Running shoes. Inanimate objects made of synthetic material, breathable mesh fabric, carbon rubber for the bottoms and ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) or polyurethane for the midsole.
When they are new, fresh out of the box they have the greatest of smells. Akin to when I would get a new baseball glove on my birthday in July growing up in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
The first run in a new pair of training shoes is among one of the great joys in distance running for me. The ground feels softer, my legs feel like they have more bounce. The miles tick by easier, sometimes it feels like I could run all day.
Most times I’m not sure exactly where that particular pair of shoes will take me. They slide into my shoe rotation with two other pairs of trainers that are older and much more “worn”. Fresh out of the box, these trainers start out as the pair I take on my Sunday long runs and my more difficult mid-week training runs due to the fact that they are the “newest” and provide the most cushioning.
With each run however, they move closer and closer to retirement age. 300 miles for this distance runner, which I found is the maximum distance I can cover in a pair of shoes before my legs start to let me know that it is time for a change as my knees and ankles start to feel the impact of every stride.
My shoes take a lot of abuse, especially training through a TX summer. Whether it is rainy morning runs along muddy paths or harsh dry dust being kicked up from a granite trail system – the running shoe takes all of this and comes back for more.
One pair might get packed for a trip and get taken for a run across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or an 8 mile run along the coast at Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina. There truly is no telling where my shoes may end up when I take them out of the box and put them on for the first time. The possibilities are limitless.
Except for my Run for Dom race shoes.
I knew exactly where those shoes were headed when I laced them up for the first time on April 12, 2010 and took them for an 8-mile break-in run. Those shoes were going to be packed in my backpack and taken with me on my flight to Boston. They had a date with the 114th Boston Marathon.
They were going to carry me from Hopkinton, MA through the towns of Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley and Newton. We climbed the Newton hills together, crested Heartbreak Hill and traveled up into Chestnut Hill and Boston College.
We struggled together through Brookline and past Fenway Park. We finally entered Back Bay and made the left turn onto Boylston Street – crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Me. Just an average guy from Austin completing one of the most storied footraces in the world.
Me and my Asics.
13 days later I stood on a rainy morning in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Dom looked on as we again took on the 26.2 mile challenge of the Marathon. We traveled through the Strip District, the South Side and through Oakland where my wife went to college. After climbing Forbes Hill, we trekked through Shadyside and Bloomfield over some of the most difficult miles this marathoner has ever run.
For more than 3 hours, in sometimes pouring rain, it was just me and my shoes battling the elements, fatigue and mental demons to reach the finish line and get that finisher’s medal for Dom.
58.4 miles were run in those shoes before they made their way back to Austin where they morphed from my “race shoes” to my “training shoes”.
As I pulled them out of the closet for a training run I would look at the words I had written on the instep of both shoes.
Run 4 Dom.
It served as a great reminder not only of how far I had traveled running for Dom in 2010, but much more importantly why.
Cancer is a terrible thing, of that point there is no debate. There is no way to rationalize its existence or pretend it is something that it is not. It is a killer plan and simple. It does not discriminate and is relentless in its attack.
For the better part of a year, Dom, his family and his team of Doctors and specialists fought tooth and nail to try to stave off its reach. There were wins and losses, successes and failures, good days and bad, but in the end there was no escape.
Dom succumbed to stomach cancer on August 15, 2010 and the world is a much worse place without him.
I flew to Pittsburgh for Dom’s funeral and I took my Run for Dom race shoes with me. I ran along the hills of Golf Course Road and along the path system of the Beaver County Country Club near my mother and father-in-laws home.
I logged miles 212-219 on my shoes that morning, knowing I only had 10 or 11 runs left in these particular shoes. There were no bands lining the road, no high fives or finish clock in the driveway. Just my first run since losing my good friend.
Upon returning to Austin I was very judicious with the runs I took my RFD shoes on. In a way I think I wanted to make them last as long as possible. I wanted to spend as much time as I could before putting them on for the last time.
Perhaps I knew that they were one of the last physical connections that remained between Dom and me. I was not ready to let them go.
As I was packing for my trip this past week I looked at my training log and saw that I had only 16 miles left on my RFD shoes. On the training schedule were 6 and 8 mile runs, which would put me very close to the 300 mile mark if I took my RFD shoes with me.
I would be training in two locations I had never had the pleasure of running before – Minneapolis Minnesota across the Mighty Mississippi River and along the waterfront in Toronto, Ontario. If I stretched my runs to 7 and 9 miles respectively – I would be able to retire my shoes outside of the US running on Canadian Soil.
Seemed like a fitting way to gracefully cover the final miles, literally going the “extra mile” for Dom.
My run on Tuesday morning in Minneapolis took place on a warm, blustery morning. A large storm was moving into the area which would bring the first snow of the year to the area less than 24 hours later. I was greeted with a humid 62 degrees and high winds.
A bit unsure of my route I ran high across the Mississippi River along the Third Street Bridge and down onto the river trail, after a quick mile and a half I found my way onto a pedestrian bridge crossing back over the fast moving river below. I headed west with the wind until my turnaround point and then turned on my heel retracing my steps.
The run back was into a strong headwind. My legs and arms were working hard to hold my pace with so much resistance. Two more river crossings, one higher than the next – one much more challenging than the last with the ever-increasing wind.
As I was traveling over the Mississippi River for the fourth and final time, I took the opportunity to look down below at the raging waters. The river was powerful, relentless, and unstoppable. I could not help but see the metaphor before me.
Just as there was nothing that could be done to stop the Cancer that was taking Dom from Val, Sierra, Nico, family and friends – there was no stopping the force of that river below. It was raging on, swallowing up everything in its path, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Especially me.
I covered the 7 miles at 7:09 pace. It was a good tune-up for this coming weekend’s 10-mile race.
I returned to my hotel, packed my shoes away in my carry-on bag and started my day. Meetings at the University of Minnesota, then a pair of flights that would take me to Toronto, Ontario. After some weather delays and clearing customs and immigration, I made my way to downtown Toronto arriving a little after 10:00 p.m.
Just as I do at home I laid out my running gear before going to bed. This way I can quickly rise, brush my teeth and gear up for my morning run. Only 9 miles to go.
I left my hotel adjacent to the Blue Jays baseball stadium and wound my way down to the waterfront in Toronto. I ran along a series of wharves and boat docks until finding myself on the lakefront run and bike trail.
A little bit chilly with the wind coming off the water, but the run was a good one. I dialed down the pace a bit as I want to save my legs for Sunday’s hilly race course, running most of my splits in the 7:20-7:30 range.
When I heard my watch beep for mile 8, I knew that I was starting the final mile that I would ever run in those shoes. I looked up at the domed stadium high atop the hill in downtown Toronto. When I reached it, my 300 mile journey would be over.
Rounding the stadium outside the ticket windows I was running along hard, cold stamped concrete. I could feel the pounding in my ankles and knees and knew that it was time. As each stride landed, small shock waves were traveling up my legs to my hips, and I could feel every one of them.
Gone were the pillow-soft footfalls of April 12th, replaced be a much more weathered and “experienced” ride. Our time together had come to a close.
I know that reading about a runner feeling sadness over retiring a pair of shoes must seem strange. But I can’t help it. There is something about a pair of running shoes that is pretty magical for me.
I can look at those shoes and see images of all of the places we have been together. I can see the road winding ahead of me along the shoreline in Cancun, MX. I remember crossing over the footbridge down onto the river in Boston the morning before the Boston Marathon for my 2-mile shakeout run.
I remember tucking a note into my left shoe the morning before the Pittsburgh Marathon at the urging of my friend Ashley Kumlien. While she was running across the United States this spring and summer from California to New York raising money for the fight against Multiple Sclerosis, she took time out to tell me to “Run like I’ll never run again”.
I remember completing my run in Charleston, SC the morning of Monica’s funeral services, quietly sneaking back into Keith’s house and finding him, Garris and Fuller tucked under the covers in bed.
I remember running the morning of Landry’s birth, just hours away from becoming a Dad.
I can see all of those moments over the past several months, just by glancing down and looking at the faded and tattered lettering on my Run 4 Dom shoes.
And of course, I can flash back to that rainy morning on May 2nd when I was able to pass through the finishing chute at Pittsburgh and was handed that medal for Dom.
He inspired me to do more than I thought I could do. Reach deeper for resolve that I hoped would be there when I needed it most and provided me with the tremendous gift of self-awareness.
That we can all make a difference if we truly believe.
Even an average guy like me.
300 miles traveled. Thanks for the memories, we’ve been through a lot together.
I’m going to miss you.