Sunday, November 26, 2006


Today I bought new sneakers.
I know, to most people, this is a pretty mundane event, but for me it was the end of a sort-of era.

The last time I bought new sneakers was probably a year and a half ago, when I started training for a half marathon. I am a New Balance whore - I ran cross country all four years in high school and after a number of not so great experiences with Nike and Reebok and Adidas running shoes, I discovered the glory of New Balance. When a New Balance sneaker says it's a size 10, it fits my size 10 feet perfectly. While the other shoes left me with blackened toenails and blisters, my New Balance sneaks fit my foot like a glove and would never rub my skin the wrong way, even when wearing them barefoot. Even after I stopped running I wore New Balance - the all terrain shoes I wore all through college, and I brought them to Kenya with me. I left them there though, feeling benevolent and beyond wordly goods, wondering whose feet they may grace next. I bought another pair to go to Kenya last January, intending to take them home this time around, but because I got incredibly sick at the hotel we stayed at and the SFS intern had to pack my bag (he was a great guy but totally mortified to have to pack for me and touch my underwear and stuff) because I was so incapacitated by vomiting and diarrhea (VD for short) he rushed to put everything in my bag and get me out to the car, and in that hurry he left a shoe behind. So here I am at home, still with one perfectly good New Balance shoe, wondering what to do with it.

ANYWAYS. When it came time to start my half marathon training I turned instantly to New Balance. I purchased a pair of hideously ugly yet amazingly comfortable white and bright orange sneakers. I felt like I was walking on a cloud when I wore them, and they saw me through five months of training without a hitch. They were seriously like an extension of my body, and when I packed my bags for the car ride to Portland, Maine, where the half marathon was held, I spoke to them in my head "you and me shoes, we're gonna go those 13.1 miles. we're gonna be great." I thought things went fairly well during the race. I was running for charity, partaking in the "Team in Training" program run by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. An ad for Team in Training piqued my interest as I was riding the MBTA. I work with in the Hematological Malignancies section of The Cancer Hospital, and I had often felt somewhat helpless when interacting with patients - I'm not a nurse or a doctor, and though my research has already helped some people, I wanted to do more. I felt like I was running those 13 miles for every patient I'd ever met, and they were my focus during the race. I'd try and think of a patient for every mile, and when I passed the mile marker, I'd say their name in my head. This was a great motivator, but it made me ignore any ache or pain I had. Normally this would be a good thing, ignore the muscle cramp or the side stitch til the end of the race, but I wasn't ignoring that. I was ignoring the electronic parole-esque bracelet I was wearing around my ankle that was keeping track of my number (in case I collapsed on the course, they'd know I was missing) and my race time. It was digging into my skin. Actually, a more accurate description of what it was doing would be EATING my skin. Right down to my achilles tendon. While there's not a lot of skin there to begin with, there's enough that if something starts eating it, you bleed, kind of a lot. I didn't realize this until I crossed the finish line. I felt so triumphant, standing there, wrapped in my tinfoil blanket to keep me warm. When I put my leg up on an upturned milk crate to have the band removed by a race official, I STILL didn't realize anything was wrong. Then she glanced over her shoulder "we need gloves for this one." As she snapped on a pair of latex gloves I looked down and said "sweet jesus." I had bled all over the back of my shoe and sock. It was nasty. The race official pointed me in the direction of the first aid tent, but they were busy taking care of someone who had collapsed at the finish line, and had come to very confused, actually hysterical, probably because of dehydration. I figured they were more important, so I took off my shoe, walked barefoot to the car and my mom just drove us home without fanfare.

My leg healed fine, though there's a funky scar there now. The blood never really came out of my sneakers, so every time I put on my right shoe, I'd glance down at the dark stain and fondly remember the Team in Training days. I never wanted to retire the shoes, as they were evidence of my battle scars. Today my sister, mother and I went to Decathalon Sports, just down the road, to see if we could find any bargains at there going-out-of-business sale. I found a gorgeous pair of Saucony "Hurricanes" a silver shoe with blue accents. The New Balances were long gone, but I had known many runners who were Saucony whores just as much as I was a New Balance whore. Besides, I still have to replace my NB all terrains one day, so buying a new brand of running shoe didn't seem to be too adulterous. I slipped out of my ridiculous Chinese Laundry slingback and slid my foot into the Saucony. I could feel the gel-filled soles cushion my foot with every step. I had plenty of room to wiggle my toes, yet the shoe wasn't too loose in the heel. The laces didn't cut off my circulation, and the weight of the shoe didn't drag down my foot. They were perfect. And 40% off the marked down price.

As we walked through the parking lot I contemplated the fate of the trusty orange and white shoes. They're not ready for a full retirement yet, and I think I'll still wear them when street running, and save the hurricanes for the gym. When it does come time for retirement I joked that I'd put the shoes in a glass case, along with my Team in Training singlet and half-marathon medal. Though I laughed when I said this, I think I'm kind of serious. My orange shoes and I WERE a team, after all....

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