I didn’t realize it until I was much older but the Nikes my dad ran in were called waffle trainers. I remember that particular patter quite well: raised squares with central nipples of rubber amidst troughs at right angles. In my child’s mind I could imagine X-wing fighters swooping low to avoid the tower turrets and tie fighters as they made their trench run against the Death Star. At that age everything was about Star Wars for me, even a pair of my dad’s running shoes.
As I recall they weren’t flashy or multicolored like today’s shoes. I think they were plain jane two tone grey on grey. The now familiar swoosh was a bit darker, but they were basically white tennis shoes (that’s what we called any and all athletic shoes in the 80’s or at least our household) that looked dingy from rain and mud running.
My dad used to run early in the morning and I can remember waking up early (for me) at 6:30 AM to the sound of him, winded and catching his breath, as he opened and closed the front door. Sometimes he was a little too loud for that hour since he had headphones in his ears and an AM/FM radio clipped to his shiny shorts. I don’t think it even had a cassette deck as part of it, dad didn’t own any tapes, just vinyl and it would have been difficult to run with a turntable.
He’d grab some orange juice from the fridge and drink it straight from the carton or jug. I inherited this unfortunate aversion to good manners and food hygiene, though I avoid drinking directly from the fridge immediately after I finish my run: I don’t want to sweat all over the kitchen hardwoods.
Dad was skinny then, and tall. In my memory he seemed like the tallest person in my world and the outfit – waffle trainers, shiny shorts, headband and wristbands (striped, of course) and that little radio – made him the picture of the nineteen eighties. Modern, married, active and getting it all done before he’d had his coffee or gone to work.
I don’t think I ever hugged him then so as to avoid getting myself all gross (more likely “grodie”) but he did give me a kiss on the head or a pat on the back. I wanted to go with him, but I was never up early enough and I was pretty sure I couldn’t run as fast as he could, no matter what I said on the playground or in the driveway.
The socks he wore were striped too and they went almost all the way up to his knees. We had the same socks, my dad and me, and it felt very special to coordinate like that. My own son loves dressing like dad or pointing out our physical similarities both genetic and wardrobe related. I had the same sense about my dad and I really miss those socks to this day. They just don’t work in 2011.
My dad would go directly in the shower and he’d usually sing or whistle through his teeth. My dad was always making some kind of music but I wondered what he listened to during his runs. On the one occasion I tried on the sweaty, foamy headphones of his I was treated to Steely Dan or Fleetwood Mac – something with a descriptor and a man’s nickname – and I hated it. To be fair that probably had more to do with the delivery method than the music itself, but I still don’t like Fleetwood Mac that much (though I can appreciate their aesthetic).
Those shoes of his lasted more than a couple of seasons. He wasn’t the most dedicated runner and he only wore them to actually run. Not like the way I wear my shoes now – to work, to the grocery store, to actually run – I’m in them all day, every day.
No, Dad made those trainers last (why don’t we use that term more often, like the Brits do? We just adopted ‘cross trainers’ in the nineties, but it’s gone no). He used some gross goo which was appropriately and accurately called Shoe Goo. It came in a metallic tube no bigger than a stick of chewing gum and it smelled like every disgusting petroleum product I’d ever smelled. It was black and viscous and disgusting and it fascinated me.
When the waffle trainers wore they didn’t really dull down or blunt, they cracked along predetermined fault lines, those troughs I mentioned earlier. Dad’s nearly snapped in two at the juncture of his arches between his heel and his toes. The Shoe Goo was applied liberally into these fissures and then the shoes were left upside down to dry or cure or something. I must have been seven or eight and it seemed like a lot of work for a pair of shoes. I wondered why he wouldn’t just buy a new pair.
Now I know: you fall in love with your old sneakers and you can never really bury them until they’re all the way dead. I’ve got plenty of pairs of zombie trainers and undead tennies littering my closet and garage. They go from the road to the back of the closet to lawn mowing duty and, one day, the garbage can.
Part of me wished I had some Shoe Goo, though. It seems greener in some odd sense, to want to literally cobble together your shoes and make them last just a little bit longer. Plus, I now know about minimal and barefoot running styles (focusing more on a forefoot or toe strike style) and running in older shoes can be a much better experience than running in new, heavy padded running shoes.
There’s something to be said for that old friend of a shoe that fits like a glove (if that makes sense) and just feels comfy and right. My memories are like that: comforting and comfortable, a little bit worn (but not worn out) and happy.
Nate talking about his dad, my uncle, running 3 miles every night reminded me of a time when my dad was running all the time. Interestingly enough my dad stopped running because of a bad basketball injury and I started running because of a basketball injury.
Hope you enjoyed the story.