by John Schrup
When Amish James, Subtle Chuck and I arrived at the hotel in Boulder, it was getting a bit late in the day and we were pretty cooked. I mean, that’s a long drive, especially when you’re in the Yaris. The first thing we noticed was that we had been driven to the wrong hotel. When we walked up to the place, some dude in a tux opened the door for us and then at the cash register place, where you check in, they called us Sir and werereally good with the, you know, grammar and stuff. They gave us debit cards to open the doors to our rooms, which I’d never seen before. Immediately I knew there must have been some mistake. We looked around the living room of the place. At least I think it was the living room, because there were sofas and lamps and coffee tables everywhere. There was much drinking of cocktails and wearing of plaid pants and laughing at jokes and all of the women in there had similarly smooth foreheads. None of them were wearing Newton so I was pretty sure we were in the wrong hotel.
I told you that the rooms were pretty swank. Totally. Amish James and Subtle Chuck were hungry, so they talked about doing something about that, but I wanted to go for a run, so I found my room (I didn’t have to share a room with anyone, which, if you’ve never had a hotel room to yourself, is really awesome!) and after a few tries, figured out how to get the debit card to work in the door. The room was noice! The shower was this glass box, separate from the bathtub, which seemed like a really inefficient use of space, if you ask me. The tub wasn’t even really a tub, but more like a small empty pool. I’d never seen anything like that, so after making some imaginary snow angels in the tub I dug my running shorts out of the backpack and then got lost again in the hallways.
I ran up the hill on 9th, wearing the Distance for the very first time. I’d worn them—lifestyled them, as they say in the biz—for a week or so beforehand to get used to them, but it turned out I didn’t really need to. The feeling when running in them is entirely different than the feeling when, um, lifestyling in them. Walking in them, at least initially was, well, just not comfortable. I’m not going to lie. No sir, didn’t like it. Felt like I was walking with a deck of cards duct taped to the bottom of my shoe. Maybe if you’d been wearing something more, I don’t know, Nimbusish, you’d have an easier transition, I don’t know. But running in them was cake. By the time I’d got to the end of the block, the deck of cards felt more like a really firm, really responsive forefoot. I wish I could tell you differently. They felt…springy? I hate to use that term, but it’s true.
The climb up 9th took me through a neighborhood that was a combination of college kids, parked on front porches, drinking beer and getting high, and older women, who’d lived since forever in their little stone bungalow, bent at the waist, pulling weeds and such, growing a mean garden. Flowers everywhere. I love the energy of college towns. I’d forgot how it felt to run at altitude, and at the intersection of 9th and some street with a stop sign and a coffee shop or a head shop I recognized that my breathing was a bit heavier than I am used to. There was a little sting in my lungs. I’d really missed that feeling. 9th climbs for a while and I was becoming very aware that I’d been climbing for a while. I was so excited about the feel of the shoes, the smell of the clean air, the energy of the town that I thought I’d best turn around and head back to the hotel. I’d been running for some time and when I looked down at my watch and it said, like, eight minutes, I suddenly felt like I weighed about 700 pounds. But a few minutes later, the road hit a dead end and I turned left and got to descend back toward the center of town. The neighborhood there was alternately nice and sketch. There would be some swankity swank house that looked like Fallingwater and then some college kid’s house that looked like Fallingdown. And then I noticed something else: I hadn’t been thinking about my shoes! I hadn’t been thinking about my shoes! SFW you say. SFW. That’s exactly the way it is supposed to be! You’re not supposed to notice the shoes. What have we been saying all this time? The shoe is supposed to disappear.
And so here’s something else cool, besides that this chapter is about to end: Because I’m a total dork and a card carrying member of the OCD Running Club, I Google mapped my run after I’d returned to my room, after having been lost in the hallways for a third time in an hour. When I compared my run time to the distance on the map, something wasn’t right. I’d run farther, faster, and with less effort than I had in a while. By my completely non-scientific calculations, the cooler, drier air cancelled out the altitude and the up hills cancelled out the down hills, and there was mostly flat anyway, when I ran along the creek. But I’d made good time, which is rare these days, for me anyway. I was running paces that I haven’t run in a while—at sea level, or whatever it is here in Austin. Not that I look, but I know, because I know. Whatever that means.
Was it the shoes? Hold please…
In the morning, I was a little foggy, which I’ll attribute to the lack of oxygen and not to the sleeping arrangement, so my first thought was getting some caffeine into my bloodstream as quickly as possible. Of course, the small amount of coffee in the hotel room kitchen provided only enough stimulation to allow me to figure out that I’d put both legs through one leg of my shorts and then how to fix that situation. By the time I’d reached the Newton HQ a few blocks away I was aware enough of my surroundings to work the front door properly and identify myself appropriately when asked.
And this is the part that began to change my view. I fully expected a full frontal bludgeoning of my cerebral cortex with the upwithpeople colored footwear. The classroom setting was a little, I don’t know, clinical, and perhaps I’d have preferred that we all lie around on pillows and pass the carafe of espresso, but what are you gonna do? I gotta be up front here, I was expecting to sit myself in a room with a bunch of peacocky triathletes who introduce themselves with name, resting heart rate and time trial frame weight in grams and who have energy levels just this side of meth, so I was a bit intimidated. And while there was a little of that in there, everyone was super friendly and open, except for this one dude, who couldn’t even look at me, which I totally understand from a GI distress viewpoint, but still. It did take some time to get everyone participating in the discussions—altitude? Hangovers? West Nile?—but the discussion topics were exactly what I was looking for, if anyone was asking.
The Newton people are my kind of people. They dig their shoes, yeah, but they are more into educating us all on the general running subject, in which shoes are often included, but still are not the only part. When we say, All you need to run is a good pair of shoes, that doesn’t mean that IS the conversation, because nothing—almost nothing, anyway—is further from the truth. The shoe is just one piece of the discussion—just one little bit—and Newton was the first presenter to acknowledge that, at least in my memory. Which, all things being equal, sucks ass. I can’t remember exactly the chronology of the discussions, but thankfully I have the schedule that was handed to us, but it went a little something like this:
Ok, first: The last 10 minutes or so of each hour we got to walk around outside and stretch and generally not be in the classroom. Awesome. It kept me from going all ADD on everyone in there and drawing on the table tops or clipping my toenails or some shit. Though I did text some pictures to a friend, who enjoys a discussion about tasty beverages in the same way I enjoy a discussion about all this shit. I got to do some lunges on the street corner, which you won’t often find in a seminar program thing.
We started with biomechanics, and then ambled through aerobic development, form drills, strength and range of motion, the philosophy of running shoes, the history of running shoes, a little on nutrition—all the stuff I like to talk about that isn’t offensive to the general public. These are the conversations that come before we—this is the collective we—ought to be talking about shoes, or GPS or any of that shit. It goes like this: General health (nutrition included)–>fitness–>running–>shoes. But most often people start with shoes and work backward. Newton gets this and presented things, more or less, in this fashion. Ok, so they ended with shoes, which is the way it should be. And on a few occasions, we’d go across the street to the high school track or to the park by the creek, next to the library, and apply what we’d learned the discussions. And honestly, none of the information was new, but it was refreshing to talk about it, rather than just spend the whole time talking propaganda or new products lines or whatever.
So my fear of all the classroom stuff was unfounded. And whatever proselytizing they were doing was working, because it was so passively offered. There was no hard sell. And that’s the good stuff. They were only evangelical about running, at least that first day, and that made the trip for me.
THE GROUP RUN
So, um, where was I? Oh, yes. That first day at the Newton thing in Boulder was mostly just all of us—Amish James, Subtle Chuck and I—getting situated, getting the lay of the land, grabbing some din din.
And we spent the following day in class, talking real talk, going for walks, doing some drills, doing some stretches. You know, stuff. After it was over, it didn’t feel like we’d been in class all day, because really, we hadn’t. So that was nice. And the content of the stuff we learned in the class was, in my mind, much less important to me than that they presented the stuff itself. I left the classroom with an greater appreciation for what they are doing.
The next order of business wasn’t business at all. Everyone agreed to meet outside the Taj Majal for a short group run before we all met for dinner. The group run was a kick to the ego, at least at first. Ian was there to lead, and then there were maybe a dozen others not including Amish J and myself. It was less a group run as it was a group time trial, at least from my perspective. Ian, who holds the world record for kayaking all the Fourteeners or some shit, jogged along at what for him is an easy effort, but which was not the case for the rest of the group, if we were to judge by the single fileness of echelon. We were going up the creek trail—Boulder’s version of the Town Lake trail—past high school kids doing art projects, hippies performing their afternoon ablutions, tourists taking pictures of various nature things, and lots of impossibly tan people. After about ¾ of a mile, Amish suggested that the group split up. I think he sensed that it might get ugly if we continued on like this. About half of the group was over-enthusiastically in agreement, and we went to the right, under a bridge, and Ian’s group went to the left, climbing up the mountain, into the scary, dark wilderness. They weren’t carrying long bows or Chinese throwing stars or anything, but no one seemed too afraid since Ian brought his bare hands and compression socks.
Of course, out of pure scientific dedication, I was wearing the Distance. That, and it was the only running shoe I brought. I had also brought some green flip flops that my cousin bought for me when he and some friends flew to Rio de Janeiro one day because they were bored and drunk. Of course, it being an entirely scientific endeavor, and because I’m a total dork, I thought about the shoes, and why I should or should not like them. It is difficult for me to do two things at once—I didn’t receive the multitasking chromosome apparently—and so as we snaked along the trail, I did my best not to hip check trees or roll my ankle on the roots and rocks underfoot, since I was also thinking at the time.
The lugs under the forefoot—the Actuator Lugs—are described by Newton as an “active” technology, in contradistinction to the “passive” technologies in all the other shoes, except for those Spira shoes, which have actual, real life metal springs in them, or those Z-Coil things that people wear to save their backs or whatever. Anyway, I don’t notice the spring effect as much as I notice the firmness of the forefoot. It’s really, really firm. Like, adidas firm, except with more firmness. Most people, if we are to look at sales of things like the Nimbus or the Ghost, want plush, marshmallowy bloopness in their shoes. Yeah, that feels good, but it isn’t necessarily what is best for the body. There was several years ago a study done with gymnasts and different softnesses and densities of floor mats and it was found that the more cushioned the floor mat, the higher the injury rate. So, take that as you want.
The firm forefoot of the Newton makes them more responsive, which is perhaps one of the reasons that people say they feel faster in them. And, I think, another reason that people’s initial response is that the forefoot feels a little awkward. Mostly, I think, we just aren’t used to firmer shoes any longer and anything that doesn’t feel like warm bubblegum under the feet is strange. That, and because the very low offset is combined with the firm midsole, the sensation is, while standing, almost as if you are back on your heels, so the first word is often, “Whoa!” But running is entirely different. Whether you land midfoot or on the heel, the toe off is just faster, or at least feels that way. I haven’t done a frame by frame analysis, but I think Ian did at some point, so I don’t know. (And, as dorky as this is gonna sound, earlier this week, back in the Brentcrest neighborhood, I did my standard evening loop, without looking at the watch, in my Distance. It was about 100, I felt like I was almost jogging, and I ran about 90 seconds faster than I usually do. It could have been that I snorted a bunch of chia seeds beforehand, I don’t know.)
I wanted to go a little further than everyone else, who seemed eager to get back to the hotel and, you know, luxuriate, so I wandered a bit up the hill into a cool old neighborhood with boulevards and great trees and kids playing in the front yards. Up ahead there were a group of women jogging on the sidewalk, in the same direction I was going. I thought it was really strange that they were all in full sweatsuits while it was about 90 degrees. I mean, it is a dry heat, but still. And then I remembered back to my Albuquerque days. It’s the Japanese.
I was going really easy, even for me, because the oxygen was, you know, lacking and all, and I was catching them. I only mention this to remind you people that you have to put yourself in the gutter in order to get some benefit. If I’m running really easy, even for me, and I pass women who make a living doing this, then some of you could stand to STFD.
So anyway, I fully expected to have some complaints at this point. But I couldn’t come up with any, except my initial prejudices about the whole triathlon thing, and it was, overall, a really nice run. The shoes disappearing on my feet, and I couldn’t argue against that. I was thinking to myself how I would tell Tim and Ryan and Ian back at Newton that I liked the shoes, while still trying to be all cool and not like a sycophant. The run back was mostly downhill, so there might have been a 2:00 400 in there somewhere, and about a mile out from the hotel, Ian’s group rolls up behind me. I latched on and stood up tall and swung my arms a bit faster. Within two minutes I could feel my lungs pressing on the back of my teeth. (The last time I had this feeling was back in Albuquerque coaching some high school kids and I was trying to hold on for dear life to our number one girl at the end of a ten mile progression run. I ran about 70 flat, and she dropped me with about 2K to go and finished easily a minute ahead of me).