September 24, 2019 at 08:00PM by CWC
Whenever the time comes to retire an old pair of running shoes, I repeat the same ritual. Laces in hand, I carry my sneakers to the trash, drop them inside, and proceed to ugly cry for the next 20 minutes.
The waterworks portion of the footwear funeral might seem dramatic to you. Hey, maybe it is. But I’m not crying because the shoes themselves have ceased to be of use to me. The tears are because several hundred miles are behind me, and I feel endlessly, stupidly grateful. The best way I can explain it is this: Some people collect things as a hobby; I collect miles.
Running shoes hold the tactile memory of every bridge, beach, or forest I’ve ever covered. They’re a memory capsule of my footsteps, but before that, they’re something even better. The right pair of sneakers can give you what you need. In early 2019, I took a pair of Brooks Ghosts (my long-time favorites) on a trip to Sedona. I spent a lot of time out west hiking deep into the forest, unplugging, and reconsidering what I wanted out of the next few years of my life.
Even when when I was walking—not running—I wore these shoes, and dreamed about my life. They carried me through canyons and below tree canopies, and they also let me wander deeper into my mind. They supported me—period—and I left Arizona with red clay caked thick into their soles and something else, too: a new understanding of what “forward” would look like for me.
I threw those shoes away a month later, sobbed on my kitchen floor back in New York City, and got to work reshaping my life exactly the way I’d imagined it back in Sedona, back in the woods, back in my running shoes. The act of physically getting rid of my shoes is the final step in accepting the change they’ve introduced into my life. But that’s just me.
When I asked a few more runners at Well+Good how they bid farewell to their precious sneakers, every one of them shared their own goodbye ritual—or lack thereof. Ali Finney, our director of fitness, told me that she’s kept the pair of bright orange, Asics Gel Nimbus running shoes she wore for her very first half-marathon.”I remember not being able to get rid of them because it felt like such a special accomplishment,” she says. They’re still in the back of her closet, as physical proof that she made it through 13.1.
Well+Good fitness editor Rachel Lapidos is slightly less sentimental about her kicks. “Once I get a shiny, brand new pair, my trusty old running shoes are immediately cast aside in my shoe bins, where they just start collecting dust and are treated as though they never helped me to rack up the miles and HIIT runs,” she says. “I’m basically a ‘thank u, next’ kind of shoe mom when it’s time for a new pair.”
Kendall Bryant, director of product here at W+G agrees that the promise of a fresh pair tends to outshine the memories of the old. “To me, it’s more about the excitement of opening the box with the new pair that floods me with visions of what races I’ll run, PR times to beat, and where I’ll log my next miles. I’m sure I could give a romcom rational for this, about how you can’t move forward if you’re always looking back, but really I just love lacing up my new pair of Brooks Adrenaline each time and running those first miles when the possibilities are endless.” Every pair you toss, donate, or hideaway makes room for something else. New shoes and, to some extent, a new you.
Flash forward and summer’s drawing to a close, and I have a week left with my latest pair of cranberry-colored Ghosts. I ran in New York City’s balmiest months and checked off my first five weeks of marathon training with my trusty side-kicks. We’re reaching our final chapter together and this goodbye will be particularly difficult. My Arizona Brooks showed me what I wanted, but Summer Brooks helped me make it happen. I fell in love while wearing them; I wrote lines of my hopefully-one-day book in my head as I looped Central Park. They guided me through miles that felt impossible, and still more that felt amazing. They smell, they’re busted up, the soles are worn down. I changed them, they changed me. So…
Rest in peace, dear running shoes. I can’t wait to see where your successor will take me.