Commentary: Faulty shoes keep me running for a better pair

Back in the day, before I knew the running terms "hill repeats" or "pace," I'd take Harbor Boulevard home from work and stop at the Big 5.

Inside the rubbery-smelling sporting goods store, I'd head for the sale aisle, buy the cheapest running shoes, tie the laces and run. I'd be chagrined at how fast the heels wore down.

Then I joined Corona del Mar track coach Bill Sumner's marathon-preparation group and qualified for the Boston Marathon. Still disinterested in the technical points of shoes, I settled on $120 Asics because they accommodated the big orthotics propping up my fallen arches.

Next time I needed shoes, the salesperson would tell me that my model was discontinued. I couldn't tell what Asics did to improve the "new model," but it cost more. As always, I was chagrined at how fast the heels wore down.

Then I joined Sumner's Tuesday speedwork group, admiring the elite runners who ran circles around me. For a few short seconds I matched pace with them, then they sprinted far ahead. The pounding from this glorious adventure wrecked my right knee when I was in the midst of Boston Marathon preparation.

Determined to go to Boston, I stormed a running store and charged $120 spandex pants, which were supposed to support my iliotibial band, and high-tech shoes that cost $200.

Neither fixed my knee, and I had to postpone Boston for a year. The high-tech shoe research didn't change how fast the heels of my $200 shoes wore down.

Then I got serious about shoes. I joined the V.I.P. Club at the local running store, had a video made of my running and bought the perfect shoe to match my knock-kneed, pigeon-toed style.

I wore the specially prescribed shoes for a run but they slipped off my heel with every step. The prescription shoes were the only pair I ever had to return. I couldn't keep them long enough to see if the soles wore better.

Still, I'd graduated to the kind of runner who had a Garmin GPS watch, paid attention to finish times and tried for a personal best. I bought my shoes at the running store, mostly sticking with the $200 pair, but when they were discontinued, I bought a less-engineered $160 pair.

No matter the price, my shoes were always caked with dust. Protecting my knees, I ran on soft dirt where I could find it and did my speedwork on a dirt track. And every pair wore down at the heel after the first 20 miles.

Last week I found myself on Harbor Boulevard doing my banking. There was Big 5. I bought the $50 sale running shoes, broke them in on short runs and then did 14.5 miles Saturday. The heel's starting to shred a bit, but everything else feels fine.

Full circle can be a good thing, on the dirt track and on the budget.

Newport Beach resident CARRIE LUGER SLAYBACK is training to run the Los Angeles Marathon at age 70.

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