A Girl and Her Running Shoes: A Love Story

“You got another new pair of running shoes?” my husband inquired, not bothering to hide his disgust.

As I lifted my purplish-blue (this color has always confounded me) New Balance 860 v5 from the box, the smell of rubber washed over me like warm sunlight. So bright. So clean. So … new.

“My other pair was like 6 months old.” Okay, 3 months, but only runners understand that 3 months in shoe years is like 40 for humans.

“You wouldn’t let me spend $100 on a Halloween costume and you bought a pair of shoes?” he said, accusingly.

Clearly Ray doesn’t understand logical fallacy. A one-time Halloween costume and a pair of shoes that takes me to my next PR pain-free, are not like things. They aren’t even in the same universe, unless your universe is inhabited by red herrings and straw men.

No, I did not spend $100 on new shoes—I spent $120. But that really breaks down to only $60 per foot. Figure in the free shipping and that these shoes will protect my $12 running socks and $20 pedicure, and they’re basically free.

And, these are not mere “shoes.” They’re wings. Jet packs. Hover boards.

Friends.

That’s right, I love my running shoes.

I’ve been wearing the New Balance 860 since I first started running somewhere around the mid-90s. Before that, I was a shoe whore. I’d find the cheapest, most colorful shoe, try it out a couple of times and quickly discard after realizing it wasn’t a good fit. Too spongy. Too stiff. Too geriatric. Too moonboot-ish (that’s a real thing). I was always searching, without ever really knowing what I was looking for.

After a bout with shin splints, my husband suggested that I get fitted for a shoe by someone who actually understands the mechanics of running. It was awkward at first. Having a pretty man tell you to “run naturally” while he watches you is a little like telling someone to breathe without thinking about it. Everything gets weird and labored. I jogged down the sidewalk like a ostrich—upright with my arms close to my body, paddling through the air as if I was shooing flies from chest. It was even worse when he instructed me to run back because then I had to think about my face. What’s a natural face for a block-long jog? I settled on a bizarre catalogue-model smile mixed with perceived effort—best described as my “stanky face”—which caused the pretty man to avert his eyes, and understandably so.

Back in the store, pretty man told me I had a wide toe box and that I pronated—neither of which is sexy. He handed me a rather unattractive and oversized predominately white New Balance shoe with navy accents. Jackie Joyner-Kersee wouldn’t touch these things with her 10-foot vaulting pole—even in the ‘80s.

At the time, when I thought of New Balance, I thought of old men in long velour robes shuffling along in the gray 574, going to retrieve the Sunday paper from the front yard. But my very next run felt effortless. I was cloud-running. Unicorns were flying. Angels sang. It was a perfect fit.

You know the shoe I'm talking about...

You know the shoe I’m talking about…

I’ve stuck with the 860 ever since—besides my marriage, it’s the most committed I’ve ever been. Sure, there was a time or two I was tempted by a deal or a trendy color and I justified, “I won’t run in these, just look cute in them.” But even then, after a week or two, the adulteresses found themselves relegated to the dark corners of the closet amongst the other misfit shoes that caused me pain and regret.

Runners get it. My running partner Lindsay recently learned that New Balance updated her New Balance RC 1400 to a new version. My shoe has had 5 version upgrades, which I’m okay with, but Lindsay is a purist. She spent an evening scouring the internet for every pair in her size she could find and ended up buying six. It’s safe to say that the size-9 original RC 1400 is now obsolete.

Lindsay's loot arrives!

Lindsay’s loot arrives!

I’m fickle about a lot of things in my life, but not my running shoe. The 860 has seen me through three marathons and five half marathons. It’s run on trails in the Northwest and through vineyards in the South of France. It’s been in rain and snowstorms. PR’d and peed on. And 40 years from now, when I’m shuffling to my mailbox in my velour robe, you can bet I’ll be in my 860—v 48.

New Balance 860

Even our running shoes like each other! *smooch*

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Trust the plan: Just when you think it isn’t working…it is.

Rock 'n' Roll Savannah

Last year: A different time, a different plan. (Lindsay, Kelley and me)

“Maybe when we train for the next half-marathon, we should try a different training plan,” I suggested to Lindsay, two miles into our Sunday morning long run, already dragging my leg like something from “The Walking Dead.”

“I remember liking Hal Higdon’s plans–maybe we could try the advanced one,” I offered.

“Andrea, we are doing the Hal Higdon advanced plan,” Lindsay said, exasperated.

See, I don’t actually follow a plan–at least not in the normal, self-reliant way. Instead, I show up to each run and ask Lindsay, “So, what are we doing today?” She’s given me the plan–in the form of email, text, hardcopy taped to my forehead–but it’s so much more fun to be surprised.

Texas Tech head coach Bob Knight reacts to the officials as Stanford beat Texas Tech 62-61 Saturday, December 22, 2007 during The O'Reilly Red Raider Christmas Classic at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. (Tom Pennington/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

“If my Garmin doesn’t record my miles, it’s like they never happened!!!!” — Lindsay

Lindsay doesn’t seem to mind that she’s the gatekeeper of my training–the one who wears the running pants in this partnership, telling me what to do when and how fast. She’s good at it, too. She syncs her Garmin after every run like it’s her job (I haven’t done this once since buying mine in 2009), and if she forgets to start it and a quarter-mile goes unrecorded, she gets mad. Like, Bobby Knight mad.

She’s also a natural statistician when it comes to running. She remembers PRs, medals, race pace–both hers and mine–while I can barely remember that I can’t eat wheat the night before a run.

“Did you eat gluten last night, Andrea?” Lindsay often inquires to the closed doors of porta-potties that sit on empty construction sites.

“Nooooo,” I call from inside, indignant.

And then: “Wait, yes. Crap.”

If you’ve been keeping up with my whining, you know that this usually stellar path to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half has been tarnished by injuries and illnesses. Then, Sunday morning I woke feeling like I swallowed thumbtacks–the same day Lindsay finally finished up her round of antibiotics. Naturally, I want to blame the plan–the first I’ve ever done that calls for a significant amount of speed work.

Lindsay also distrusts the plan, as demonstrated by the series of questions she rapid-fires around the midpoint of every run:

“Do you think we’re running too much?”

“Do you think we’re running enough?”

“Are we going to fast for a tempo?”

“Are we going to slow for speed work?”

“Are we going to peak too soon?”

“Should we run further than the plan says?”

And inevitably: “I don’t think this plan is working.”

It’s ironic that she poses these questions to me since I don’t even know the plan, and also because my approach to running is a little more … organic.

“It’ll all work out.”

And it has. Or at least it’s starting to. By the grace of Hal, the next 10 miles of that long run were swift and painless. We ran negative splits and came in hot; our last mile was an 8:50 (or so I kinda remember–Lindsay can edit).

“I think the plan is working!” we squealed, like only people who wear arm warmers and compression socks can.

We’re three weeks out from the race. Past experience should tell me that this is the time I start to see my running goals as attainable. Three months ago, not so much. It’s easy to forget. And it’s easy to doubt that all those days of training, slowly adding mileage and speed, add up to one (hopefully) spectacular moment. Even the setbacks–the ugly runs, the injuries and illnesses–are part of the equation.

Today we held an 8:07 pace for four-miles of speed work. When we stop, I say what we’re both thinking: “This plan is totally working.”

Let’s Run, Ladies: The Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon and 5k

Coming to you on April 2, 2016!

Coming to you on April 2, 2016!

Last spring, I participated in my first all-women’s race. Though I run with girlfriends on a regular basis, I wasn’t sure what to expect at the inaugural Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon and 5k. Would it be…girlie? Like a Lilith Fair concert minus the music, booze and underlying anger for the phallus? As it turned out, the race was one of the best running experiences of my life.

For starters, I was in the front. Like, the for-real front. Because when you eliminate half the population from a race, the mid-packers are suddenly leaders, which is where I found myself. I could count the women in front of me. And while they were busy counting who was behind them on the switchbacks, I couldn’t help but feel that we were all counting on one another as well.

See, I discovered there’s an almost inexplicable thing that happens when women get the rare opportunity to race together. We’re at once competitive and supportive–which is shockingly possible. Because even more than we want to beat one another, we want to simply race our best–to run among our sisters and see what our legs, lungs and heart can do.

Claudia and I raced together that year and held a steady 7:50 pace until the last half-mile when I hit a mental and physical wall. When she said, “Let’s pick it up,” I puffed, “You go ahead.” She hesitated for a minute, then saw in my empty I’ve-got-nothing-left-please-just-let-this-end-and-give-me-my-beer-face that I was, in fact, incapable of picking anything up including my pace, my feet or even my pride.

Claudia and I staying the course.

Claudia and me staying the course.

She blazed forward and I admired her “I’m still in my 20s” sprint to the finish from a good decade out. Another woman caught me shortly thereafter and said, “C’mon, you got this,” as she passed by.

At that point, I didn’t have much of anything left in me. But I did feel like I had the support of every runner out there–every woman who ever put one foot in front of the other not because she hoped to break a land-speed record or score a corporate sponsorship, but because one day she thought–for any one of a million reasons–I need to run. And then for some inexplicable reason, she kept doing it.

When I crossed the finish line, Claudia was there to congratulate me on what was still a mighty-fine PR. And then we cheered our friends in, from the girls we trained with to the women who were racing for the first time. Some jogged, some walked, but we all felt like we were in it together–and I don’t just mean the race. I mean the fact that we are all women. All daughters. All runners of various degrees for various reasons.

A happy ending.

A happy ending.

So I was clearly honored when I was asked to be an ambassador for this year’s race on April 2. For me, it’s a no-brainer. The race is in my city, sponsored by my grocery store, my running store, the magazine I write for, and my favorite shoe/apparel brand, New Balance, whose 860s I’ve been wearing for nearly as long as I’ve been running.

I have the privilege of encouraging women of all ages and abilities to join in–to run, walk, or Galloway themselves through a beautiful 3.2 or 13.1-mile course. I’ll be sharing tips, discount codes and product giveaways–the first being a $10 half-marathon registration discount when you use the Code: ONTHEROAD10.

Follow my blog and the On the Road Facebook page for more information–and feel free to ask any questions and share your experiences to encourage others to join us on this unique journey.

How running with others has made me a better runner—and friend

Strange things start to happen when you run with others. Long miles spent sweating, complaining and rejoicing accomplishments only another runner can understand (negative splits!) lead you down roads you don’t expect. You hear things that can’t be unsaid—usually, “this f**king sucks”—and you see things that can’t be unseen—I mean, I have a gluten sensitivity after all. These are the kinds of things that fall into the category: “We must never speak of this.”

Eventually, you start to show up for runs dressed alike.

Eventually, you even start to show up for runs dressed alike.

Take my running partner Lindsay, for instance. Our kids had gone to the same preschool, but we never really connected. Two years ago she happened to be on the same trail and I asked her to join me out of courtesy, fully expecting that she’d decline.

She didn’t. Those first two miles we ran awkwardly together, each taking turns downplaying our ability in a tiresome, self-deprecating exchange:

“I’m sorry if I’m slowing you down.”

“No! You’re not! I’m the one slowing you down.”

“No, really, you can totally go ahead if you want to.”

“No, I’m not kidding. This is my pace.”

Blah blah blah blah blah…

But by mile 3 we settled in, dropped the insecurity dance and just ran.

Since that first run, Lindsay has seen me fall flat on my face, cramp, cry, heave, PR and medal. I’ve told her things (“I used to be fat”) and shown her things (“Is this staph?”) that few others have had the privilege of knowing. And as a result of our almost daily runs together, we’ve all become very close.

I’m fortunate to have a strong, steady core of running partners that you’ll come to know in the digital pages of this blog. I’ve come to see them as essential to my running—and overall wellbeing. They push me, encourage me, and perhaps most important, they listen. (I also have a theory that talking for an entire 9-mile run is similar to training at altitude.) Running partners are the people with whom you can do dorky things, like wear compression sleeves, give each other high-fives, text our workout results to one another, and emit random “woo-hoos” and our own meagre accomplishments.

Post-race Bloddy Mary's with my girls.

Post-race Bloody Mary’s with some of my girls.

Yesterday, after a rather successful speed work session, Lindsay and I texted and called one another throughout the afternoon, basically asking what is now a rhetorical question: “I mean, how awesome are we?”

In the grand scheme of things, we aren’t very awesome. We’re age-group runners looking to PR an upcoming half marathon. But to each other, we’re pretty damn special.

Because when you run with people, things happen. Friendships happen.

Lindsay and me, post-run glow.

Lindsay and me, post-run glow.