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About shoes

Thursday, 5 February, 2009

When I was about twenty-five years old, walking became so difficult I purchased a cane. It took me a few days to work out how to use it. I did not have access to medical care at that time, so I elected to live with my new problem. Actually, this is my first course of action in the event of almost any medical malady.

Neither the cane nor pains in various parts of my body below the diaphragm kept me from walking great distances. For many years I was a pedestrian for transportation, amusement and just to get out of the house. In those days, I lived in a part of the world which was developed before the automobile was invented.

I would use the cane for a few weeks, then get around more or less normally for a few months. My shoes always wore very heavily on those parts toward the center of my body. I had no idea what to do, if anything, about any of this.

Several months into my tenure with my current employer, I arrived one afternoon with the cane. My senior took me into a corner and gave me The Talk. About shoes. In short, she recommended that I go to the most prestigious and pricey runners boutique in town and see what they knew. It wasn’t quite this simple, but on my next day off I did as I was told. After being sized, analyzed and so forth walked away, cane-free in a pair of $105 kicks in an unprecedentedly large size.

These shoes, New Balance MX1003, were not unlike magic. Unfortunately while walking around, I appeared to have a Space Shuttle mounted to the bottom of each leg. As these shoes wore, I experimented with more discrete models and did not find the satisfaction and pain relief found in the ten-oh-threes. Using documentation found on the many New Balance specialty stores over internet, I eventually decoded that the difference between the first shoes and the two subsequent pairs was something called Rollbar, an implementation of a corrective feature called “motion control”.

A graphite roll bar is an innate part in the rear of a shoe which forces each step’s strike force off center, and into a much improved, over all, alignment. This effects the alignment of all the joints up to the center of the back. I don’t really understand the science, but it works.

The terms you are looking for if you suffer from such things as heel pains or splinters, hammer toes, consistent blisters, or if you are wearing away one side of the shoe much more quickly than the other are: “motion control” or “graphite roll bar“. Quickly, you will note most such shoes are athletic types. While I am a devoted follower of New Balance, other companies including Adidas, Asics, Brooks, Mizuno, Reebok and Saucony also offer specific models with this feature. I have purchased at least one pair of each of the subsequent New Balance MX10 models, retiring my MX1008s only yesterday. The MX1009 and new MX1010, frustratingly, no longer feature Rollbar.

New Balance continues to attract my passion and hard-earned dollars, not merely because of Rollbar and the availability of their shoes at steep discounts over the internet, but through the offer of multiple widths. I now know that shoes of a proper width are especially important with issues of support. Way back when I first wandered into the wholly alien environment of a chichi runner’s store, I never considered the possibility of width sizing for shoes. In those days, my feet consistently spread over the sides of my soles. Mounting the Brannock Device, my foot moved the width tool considerably. My dirty secret? After wearing a 9½-D for many years, I now use an 11-4E and am quite comfortable. My feet actually fit within the soles of my shoes. Few companies, even high-end, support-oriented firms like Dansko and Birkenstock*, offer multiple widths.

Either as the famous New Balance line of athletic and casual shoes, or their subsidiary Dunham Bootmakers who make more traditional fare, including work boots, the company offers a complete line. I’ve worn Dunham’s steel-toe boots to work for years. They too feature width sizing, motion control, stability and a whole host of features I can’t really remember right now. Once you know your “New Balance size” you may order shoes with impunity.

Somehow New Balance acquired the brand PF Flyers, Uniroyal’s brand of teen-targeted athletic shoes which ended in 1972. Even though the PF stands for “posture foundation”, New Balance has not seen to fitting these traditionally styled athletic shoes, on the model of Converse’s All-Stars and Jack Purcell’s or Pro-Keds, with their distinctive technoogy. When something along the lines of the Bob Cousy, or the Grounder become available in a 4E and with the stability features I require, I shall order a pair forthwith. Despite the needlessly premium price and pretentious new image.

Specific recommendations:

  • Walker 844 or 845 available in blue on white and all black.
  • Walker 811 available in Bone, White and Black. These are better for flatter and more worn feet. Velcro closure available. Specifically marketed to mall walkers, but they aren’t too bad before you get to that point.
  • For something more whimsical, try the Running 587, men’s in gray on blue, women’s in gray on white. 587s look like something from the middle eighties. If you are over 250 lbs., have knee problems and insist upon jogging for exercise, the 587 is your shoe. The original 580, from which the 587 is descended has been recently reissued based on its desirability to sneaker collectors.
  • Pairing a good Rollbar shoe with something like Pressure-Relief insoles may be overkill. I insist upon them with my work boots. The best $35 you will ever spend. Believe it.

As I google up the links for this entry, I noticed that the Dunham work boots are becoming pretty scarce. This cannot be a good sign. I’ve depended upon them for years.

*Birkenstock actually offers shoes in two widths. Regular which is a EE width and Narrow which is an A width. I regret my sloppiness.

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