a harder plastic and positioned right on those nefarious small toes of mine. And staying with them would have lead to torn shoes again or small toes with no toe nails (never mind the shoes you can actually tell a lot about a runner from his mangled toe nails). I ran in that first pair of 880s for almost 18 months with no issues. Admittedly it was only the two Soweto half marathons that I did in them and all the training runs in the lead up but they are the pair that lasted the longest. I estimate that I did roughly 1200km in the time I owned and wore them. The salesman at the store actually questioned if I had any issues and when I responded that I was still running comfortably he questioned the need to change at all. Tread wear was the best reason I could come up with even though the real reason was that I have begun to look forward to buying new shoes again. And I have some making up to do I guess. This new pair will hopefully go through a lot more miles though before they too will need replacing.
I’ve come a long way in a lot of different shoes. Good memories now but sometimes you tend to remember the better parts and edit out the not so good ones. Looking at the pair I am in now may therefore tell you about who I am today. But it is far from what brought me here, even as I remember it. They say walk a mile in a mans shoes and you will understand his journey. That is only partly true because the shoes he is in at this moment in time have only come a part of the way. Walk beside me for a while though and I will tell you about where I have been, the wonders I have seen and perhaps where I intend to get to. Perhaps, because a lot of the path is yet to be laid out.