Everyone in life has a history. And some of that history is baggage. Good baggage. Bad baggage. But baggage it is.
Some of that baggage is highly personal. Secrets you never want to reveal to anyone. Typically that’s the bad baggage.
But good baggage can be just as bad, in some respects. Like those letters from a former lover, secreted away in a photo album down in the basement. You know they’re there. You know what they say. You keep them hidden until you chance another glimpse at the writing that was once so precious. Those words. Those feelings. They never truly go away. They take you back to another day.
For some of us the baggage we carry around stays out in the open. It’s called wearing your emotions on your sleeve. Or your feet.
And like a love affair, my involvement with running began at the tender age of twelve. That’s when I first felt that combination of pain and joy so familiar to those who run. It happened while being timed in a twelve-minute running test in gym class. That feeling was so personal and profound I almost did not dare tell anyone how it felt. That catharsis of self and release of fear and anger and pleasure all at once. A cleansing of the mind. It really was like love at first sight.
Some people tell me they hate running. And I get that. For some, it is no joy at all, but a burden. Like marrying for family reasons or money…when there is no love in the relationship. Some people run because they feel they have to do it. I both admire and pity them, just as one admires a person stuck in a difficult marriage. You wish the best for them.
When people blanch at the idea of running I always tell them that walking is just as good for them. But it isn’t running. It’s not what we experience in that sensation of rushing air and flirting with the edge of exhaustion.
Perhaps you’ve heard it said that good sex is often the product of conflict because the passions that result from a fight are more intense. But that’s also why people who love each other sometimes do fall into boring patterns in the bedroom. Too much trust can actually soften the heart, which gives up the notion that it has to try so hard. Comfort really can kill. But not always.
It’s like that in running as well. When we fail to challenge ourselves the idea of going out the door can become boring. We fall into familiar patterns. Run the same pace. The same routes. Lose the joy of discovery.
Which is why a set of new shoes always shakes things up a little. At least the shoes on your feet look different. Feel different. They might even make you run a little different.
I’ve long lost count of the number of running shoes worn in 40+ years of running. It’s somewhere between 200 pairs and 500, I suppose. Yet I clearly recall that pair of Puma kangaroo-skin running spikes, circa 1971, doled out to me in freshman year cross country. And I recall those gum rubber flats for running on the asphalt around little Kaneland High School in the cornfields west of Chicago. Those shoes are burned into my brain like the slow dance I once with a rock-hard cheerleader during a high school dance. Oh. My. God.
And I also specifically recall my first pair of adidas running shoes. There was something about the three stripes on those shoes that screamed legitimacy. Perhaps it was those photos of European runners in issue after issue of Track & Field News. I longed to be that fast. Be that good. So many of those athletes wore adidas, the dominant brand of German track shoes. Sold in America. World class.
I wore a set of brushed suede blue adidas track spikes in high school track. They were sweet, sleek and dangerous with those 3/4″ spikes screwed into the bottom of the soles to race on cinder tracks. Then we took those spikes out and put in 1/4″ spikes to race on all-weather tracks. Indoor and outdoor. Then into the mud and scree of fall cross country.
We trained as well in adidas Italias. I’ve written about the glorious simplicity of those shoes, and how the running world has come full circle to the quiet functionality of the original adidas training flats.
The Italias had sister shoes in the adidas SL-72 and SL-76 training flats. The SL-72 was a classically simple adidas shoe issued during the Olympic year, built with a sole good for grass or concrete. Enough heel to do the job. They were followed by the much stiffer and less resilient SL-76. And from there, adidas went into a personality crisis of sorts. Their shoes got weird in some ways. Too hard in many models, or too narrow. Runners began adopted the ways of Nike and New Balance, Reebok and Saucony. The world exploded around the loyalties of those of us who loved the original adidas. It was like a sudden and implosive breakup.
Losing a first love like that is never easy. You don’t forget those feelings. Not when they helped form who you are. It’s true that high school girlfriends or boyfriends remain a part of your personality the rest of your life. You recall the fresh thrill of being liked or loved because it feels like nothing else you’ve ever experienced, or sometimes never experience again.
When I pull on a pair of adidas shoes, even a pair too broken down to use for training purposes, I still get that little rush of love that went with the originals. Those three stripes. The familiar angle of the adidas heel and sole. It’s not too sentimental to say that feeling with never, ever leave. It’s something to cherish no matter what other brands I choose to wear.
And there have been many. I got married in Nike Pegasus. Trained in Nikes all through college and beyond, including that summer in ’84 when I raced 24 times and won 12. Then came the settled years and New Balance trail shoes I threw on my feet because I was being purposely counterculture, hiding in the woods from competitive opportunities because life’s obligations were too many to allow heavy training. I was a running hipster.
Now I’ve emerged on the other side of Bell Curve and am simply enjoying the entire ride when it comes to running, riding and swimming. But when it came time to clear out some running shoes and give them back for recycling, I noticed a pair of gray adidas with sweet red soles. I pulled them out of the pile and put them through the wash. They’re a little hinchy in terms of support because I wore them out running, but the adidas still feel good on my feet and bring back all those happy memories of early days in running.
Call me a romantic if you will, or hopelessly lost in a running history that goes back farther than some of you reading this might even have been alive. But I say that life’s verve comes from a combination of dedication and desire. Older men can make great lovers, you know. We know how to tie the laces just right, or are willing to listen and learn.
There was once an urban legend that the word adidas actually stood for All Day I Dream About Sex. Well, it wasn’t true. What most athletes actually dreamed about in relation to adidas was somehow becoming world class. And it’s that pursuit of excellence and how it transfers to life that makes it all so interesting to consider exactly what we’re doing when we talk about having a love for the sport.