When I first laid eyes on the shoes – all decked out in psychedelic, rainbow-coloured glory – which were left on my office desk, I felt the sceptical running shoe reviewer in me rearing its ugly head: I had decided, 25 models ago, that shoes with impossibly flamboyant facades usually had something to hide – namely performance inadequacies. Shoes like these, I thought, were the running world-equivalent of boy-bands – heavy on packaging and shameless marketing, but light on talent (if any).
Mine is a puritan running shoe psyche. Apart from my disdain for shoes like the unfortunate rainbow pair, I also had a habit of categorising runners according to their choice of running shoe brands: Wearing a “high performance” brand? Well, you’re most certainly a serious runner – someone who knows the difference between your “heel-drop” and your “stack height”. Using something less than “high performance”? You’re likely a beginner, a casual neighbourhood pavement-pounder – or an athlete with an endorsement deal. It was a startlingly simplistic black-and-white viewpoint, with no room for grey areas. I clung on to it like a security blanket – until I met the rainbow shoe, that is.
The rainbow shoe filled me with dread. The very thought of parading around in that technicolour mess of a shoe at the running track, on the road, at work – basically any place which didn’t have a ban on untalented and over-the-top running shoes – filled me with untold dread. And was it any surprise that my first session with the rainbow shoe on my regular running route was awkward and painful? Whether real or otherwise, I felt the searing looks from the other runners burning into me. Squeezing my eyes shut in embarrassment only made things worse because I ran head first into a tree when I missed a turn. So much for not wanting to draw attention to myself.
Trees and accidents aside, the nadir of the rainbow shoe-testing period had to be my one visit to the then very crowded gents at my workplace. The shoe so stunned the person in the neighbouring urinal, he called his buddies’ attention to it – while answering nature’s call. I was thankful that he didn’t lose his aim in the process. The shoe was obviously attracting attention in all the wrong places and at all the wrong times – getting checked out by men in the washroom wasn’t a good thing.
But for some inexplicable reason, the rainbow shoe was starting to leave an indelible impression on me. Truth be told, it didn’t feel half bad. Apart from its ability to trigger global nuclear meltdown with its looks and a bit of stiffness at the footbed, the shoe felt amazingly smooth on the road. Its combination of cushioning, stability – all in a relatively lightweight package – left me almost embarrassed by my fanatical views. Its impressive performance floored me – and left me stranded by doubts.
Eventually, the nature of deadlines dictated that I move on to another running shoe on my working list. But something about the rainbow shoe made me question my stubborn obsession and my conjured views about other runners – and their footwear. Jarring colours and obtrusive running shoe designs still give me nightmares that take place in the washroom. But every once in a while, just once in a while, I’ll sneak a peak at the shoes of the runners around me, hoping to catch a glimpse of the rainbow shoe. Whatever its owner’s level of running competence, I hope the shoe is serving him well.
Check out our review of the rainbow-hued New Balance RT1100 Black Rainbow