Monday, January 4, 2010

Saying Goodbye to my First String Shoes

As the New Year loomed last week, I decided the time had come to say good bye to an old friend – a pair of old friends, actually. For the past two Valentine’s Days, my wife and I have made it tradition to buy each other a new pair of running shoes. Let’s be honest, getting a new pair of shoes is the Cadillac of running gifts. They were the ASICS GT 2130s in orange and blue (Gator colors), and after an initial few runs, I knew there was something special about them.

I decided after my first 20-miler in them that in fact these would be the shoes I ran my BQ marathon in. Then I proceeded to beat the crap out of them. These became the Brian Sells of running shoes: hard-working, no frills, blue collar kicks. Together, we slogged through cold rain storms, over ice, ankle deep in mud, on back-road trails, and occasionally on asphalt.

Our first race together was the National Half Marathon in March. I had a difficult decision to make: go with the Gators or put my rookie GT 2140s to the test and give them a chance to impress me (a b-day gift from Mom and Dad). D-tag in hand, both shoes in front of me, something in those mud-hardened shoes said they’d go to the ends of the earth (or road) for me. And they sure as hell did.

Had the Gators not performed well, I would have second-guessed my decision like any good coach, but like all good players, they rose to the occasion and delivered a sweet PR and a much needed confidence boost for my Vermont training. That PR solidified them as the Varsity pair.

I’m pretty sure we’re still talking about shoes.

Anyhow, I grew very attached to them and even went back to them for some final magic in the Army Ten-Miler. Like the experienced veteran coming in for one last hoorah, they delivered a six minute PR. But I watched my odometer rise and the tread continue to wear away on the bottom. The miles of trials, trials of miles on them had been long. I knew a change would have to come.

With Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket, I found a great deal on some 2140s on the clearance rack (in a size 14 no less) at REI. I ran over to my wife, clutching them to my chest, and proclaimed them to be “the Next.” They glimmered in their shiny silver and midnight blue pristine brilliance – the Omega to my Alpha shoes. I can’t stop smelling them because, well, let’s face it, they’re never going to smell this clean and sterile again. As I fawned over the new shoes that I named “Bolt” in my training calendar, I could feel the Gators and their saddened look, knowing that the end indeed was near and they would be relegated to the smooth linoleum gym floors and rarely taken out for runs, except perhaps on the snowiest of days. But Bolt wasn’t “game-tested” yet, and truth be told, tonight will be my first run in the new shoes.

I thought the Gators deserved to usher out the successful running year we had enjoyed together. So it was with excitement and a touch of sadness that I laced them up one last time on Thursday night for the New Year’s Eve Fairfax Four Miler. Fittingly, the rain picked up at the starting line and soaked us through, a last rites sort of cleansing if you will.

I had meager hopes for this race, just wanting to go out and run sub-25 to shatter my 26:39 time from the year before. When I came through mile 1 in 6:00 with barely an elevation in heart rate, I felt that last little bit of magic.

We flowed down into a high school parking lot, dark and getting pelted by rain, then followed the bright lights glimmering around the track. A brisk 200 brought me to mile 2 and an 11:56. Visions of sub-24 starting dancing in my head. I knew two steep hills waited for me between 3 and 4 but we soldiered on.

Bolting down the highway, we ran mostly alone with a pack of runners off in the distance by the flickering lights of a police car. Out of nowhere, mile 3 popped up and the watch read 17:56. But, God, those hills rose out of the highway and climbed and climbed.

We fought, quads tightening, and overtook the group of runners ahead of us, then outkicked one more to the finish…in 24:02.

Sure, I missed by three seconds, but the effort was gutsy and I was proud of my boys as I peeled them from my soggy feet in our foyer later.

The New Year is here and I’m hoping that the Bolts have been good studies to their veteran counterparts. Plus, they have the aging 2140 Flames to compete with. Indeed, the starting spot is up for grabs.

So, I suppose this post is about “out with the old, in with the new,” “putting away the past to look toward the future,” but it’s also about reflection, appreciation, and finally moving on.

A moment of silence for the Gators….

You will be missed.

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