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WAVELENGTHS: The shoe's the thing

DUPLICATE DO NOT USEThe Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville) logo DUPLICATE DO NOT USEThe Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville) 5/23/2019 By By Bill Longenecker For Shorelines, The Florida Times-Union
a bicycle leaning against a wall: Bill's 9 year old prized mountain bike. [BILL LONGENECKER/FOR SHORELINES]© BILL LONGENECKER/FOR SHORELINES/The Florida Times-Union/TNS Bill's 9 year old prized mountain bike. [BILL LONGENECKER/FOR SHORELINES]

Bill Dryden, then-owner of the Beaches Leader, asked me to be their running columnist in 1984 and suddenly, I was an "expert." I had written for the track club newsletter, but really, I worked cheap and could type fairly well.

Research

BillLabs became my semi-serious testing service for running gear and now, more stuff. Since it began, only one piece of gear has been given to me for testing. I have bought the rest. When the paper changed hands, the new owner liked the concept, but told me there was no budget to buy test items.

REI once sent me an original "CoolMax" biking jersey. When I finished testing it, I called and asked the guy what I should do with it. He said no one had ever asked him that, but he hinted I should just enjoy it. It is still hanging in my closet.

My last 18-mile run occurred in December 2016, just before my emergency surgery. A broken bone in my right foot a month later meant no 40th Gate River Run. After that, chronic leg cramps kept me from resuming my regular running routine.

Now, my running looks like a fast walk to most. Biking and swimming fill in the gaps, so gear ideas keep piling up for me to test.

About five years ago, a chance finding of an online dealer for my favorite shoe company, New Balance, set off a flurry of shoe buying. They kept offering shoes at prices I could not turn down, such as like $40 for $140 shoes. As long as they came in my size, 9.5 and either 2E or 4E widths, my impulse purchases continued.

An earlier running column made fun of Imelda Marcos's shoe collection. My footwear collection is now equally ridiculous and embarrassingly full of running, biking, swimming wetsuit booties and a pair of mismatched free sandals. Total count is now 16 (plus one shoe with a missing mate).

It is hard to part with old friends that have carried me through so much. Miles of running, walking, biking and swimming have been forced upon my collection.

The best part is, not one pair has been acquired at retail price! Employee discounts, closeout sales and online specials have all fed my footwear fetish at amazing prices.

The 2019 shoe issue of Runner's World magazine had the same advice as it did some 30 years ago. Then, shoe prices were maybe $25 to $60. Shoe life is still suggested to be about 500 miles per pair, as it was then, but now, full retail is about $75 to $200. Yet, we are still told 500 miles is all we should expect.

Shoes come with fancy features like "FloatRide Energy," EVA core, "OrthoLite sockliner," a guide rail system, "Hyper Burst foam," "fresh foam" and "megagrip rubber." All of this technology sounds great, but if the shoes last only 500 miles a pair, why do we buy into it?

Running shoes need to fit right, have a spacious toe box to avoid toe jamming, enough cushion to keep feet from adverse conditions, good heel support and soles that grip under wet conditions.

Biking shoes need to be stiff, but not rigid, firm-fitting without cramping and actually comfortable. They will last longer than running shoes because one does not walk or run in them. Thus, the new $300 carbon models should last until the next fad comes along.

Athletes are too easily bitten by the Fad Bug.

A $75 pair of shoes will do just fine for most of us, and the same goes for biking shoes. A $2,000 bike with a good frame and solid components is quite adequate, but that $12,000 bike with electronic shifting is really just an ego booster for the majority of its owners.

Electronic shifting for a bicycle works well, but is it truly that much better than the tiny effort required for manual shifting? Well, as "experts" intone, the bike loses a set of shifting cables. But, the price quickly exceeds that benefit.

Confession: In 2010, I was able to buy a $7,000 (retail), truly top-of-the-line Felt mountain bike. With a shop employee discount of about 55 percent and after selling some inherited stock, as well as my old bike, I got it for about $500.

I still have it and will likely never be able to match that deal again. It still looks new, but has thousands of miles on it.

My latest new item is the swimmer's FM radio that I bought last October for $39, to use on my ocean swims. The "Uwaterk 7" actually works well about 80 percent of the time. An ear pierce just broke open, but can be glued. It loses the station to static for a short time, depending upon my head position, and will simply turn itself off.

I love NPR's news programs so much I put up with its flaws. I tried two others for backups and returned them both. One was an AGTek MP3 player/FM radio that failed to work, even on dry land! Amazon promptly refunded my money. No local stores carry such radios.

Every athlete should splurge just once on some top-of-the line "toy" that brings them so much pleasure.

Realistically, we can do quite well on closeout clothing, gear and discounted "toys." I have not bought new shoes in over nine months. No new bikes in nine years.

I still itch for new stuff to test, but a realistic view of my fun life is keeping me sober so far. I did just buy new socks, though.

Bill Longenecker is a Neptune Beach resident and regular contributor to Shorelines. Send feedback to shorelines@jacksonville.com.

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©2019 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)

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