Out There: Running Toward Retirement

It's true — Susan Lacke really did discover a shoe retirement home in New Zealand. Photo: Susan Lacke | Competitor.com

Susan Lacke discovers it’s hard to let good things go … until the right opportunity comes along.

I don’t really recall where or when I got this particular pair of shoes, or why I even chose them in the first place. They’re not my normal brand, style, or color. They’re not even all that comfortable. Yet whenever I donned the neon-hued New Balance kicks, good things happened.

I was wearing them when I set a PR at both the half-Iron distance and in a mile time trial. They were on my feet when my friend Beth told me she was pregnant, and again when she delivered a healthy, happy baby boy. When an angry dog chased me on a run one morning, I somehow escaped unscathed. I even got a raise at work while I was wearing — you guessed it — my neon New Balances.

There are five pairs of shoes in my current running rotation. I’ve trained and raced in dozens of different shoe sets, retiring each one when they’ve reached their limits. Yet I’m convinced these particular kicks of mythical origin hold magic powers, and for that, I struggle to send them to the recycling bin.

However, they’re still shoes. Eventually, they reach the point where they stop being functional and start being … well, funky. After many miles, they’ve became unsightly and malodorous.

“You’re not really taking those things with you, are you?” My partner, Neil, wrinkled his nose as he watched me pack my bag for our road trip through New Zealand.

“Of course I am! They’re my lucky shoes.”

“They look and smell horrible, Susan. We’re going to be cooped up in a camper van with those, for crying out loud. The nasty things are an assault on my senses.”

“They can hear you!” I shushed, covering the shoes protectively.

“I know of a very nice farm upstate where I can take them,” he joked. “They can run through the pasture with the other smelly footwear. I think they’ll really like it there.”

“Don’t be cute.”

“Someone’s gotta be, to make up for those ugly shoes.”

“I promise, I’ll retire them after this trip. We’ll call it The Farewell Tour.”

Neil rolled his eyes dramatically. I expected more understanding from a guy who once told me his yellowed race shirts from the 90′s were priceless treasures.

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When we arrived in New Zealand, I took my neon shoes out for a shakeout run on the lakefront path of Taupo. They were on my feet when I explored the streets of Wellington and as I ran past waterfalls and baby seals in Milford Sound. Each night, as I took them off, I put them under the sliding door of our camper. Neil said they were banished from the living space; they preferred to sleep under the stars, anyway, I countered.

“Is it time to retire them yet?” He’d ask each night while pinching his nose for dramatic effect. “I know of a very nice farm …”

“Shh,” I cut him off. “One more run. I promise.”

On our last day in New Zealand, the shoes were still in my possession. This was in part due to a lack of a place to properly dispose of the shoes, though I admit I wasn’t looking too hard, either. As Neil drove our camper through the twisting roads of the countryside, he furrowed his brow and pointed to the horizon.

“What’s that over there?”

“It’s just another sheep farm, honey,” I patted his knee dismissively. “We’ve seen hundreds of them.”

“No, look! The fence over there.”

I peered through the windshield as Neil slowed the van to a crawl.

“Is that fence made of …”

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“It is.” We both broke into giggles. On this random country road in New Zealand, hundreds of shoes were tied to the wires of the fence edging a field of grazing sheep: children’s sneakers festooned with Dora the Explorer and Mickey Mouse, Converse sneakers with faint pen markings on the white rubber tips, spiky heels, soccer cleats, and a museum-worthy collection of running shoes.

Neil beamed at the sight, gesturing broadly. He didn’t have to say it.

After more miles than any pair of footwear should probably ever cover, I sent my lucky shoes to a very nice farm upstate.

I think they’ll really like it there.

****

About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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