Thursday, October 22, 2009


Yesterday’s post about the inevitability of running shoes being remade each year, whether they need to be or not, overlooked an obvious consequence of this dastardly marketing strategy: the disappearance of a favorite shoe. In a bitterly ironic turn of events, I came face-to-face with this issue just a few hours after making the post.

I had done my run on the grass at Normandale Park. This, with some variation, is one of a handful of my regular runs: a half-mile on pavement over to the park, then several miles running its perimeter of primarily grass and a bit of dirt. Usually I throw in a dozen or so 100-yard sprints on the football field, along with some dexterity drills (running along a line, switching from side to side every few steps, that kind of thing). It’s a bumpy, twisty-turny sort of running, great for building foot and lower-leg strength and flexibility. I run Normandale wearing my New Balance 790s, which to my thinking are the perfect off-road shoes: flat, low, light and incredibly flexible. Cushioning? Fuggedaboutit. You couldn’t feel more rocks if you ran barefoot.

So after yesterday’s run I was cleaning the mud off my 790s when it occurred to me that they were beginning to wear down and although they probably had a solid month of life in them, it might be wise to get a new pair lined up. I jumped online to Zappos, but they had none in stock. Weird. Then I tried Holabird; they had just a few super-small sizes. WTF? A little more Googling landed me on a blog entry from April this year announcing, to my horror, that New Balance was abandoning the 790 and that a replacement model, the 100, would be released in October.

Bastards! Here they had a loyal customer, a guy willing to buy several pairs of their shoes every year, and they were leaving me out in the cold. Why? Because that’s what shoe companies do.

As promised, the 100s are now available. But I didn’t want the 100s. Or maybe I did. Unsure, I read a few reviews and a lot of comments, many from similarly jilted 790s lovers. Several people said the 100s weren’t as flexible as the 790s, were narrower in the toe and featured a hard top of the heel that was liable to dig into your ankle/Achilles. Other said the 100s were great, with many of the same wonderful attributes of the 790s but with more apparent durability.

While I mulled over the 100s, I did find some 790s available in my size. They were the brown ones, not the all-black models that I loved so much, but at least they were 790s. What to do? I felt like Elaine in the drug store, faced with the prospect of her favorite birth-control aid disappearing from the market.
ELAINE (with little hope): Yeah, do you have any Today sponges? I know they're off the market, but...
PHARMACIST: Actually, we have a case left.
ELAINE (excited): A case! A case of sponges? I mean, uh...a case. Huh. many come in a case?
ELAINE: Sixty?! Uh...well, I'll take three.
ELAINE: Make it ten.
ELAINE: Twenty sponges should be plenty.
PHARMACIST: Did you say twenty?
ELAINE: Yeah, twenty-five sponges is just fine.
PHARMACIST: Right. So, you're set with twenty-five.
ELAINE: Yeah. Just give me the whole case and I'll be on my way.
I bought three pairs of 790s.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This Year's Model

That famous bike snob says, “Cycling simply doesn't need new product lines every year.” Duh! If Snob thinks cycling is unique in this regard, he’s never gone through a running phase. Every year my hard-road training shoe, the Asics Gel Cumulus, gets a new number stuck at the end of its name. I started on this shoe when it was hardly even a kindergartner, at 4. (Actually, it was IV then; they made the switch from Roman to Arabic numerals with X, aka 10.) Now it’s 11, a certified tween, all into V Factory (or w/e).

Remarkably, the company doesn’t claim there’s anything new about the Gel Cumulus 11. Last year they boasted of improving the Gel Cumulus 10 by adding something called Impact Guidance System (I.G.S.®), which the Iranians promptly ripped off and are using in their nuke program, thanks a lot, Asics. This year, nada. Did the Marketing Department take a big whack in a cost-cutting move? Or were they just unable to conjure another registered feature? The list already included — in addition to I.G.S.® — SpEVA®, “Twist” GEL® Cushioning and the Space Trusstic System®. Remember, too: Plenty of stuff had been quietly abandoned over the years. My Gel Cumulus IVs, which Zappos tells me were purchased on December 28, 2002, came with GEL® Cushioning (no “Twist” then), in addition to the late but not lamented DuraSponger® forefoot and AHAR® heel plug.

Actually, now that I think about it, the lack of advancements to the Gel Cumulus 11 has an obvious explanation: It’s a a nod to the minimal-shoe trend. When the Gel Cumulus 12 rolls around, I suspect you’ll see Asics boast that it’s discarded at least one of the shoe's trademarked features. And by the time we get to Gel Cumulus 15, it’ll be an utterly featureless shoe, perfect for the multitude of born-again forefoot strikers.


BMJ. 2007 Dec 22;335(7633):1275-7.
Competing risks of mortality with marathons: retrospective analysis

Redelmeier DA, Greenwald JA.
Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Ontario, Canada M4N 3M5.
OBJECTIVE: To determine from a societal perspective the risk of sudden cardiac death associated with running in an organised marathon compared with the risk of dying from a motor vehicle crash that might otherwise have taken place if the roads had not been closed. DESIGN: Population based retrospective analysis with linked ecological comparisons of sudden death. SETTING: Marathons with at least 1000 participants that had two decades of history and were on public roads in the United States, 1975-2004. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Sudden death attributed to cardiac causes or to motor vehicle trauma. RESULTS: The marathons provided results for 3,292,268 runners on 750 separate days encompassing about 14 million hours of exercise. There were 26 sudden cardiac deaths observed, equivalent to a rate of 0.8 per 100,000 participants (95% confidence interval 0.5 to 1.1). Because of road closure, an estimated 46 motor vehicle fatalities were prevented, equivalent to a relative risk reduction of 35% (95% confidence interval 17% to 49%). The net reduction in sudden death during marathons amounted to a ratio of about 1.8 crash deaths saved for each case of sudden cardiac death observed (95% confidence interval: 0.7 to 3.8). The net reduction in total deaths could not be explained by re-routing traffic to other regions or days and was consistent across different parts of the country, decades of the century, seasons of the year, days of the week, degree of competition, and course difficulty. CONCLUSION: Organised marathons are not associated with an increase in sudden deaths from a societal perspective, contrary to anecdotal impressions fostered by news media.