You are a fake. You are about to be uncovered, and everyone will find out what you always feared. After years of bluffing, it turns out you don’t know really know anything about your specialist subject. You’re as clueless as him, her, and the rest of us.
All we want to do is get outside and go for a big old stinking run for a bit of time over a bit of space, we aspire to leave our troubles behind, connect with nature, get fit, and to enjoy the purifying feeling of running freely. But in a world of 4mm drops, custom toe boxes, and aggressive outsole compounds, it is all to easy to be left confused as to what you do, don’t, maybe do, and maybe don’t need to help you on your quest towards leg it with a sense of true liberation. This is not guide to buying running shoes, nor is it a review of ultra-light trail kit, additionally won’t be any help whatsoever in your quest to beat your 10k PB.
An almost Icelandic attack of sharp and staccato blasts of wet slicing the silence of the Borrowdale night, the deluge threatens the tent, asking it to prove its waterproofing.
I took a run up Keswick’s premier mound of earth, Latrigg earlier on. Pissing it down, I slodge up Spoony Lane, through the woodland, and climb the trail which zig zags to 1200 feet. At the bench, the cherry on the top, you get a picture card view of Keswick, Derwent Water being wet below, Bassenthwaite Lake’s liquidity visible to the North, sodden everywhere in every direction. Skiddaw and Little Man raise as mountains 3000 foot behind, holding fort. Went up Walla Crag earlier in the week, which is a great blast up and above Derwent Water, offering panorama to the tip of the Borrowdale Valley, the higher peaks, Great Gable, and along the valley’s jaws to the expanses of water which have been gracefully vomited into the topography. It was good fun going up, so I decided to keep on going up, and up to Bleaberry Fell. The ground was burbling, streams appeared from nowhere, and the soup under foot was treacle mud, textures of sudden and sharp mineral, with lumped croutons of solidified lava rock.
Running in the rain is alright. Initially on arriving in the Lake District, it felt a continuos task build resilience to the threat of wet and cold. I waste time waiting. Sitting in the car. Waiting. Waiting for the rain to stop hammering the tin can roof. Vest, shorts, and trainers, quivering at the impending threat of hypothermia and getting lost in a peat bog. And then you just get out and get on with it and accept the destiny of the skies . You get wet, but it doesn’t really matter once you’re off, apart from the continuous falling onto your arse and involuntary sliding down the hillsides. After all, if there were no rain, there would be no lakes, and.. well… The District doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
‘You see the X-claw 212 offers a lighter shoe. consequence of the stripped back main body of the shoe, though the toe cage is not compromised, with good protection,’ says the shop assistant. A South African accent lilts with knowledge and expertise of a seasoned runner and salesman, as a Midlander’s face gorms in response, sat like a child on the shoe testing bench in one of Keswick’s many Outdoors Outlets. The recent slip and slide of descending Bleaberry Fell left me shaken. The grip on my trainers had been compromised by my idleness to take them off for non-running activities. As well as fell-running shoes, these shoes became my ‘going-to-the-shops shoes,’ ‘commuting shoes,’ and ‘walking to the pub shoes’. Why not get my money’s worth? They are comfy.
The key feature of the fell-running shoe is the football-shoe like grip which is provided by large rubber studding which protrude dramatically from the sole. Perfect for the greasiest of grasses, the pettiest of bogs, and the most particularly unfriendly of out of bounds climbs and descents. Broaden the fell-running shoes function , say to a general purpose shoe, and these studs are soon left impotent, becoming more general purpose shoe-like in their structure and nature. The clatter of tarmac and pavement shaves the tread to what a mortal would deem normal shoe-like qualities. And this is where the crucial element of choice comes into play.
The research and development department of Heelies have missed a trick in not yet developing their shoe range into adult sizes. Most first encounters with Heelies involve an unknown child gliding with clattering gracefulness into the side of innocent bystander’s shopping trolley in a supermarket. Heelies are the shoes with a single wheel in the heel that allow the owner, most commonly a mucus encrusted child, to lean back and skate along any surface then resembles smooth. Heelies, alongside lackadaisical parenting, and the social shaming of smacking your child, are responsible for Little Jimmie’s Torvell and Dean inspired torment in the Dairy aisle. Perhaps this was his last ditched protest, through the medium of skated-dance, to his recently discovered affliction to lactose. For whatever reason, Jimmie chose to slide, and Jimmie chose to glide, in the aisle that day. They look like fun. I did not choose to do either of the above when coming down and below the wet mountainside that day, accompanied by the lurching of heart beat, and primitive outburst of expletive surprise, as I tumbled repeatedly backwards, tit under arse, shredding my searching hands, arse cheek cushions, and nerves to tatters.
‘Once you don’t trust your shoe, you may aswell give up. It’s game over. You shouldn’t bother.’
Just what I suspected. Thanks South African Paul. I need to buy some new expensive trainers. Immediately.
‘….Whereas, our best seller, the Mudclaw 300 has a fuller protective band and slightly raised and broader profile, with less aggressive positioning.’ He runs his hand across the shoe demonstrating what I assume are these features.
‘Mmhmm,’ I nod with feigned understanding, placing my thumb and forefinger on my chin in a pensive illusion.
Paul brings out a foot measuring device straight from the 1990s and a special pair of thin running socks to ensure a precision fit. I feel very important. As I take off my old trainers, I guide away the aroma of room sweated brie with a subtle waft of the air directly above my feet. The area requires a little more detoxifying than initially anticipated, and I am therefore required to point at the most distant shoe on the display board in order to prompt Paul to give me some further atmospherical room for maneuver. This hopefully distracting his olfactory senses as he divulges into an in-depth breakdown of the pros and cons of another model of shoo-age.
He approaches me armed with two boxes of opportunity, I am transported back to Clarks Shoe Store, Derby, 1997, Eight years old. I wear a heavy cloak of disappointment as I am prescribed yet another pair of NHS black leather shoes. No frills. My heart had been set on a beautiful pair of white trainers with red LED flashing lights in the heel. I would have also settled for a pair of Bull Boys Shoes get the power in your feet (with free pair of signed Gareth Southgate shin pads). The farrier has spoken though, and my dreams were left just as that.
‘Ermmm, yeh they feel alright,’ I say earnestly as Paul pokes and prods two different models of shoe each foot, I wince as he catches on old in growing toe nail. After 45 seconds of concentrated and purposeful foot fingering, he announces;
‘That’s the badger!’
I am not sure which the badger is, but look on hopefully for some further prompting of a suitable response.
‘Let’s jack these upto 9 mill, which adds to the volume and a more precise fit.’ I have marginally narrow feet I discover.
‘Yeh! Good idea,’ as the technicalities and intricacies of trainer buying build I begin to believe my own pretense of knowledge.
A further thirty-five minutes of in depth sole searching prevails. I run up and down the stairs to the cafe in the shop to test the compatibility of the shoe. I feel particularly stupid as I have no idea what I am looking out for, so am literally just running up and down the stairs between the shop and cafe. I pass the same bewildered mothers and prams three times. and I keep a serious face each time. I offer just a single half nod of acknowledgment to them, as this shows that the depth of my ongoing shoe analysis in simply being unable to allow time for outside interference or distraction. I experiment with different ways of tying up the laces. I go loose. I go tight. I go criss and both cross. I am even permitted use of the in store artificial banked footpath, a 2m x 3m paper mache/rock testing ground, and check the ‘roll’ of the shoe, which Paul informs will be important for the upcoming Langdale Horseshoe Race, which includes a long and extended off-camber traverse.
And finally, it would seem a decision and deal is made.
I prepare to close the sale, ‘Well, thank you for your all your help,’ it had been a genuinely informative and detailed exchange, and I take my wallet out in a Ok-I-am-ready-to-pay motion.
‘I think you need to try these other ones in an 11,’ and a completely new shoe is produced.
‘Oh..’ I stall.
‘But we won’t have them in until next week.’
‘Well, to be honest, I probably wont be able to tell the difference,’ I finally admit.
‘You will. You should definitely try them.’ An instruction.
The anticipation of buying the shoes had already built up. I had already pictured myself running into the sunset, breaching the top ten of race standings, and completing unknown and epic landscapes in this very shoe. To wait would be to digress back to the broken-dreamt 8 year old in Clarks, it would be damaging to the momentum and sense of enabling the past forty five minutes had fostered, it would be impossible for me to run away from this opportunity to spend £100 impulsively and possibly unnecessarily.
‘They may have them in your size at the shop around the corner,’ Paul selflessly offers, after spending such a huge level of effort and expertise in equipping me appropriately.
I take a photo of the new trainer and go around the corner. They don’t have them in the right size. I end up buying the same ones I thought I was about to buy beforehand, but from the second shop.
After I feel shameful and guilty. Paul had invested his time and skill in ensuring I found the perfect shoe. Not only did I buy elsewhere, I went back on his superior advice, and I had led him on to believing a sale was going to happen and robbed him of his reward right at the last hurdle. I consider buying him a present as a way of apoliging, then quickly realise this would be a very strange thing to do and decide not to. The next day I find myself passing Paul’s shop once more, and I am wearing my brand new traitor’s trainers. I put up my hood and run quickly past.