In 2004 I was a high school special education teacher. Every day posed an unpredictable challenge with kids’ behavior, their parents’ behavior (which was often worse) and the bureaucracy of a convoluted educational system. It all took a toll on me.
One morning I was out for an early run and passed a shop I’d never visited before. A small store dedicated to running! For the rest of my workout I wondered about what it would be like to work in a running store: I’d get to hang out with fellow runners, geek out on shoes, compare PRs and maybe even get a fat discount on the kicks that took regular chunks out of my bleak teacher’s salary.
When I got home I sent the owner a message. A few months later I’d lock up my classroom, trade my tie for a technical tee and sit on a fit stool across from countless customers who regularly mispronounced the word plantar fasciitis. I was in heaven.
Back in those days I was more into hiking than running. Once, on a long single track through a dreamy portion of tall woods I sped up my ambling pace to a slow jog. The pack rattled on my back as the trees whizzed by faster than ever. “Dang,” I thought. “Running on a trail is amazing! I wonder if it’s a thing.”
Trail Running Is Indeed A Thing
During my next shift at the shop, I shared my experience with coworkers. “Doggone right it’s a thing,” another staffer said. He and I quickly became trail running buddies.
After a few months of super early mornings, starry miles, dim headlamps and way too many spiderwebs, I came into work one day to find a new shoe on the wall. A chicken fat yellow eyesore with a blood red logo and dark splotches. The shoe was like all my students at the time in that it demanded attention and caused everyone around it to shake their heads a little bit.
That nasty mustard shoe became the talk of the shop. It proudly glowed among its footwear peers and no matter where it sat on the wall it inevitably became a conversation piece. “What’s that one?” customers would ask, cringing. “That’s a new trail shoe,” we’d say. They’d scratch their heads. “Wait. Should I have a different shoe for when I run trails?” they’d ask. And the banter would continue about why a trail shoe is a great solution.
Loving a Shoe
Wasn’t long before those yellow shoes became the trail staple. Seemed that everyone had a pair. Eventually I, too, rocked this terrifically unsightly model as I cranked out longer, faster and more comfortable trail miles. Still, I hated that I loved this hideous shoe.
When version 2 came out, I snagged my size 12s straight from the vendor’s shipping box and brought it to the register for my discount. Soon I had a backup pair — and before long a backup to the backup. This trail shoe became part of my identity. I proudly wore it as an all day, every day shoe and wouldn’t even consider other options.
As time went by, my attachment deepened. Every ultramarathon I’ve ever run was completed with a version of this shoe on my feet, including a couple sub-24 hundred milers. Of course the model changed a little bit with each iteration — and thankfully the spongy funky lemon profile gave way to far hipper designs. The model was my go-to for more than a decade.
In 2018, as I began my walk across America at the Santa Monica pier, version 13 shod my feet. I assumed it would be my accompanying footwear for the 3000 miles between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. I even had a few pairs on deck back home for friends to mail me when I’d worn another pair ragged.
I had run, but never walked marathon distances on hard top with these favorite shoes, let alone done it daily for months on end. And when my feet started throbbing after the first 300 miles, I didn’t even consider the possibility of changing styles. I charged ahead in pain and figured I just needed to get used to the new conditions.
But things only got worse and it wasn’t until a friend recommended a completely new shoe (Gasp! A road shoe!) that I started to feel better. My pain dissipated and for the rest of my journey I stayed true to this new model that made me feel like I was walking on a marshmallow.
Cheating On An Old Friend
Yet as I sauntered in utter comfort, I felt unfaithful. And when the sixth pair of my cheater shoes concluded my transcontinental journey, I still pined for my old shoe friend. It’s funny how an inanimate thing can become such a living part of our persona.
For many years, that first trail shoe defined me. These days, when I cross paths with runner people from my past they often ask if I’m still a loyalist. When I tell them I’m not, I feel a little pang in my heart. I then secretly promise myself I’ll grab a pair of the newest version on my next shoe-buying trip. But so far my promises have all been empty and I still am without my once-favorite shoe. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t recognize it if I saw one.
As humans, evolution and growth is inevitable. And with this growth, we have to endure loss. Yeah, I know trail shoes are just shoes. And being sentimental about a certain model is plain silly. But there’s no denying I am still a little bit in love.
I can’t shake the impact of my old, unsightly friend. Probably never will. And funny, what once caused embarrassment and self-consciousness now fills me with nostalgia. How I wish I could, just one last time, put on a fresh pair of those sunny golden dreamboats from back in the day.
In case you are curious: The yellow monsters the author refers to in the story were Brooks Cascadia and the ones that he replaced them with were the Hoka Bondi.