Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Shoe That Changed Everything


The shoe pictured above is the Nike Waffle Trainer. I bought a pair of these shoes out of the trunk of the car of a man named Dave Ellis in the fall of 1974, at a High School cross-country race in High Park in Toronto. Dave was the distributor for Nike in the area at the time. I thought they were the coolest and fastest shoes on the planet! It was all kind of clandestine, because you could not buy Nike's in any stores locally. So you handed, Dave $25, and he gave you your shoes!

It's hard to believe, but at the time, outside of a hardcore group of skinny running geeks, no one knew what Nike was back then.

These shoes changed everything in many different ways. It was the shoe that really set Nike apart from the few other players in the serious running shoe business of the time. For me, it was the shoe that I really discovered the agony and the ecstasy of distance running in. I learned how to push myself really hard - right to that aerobic edge, and then surf along it for as long as I could. I felt like I was flying, when I was wearing those bright red Waffle Trainers!

The waffle soles really did look like the inverse pattern from the waffle-maker that we had at home. Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman was not making this stuff up. The soles of the Waffle trainers, were light, but they also delivered extraordinary grip and amazing cushioning. Bill was definitely onto something.

I ran that first pair of Waffle Trainers into the ground. It was cross-country season, so lots of mud, rain and wet running. I seem to recall the tops giving out before the soles. I tracked Dave down at another cross-country race and bought another pair of Waffle Trainers, as well as a pair of Oregon Waffles - these very cool yellow and green cross-country racing flats. And I was hooked. I have been a Nike guy pretty much since.

From the get-go, Nike seemed to get it! The product was cutting edge. The marketing and promotional material seemed to speak directly to the athletes they targeted - runners. I recall an ad in the, "There is no finish line series". It was a picture of several young runners. Some hands-on-knees bent over. Others slumped on the ground. It was obvious they had just finished a hard interval effort, or a tempo run and were recovering as best they could. Just like I did countless times with my teenage running buddies. Nike got it. This was running!

It came full circle for me recently when at the offer of a good friend, while I was passing through Portland, Oregon recently, I was given a tour of the Nike corporate headquarters or, the Nike Campus as they like to call it. In a word, "Wow" - from selling shoes out of car-trunks to kids at cross-country meets to that. Impressive stuff.

I saw an old pair of those red Waffle Trainers preserved in the Bill Bowerman memorial and museum area along with much other assorted Nike memorabilia as part of the tour at the Nike Campus. I wish that I still had those first pair that I bought. I still remember that sensation of flying along on a tempo run over hills and fallen leaves in the Fall of 1974 like it was yesterday!

What shoe did it for you?

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5 comments:

I Pull 400 Watts said...

I hate to be "that barefoot guy", but in my short running career of about 4 years I never really "got it" until I started running in Vibram Fivefingers 3,000 miles ago and following the Maffetone philosophy of running. However, I am wise enough to know that I have only been running for 4 years. Thinking I "got it" could be totally wrong :p But the last year has been my least injured and I have seen my best improvements.

STEVE FLECK said...

Thanks for posting.

Good thoughts.

If you came up through higher performance running and you raced in track spikes and real racing flats on the road, then you were running in shoes that are not to different than these minimalist shoes of today.

customerjon said...

The original Asics Gel Lytes did it for me. I had just finished a pair of the original 101s and Santa brought me the Lytes and I was super excited.

Ran many wonderful miles in them. I only stopped running in them because the left ones midsole and sole fell off during some hill repeats. So sad. The next day I made the worst mistake in my running life.

I paid attention to a Runner's World buyer's guide and learned about pronation and foot types. I learned that my low arches and knock knees where the work of Satan and that if I didn't wear huge heavy control shoes not only would I get injured all the time I would probably end up killing people. So like a good stooge I spent the last couple of decades running in pain, spending tons of money and trying to find that magic shoe that would tame my horrible feet with vice like restraint. Throw in the endless insoles and prescribed orthotics and I was paying good money to stay injured.

Getting back into running a guy on Slowtwitch talked me into taking a pair of spikes and having a cobbler slap a thick slab of rubber on the bottom. Worked a treat! I like a little more cushion than spikes give with a little more forefoot room but the super shoes can sit and spin from now on. Less is more for this overpronator.

Take the purple wedge out of the Waffle Trainers and they look like something I would love.

Thomas Drysdale said...

Great article Steve, I too had a pair of waffles back then but preferred a pair of Onitsuka Tigers I bought in a store in Dundas. I believe that company morphed into Asics a few years later. My favourite of all time was the Nike American Eagle racing flat. Weighed practically nothing but you felt like you were flying. They likely took a few years of off joints etc. though after a long race.

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