By Mike Smith
The other day while I was flipping through Instagram, I saw that the Bowerman Track Club crew was setting a big surprise coming the following day. The Bowerman crew, headed up by coach Jerry Schumacher are made up of a bunch of world class athletes like Evan Jager and Courtney Frerichs (both American Record holders in the steeple). So I began wondering what’s up with all that hooplah. Initially I thought they must be adding a big name to the club, but recently they added Matthew Centrowitz with little fanfare as well with Karissa Schweizer. Seems kind of odd as those are some pretty big names.
So began thinking it was something else. There was speculation they were moving the training group to Colorado. The Portland location was a product of the early days, back before the Bowerman Track Club, when Alberto invited Jerry to come down and coach alongside him as the Oregon Track Club was getting too much for him alone. Alberto and Jerry eventually parted ways and split the groups into the Nike Oregon Project and BTC, so really there is no specific reason to keep the club in Portland. And at an elevation of only 50 feet, a new location in Colorado, or some other altitude location, could and would make sense.
Awaiting to find out which of the two it was, I was a bit disappointed when the next day they unveiled the Nike BTC Mamba V’s, fittingly a steeple spike, in red, black and white. Oh sure, the spikes look awesome, and to be fair, with the success of the club recently, they deserve to have the NIKE brand them. But the big announcement was about a pair of shoes?
But then I thought about it. Racing spikes are more than simply a pair of shoes. They’re even more than tools of the trade for those who race on the cross country course or on the track. They are what dreams are made of.
Not everyone who runs wears spikes; quite the opposite. Most runners will likely never lace up a pair. But for those who do, there are dreams attached to them. You don’t buy a pair with only the thought of getting in some miles, managing your weight, staying healthy. You buy them to run fast, really fast. Just hearken back to Jimmy Mack and I running down Forrest and Violet in this year’s Runner’s Alley Spike release videos!
I remember the first spikes I bought probably 35 years ago. They were white Pumas, mid-distance track spikes; allowing a mediocre multi event running guy to dabble in everything, from sprints to distance. I remember screwing in the spikes for the first time, going out in the back yard and hammering up the back hill as hard as I could. Those shoes didn’t just propel me towards the horizon, but chewed into the earth, flinging clods of grass and dirt behind me as I scorched my way to the top. They oozed power, speed and turned me from a middle of the pack guy into a middle of the pack guy with fast shoes and an edge.
Over the years I’ve purchased a variety of spikes and flats that I’ve used for a variety of terrain, distances and races. The next year I bought a pair of Nike Eagles, one of Nike’s first road racing flats. They were black, grey and white, with a wide toe box and the skinniest heel you’ve ever seen. I used them for that season’s cross country races as it seemed most of our races back then had plenty of pavement. I set my high school PR in those shoes, 16:35 at Salem, on a practically dead flat and likely short course that had more parking lot than grass. I loved those shoes so much, with their blown rubber crepe sole, that I eeked out two more years from them through liberal applications of Shoe Goo.
Years ago I had multiple pairs of Brooks T4 racing flats that I wore for track workouts and all the way up to the half marathon. I’d buy multiple pairs, so I always had a new pair on hand to break in if need be. When I found out they were getting rid of the T4 for some other model, I bought up four pairs I used over the next five years.
I owned multiple iterations of the Nike Waffle racer over the years, and for three years while I lived in northwest Connecticut, would run in those along the Appalachian trail up Mount Riga. With their narrow profile and my much lighter frame back then, they worked good sneaking around the rocky footing and weighed so little, you didn’t feel as if you were hauling the big blocky shoes that were the norm back then.
I’ve had a couple pair of Saucony Kilkennys, in both flats and cross spikes I used for a brief, but fun period of time where I searched out “cross country” races back before trail shoes were flexible enough for racing in. I bought a pair of the Brooks Mach 7 as the last cross country shoe I would buy, as trail shoes and trail racing became mainstream. I bought a pair of New Balance 101s, basically a cross flat with a singular solid mud gripping sole meant to cover the lightweight, trail shoe market. I’ve probably logged over 1000 miles in those shoes, and the mud gripping sole is so worn down it’s now even a pavement slipping sole.
I bought a pair of Mizuno Wave Kaze about ten years back. Those high topped cross country spikes with the velcro strap that covers the laces where they tie, one full size up. For over a year, I entertained the idea of putting in half inch spikes and using them during the Winter Wild series of races where you race up and down a ski hill twice in whatever type of skiing, running sliding type of set up you wanted. When I finally lined up a race at Pat’s Peak that fit in with the indoor schedule, we got two feet of snow that night and even though it was groomed, I was left post-holing on both the up and the down. While I didn’t toss them in the trash, they quickly got added to the miscellaneous collection I have at school.
I still own a pair of Nike Ventilus steeplechase spikes hanging in the garage, in All-American red, white and blue, with the thought years ago that I might may a run at some Masters meets and relive some of that old glory. Probably time to add those to the miscellaneous pile as well.
Over the last seven years, my running has been plagued with various injuries that halt my forward progress. My mindset has changed as well. After years of frustration in not being able to train like I have in the past, my goals have changed. Speed work has become relative. If I’m going any faster than my regular pace, that’s now speedwork. The last pair of racing flats I bought, the Mizuno Wave Hitogami, with the intention of using for track work and running some fast 5Ks, have been sitting in a box for three years. I just pulled them out and handed them down to one of my athletes with my shoe size.
While I’m unwilling to give up on the idea I will never spike back up, and that my days of running fast are gone, I no longer hold onto the belief that I’m training for anything more than simply the rest of my life. Running is good for me. It gets me off my butt and out of the house when the weather’s cold and the roads are crappy. There are innumerable reasons that I need to run. But training to be fast is no longer one of them.
One day, when my hamstring is no longer damaged, my Achilles is healed, my knee doesn’t do the weird, sometimes sore sort of thing that it does, and I seem to figure out how to not break my toe or roll my ankle, maybe I’ll get to be fast again. But I’m not holding my breath. So while I was initially let down by the announcement of BTCs Mamba V, I appreciate the trip back in time and those spike dreams.
* Jimmy Mack and I had to run those two down about a dozen times for that video. We didn’t warm up, they had us lace up the spikes, and try to figure out how to gun them down from out of the camera shot. While the course was real bad for Divisionals, it was soggy when we filmed it. Sprinting on soft, soggy turf had me sore for the rest of the week! Thankfully I was on vacation right from there and was able to take those runs a bit easier being on vacation.
Note: Coaches, don’t forget Runners Alley Team Nights are currently being scheduled! Contact Jeremiah at Runners Alley to schedule your team at one of their 3 locations (Manchester, Concord, Portsmouth)!