“Ha ha, It’s Because You’re Sole-Less,” said Niall, Laughing
What is it with me and shoes? I put ‘em on, they bust.
Two decades ago (in prehistoric times) I ran the Rossendale Way Relay with a young (ish) Neil Armitage. He turned up on a sodden, muddy day in road shoes that had so much midsole they were practically Bowie-esque platform boots. Halfway up the first climb, a rocky, splashy trod up to the fell, one of the platforms fell apart. Neil spent the rest of the leg hopping and tip-toeing through the puddles wearing only one shoe. Oh how I laughed.
I think my smug enjoyment has somehow cursed me.
About eight years ago I tackled the Helvellyn race, a tough Lakeland mountain grind that included a hefty climb up to the Helvellyn ridge and, at the end, a ridiculously steep drop down a slippy, grassy descent back into the valley bottom. Somewhere just before that final drop – a mile of hurtling, gasping downhill – one of my Walshies exploded, the sole shooting off into the next valley. I careered on regardless and spent most of the descent on my arse. I couldn’t walk on the exposed, cut and bruised foot for two days.
A few years after that I was running with Charlie McIntosh in the FRA relays down near the Welsh Borders. We were on the navigation leg and had found our way around pretty well. Since both me and Mr Mac are reasonably good at flying downhill, we were looking forward to the last couple of miles of rough ‘n’ tumble grass to the finish. My shoe thought otherwise and bang! off went the sole into a peat hag. I didn’t so much sprint the final section as gingerly bounce down.
I started to realise there was a problem. Either my feet were a weird shape or my running style was incredibly eccentric. Or I was cursed by the ghost of Neil Armitage’s huge road shoes.
Last year I joined a group of P&B runners out for a long Sunday winter run over Ilkley Moor. It had been snowing for a couple of days and the moor was a glorious white landscape, a near-as-dammit featureless, untouched blanket of deep, deep snow. We set off. Our climb to the top of the moor involved clambering on all fours across snow drifts, plunging into knee-deep holes, trying to find paths that were completely hidden. It was utterly beautiful. As we left the summit ridge and began to run along the moortop, one of my shoes creaked and groaned and then boom! gave up the ghost, splitting in two and leaving me with the prospect of a three-mile run back through ice and snow with one foot in only a sock. Nice.
And so to tonight. I haven’t been out running much – under doctor’s orders after breaking my arm and messing up tendons, ligaments and nerves. So I was really, really looking forward to a headtorch run up on the Chevin with some of the P&B lot. On the run up from my house to the car park, on the stony path that connects West and East Chevin, the dreaded flap flap flap began. Inov-8s, this time. The sole hung on by the toe glue, and I managed to get to the meeting place, where Graham and Rachel fished around in the boot of their car and found a roll of gaffa tape. Gaffa tape, the cure for all modern ailments. I strapped the sole onto my foot as if it were a war wound, black tape circling my ankle and holding the shoe’s sole tight to the base of my foot. I reckon Ray Mears would have done it like this. Sorted. And off we ran, back up and over the Chevin summit in the dark, chatting and winding our way down through the woods above Shane Green’s house. I beat the curse! Solved the problem! Look at me, with my bust shoe still intact… get thee behind me, broken shoe, you can’t control me!
That’s when my other shoe went ping! and its sole flew off. Somewhere on that muddy, leafy path that winds down to the Chevin ridge. Unbelievable. Bang, there in the mud, my one good shoe detaching itself from itself and leaving me wet and limping. What did my fellow runners do? They stood around and laughed, and didn’t stop laughing. Look at the funny man who has to run home in his socks. The man with the weird feet that splits shoes. With the strange running style. The funny man who can’t escape the Curse of the Broken Shoe.