The first pair of really revolutionary running shoes that I wore were Nike waffle trainers and racers. We bought the Nike Waffle Trainers during our college years for daily workouts. They were blue and yellow, stable and reliable, and we loved them for running on both the grass and roads in cross country. We put thousands of miles on those shoes over a few years’ time.
In 1975 or so, we were thrilled when the Nike Oregon Waffle racing shoes also came on the market. These were yellow and green, as you might imagine, and were perfect cross country racing boots because they easily made the transition to every surface. Built on a spike last, they were light and fast.
The next year and for three years after, I raced in Nike Waffle Elites. Those were also blue and yellow in the style of the Waffle Trainers, but much lighter. They were a cross between the spike last and the trainer, and that meant good footing in every condition as well. The soles were solid foam, so no Air components as yet, by 1980.
By the time I graduated from college, Nike was really ramping up in the road racing world. In late 1982 or early 1983, I purchased a set of Nike Mariah racing shoes. They had air soles from front to back. Designed almost entirely for road racing, the tread was minimal, and so was the traction. They weren’t the best shoes to wear on a wet day when the asphalt got slick from rain and oil and whatever else clung to the surface.
The other problem with the Mariahs was their spongy feel. The total air sole was a bit distracting because of their ‘give.’ That compression aspect also led to blisters on occasion, especially in hot conditions. I tried to will the Mariahs I’d purchased at Runner’s Edge into a consistent racing shoe, but it never really worked out. Ultimately they wound up being what my college buddies used to tease each other about whenever someone showed up at a party or social occasion with their bright racing shoes on. “Oooooh,” they’d go. “Casual Elites.”
But not long after the Mariah sank into my closet a new Nike racing shoe came on the market. This was the Nike Air Edge. I fell in love with that shoe instantly and raced in it frequently during the early 80s. The Air heel was contained in a firmer form of rubber, so it did not squish around like the Mariah. The forefoot was not Air soled, but firm and bouncy foam, and it was really responsive as a result. The clincher in what I loved about the shoe was the traction. The sole composition was a nicely patterned grid or cross-lined array of horizontal grippiness. Not too much, but perfect for road racing. I ran under 25:00 for five miles in those shoes, a 31:10 10k, and a 1:24 25K (15.5 miles), one of my best distance running performances at any distance. Had I run a marathon that day, it may well have resulted in a time around 2:22.
I wish that I could buy a set of Air Edges to this day. They were built like a spiked shoe for the road. They’d be a great racing shoe for triathlon too, my chosen sport(s) these days. I’m a Team ZOOT Ambassador along with my wife.
The reason I’m writing about these older shoes today is that my friend and co-worker Glen Kamps at Dick Pond Athletics recently handed me a brochure for each of these shoes one night after I’d finished working a shift at the store. “Where did you get these?” I asked.
He replied: “I’ve kept them all these years.”
That’s Glen. He’s like a running shoe historian, having worked for Dick Pond for almost all its 50 years of existence. We chuckle often at our mutual histories, because while he’s got a couple years on me, we both happily recall the racing scene and its many names and heroes from the early 1980s when this whole road racing scene really took off in the US.
Seeing those little brochures gave me a nice dose of runner’s nostalgia. I don’t go in deeply for that, but when it’s a shared appreciation for all that’s changed in the world of running, it’s fun to have a little moment like that together.
I hope you can appreciate it too. We all have our set of favorite shoes from the past. Some got back years while others are more recent. And when those shoes share a “moment” like setting a PR or contributing to progress in some way, they live forever in our running hearts. That’s a good thing, and I like that my best shoes have left their tread on me.
I even got married in a pair of Nike Pegasus, and gave them to each of the groomsmen. But that’s a story for another day, and not so very far away.