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Running column: It’s about the appliance of science for most of us

PUBLISHED: 15:31 21 June 2018

A look at Neil Featherby's extensive shoe museum, with ld shoes dating back to the 1970s reflecting what was, at the time, the technology of the day Picture: Neil Featherby

A look at Neil Featherby's extensive shoe museum, with ld shoes dating back to the 1970s reflecting what was, at the time, the technology of the day Picture: Neil Featherby

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It’s not the same anymore – back in my day we done it like this; far too much reliance upon gadgets; looking for short cuts; so much for sports science etc.

A look at Neil Featherby's extensive shoe museum, with ld shoes dating back to the 1970s reflecting what was, at the time, the technology of the day Picture: Neil Featherby
A look at Neil Featherby's extensive shoe museum, with ld shoes dating back to the 1970s reflecting what was, at the time, the technology of the day Picture: Neil Featherby

This is something we hear regularly and to be honest I’ve said some of these things myself at times. However, new equipment and technology is without a doubt an improvement on the past, and as for sports science, all the scientists are doing is giving us the facts as they see them at the time.

The truth is that science and technological advancements are what indeed allows for improvements and benefits, although it still very much comes down to actually going out there and applying any new research or use of better equipment to your training and racing. Looking for short cuts is not the answer.

Anyway, I just happened to pick up one of my old running books, from 1981, the other day and lo and behold there was a section written by a very well-known and respected American runner of the time talking about the good old days of the 1960s and early 70s when athletes supposedly ran quicker times, despite having poorer diets, cinder running tracks and, of course, not having the “space age technology” which the running shoes of the late 70s and early 1980s used.

Unlike the heavier rigid shoes of his peak running days, the shoes were made of lightweight materials with improved cushioning, flexibility and durability. As for having a Casio sports watch with splits, that was indeed something else. As far as he was concerned, the runners of the day were relying too much on technology, which he felt was having a negative effect on the standard of running.

Engrossed in the book, I began thinking at the time of purchase the author was just miffed his day had been and gone and he was somewhat envious he didn’t have the same equipment in his heyday. However, here we are, nearly four decades on, and I think it is fair to say his sentiments are still pretty much used by many a runner, now of a similar age to him back then – and, as already said, in some respects (but not all) this includes myself.

I’ve been involved with the selling and wear-testing of running shoes for as many years as that book is old – forgetting the so-called rocket science he mentioned, I have certainly seen a lot of changes during my many years of running. I have even seen all the new shoes which are being introduced from the major brands for 2019 which, needless to say, are supposedly far improved on what has gone before.

So with this in mind and having a very large collection of old running shoes which dates back to the 1970s and 80s, just out of curiosity, I decided to pull out a pair from the mid-1980s and head out for a run. Despite there being a fair bit of midsole degradation which meant I had to keep the run down to a relatively short distance of four miles, I have to say it was one of those runs where I felt there was a definite extra spring in my every step. Whilst I don’t suggest everyone goes looking to dig out their most ancient pair of running shoes, I can honestly say the fit around my feet and comfort underfoot was still very good. In fact, I felt like I was running as well as I have done in a long time, although that may well be more down to the power of the mind, what with my thoughts very much ‘back in my day’ so to speak when my legs naturally turned over more quickly.

Going back to the book, the author also went on to talk about how the running or jogging boom as it was known in America, went from being a boom business of the late 70s to petering out – he was a little pleased, feeling it was a good chance of it returning to a sport again, whilst those who were involved in the business side of running – retailing – certain shoe and clothing companies and magazine publishers could become strong again with the ‘band wagon’ merchants disappearing.

Amongst a number of other things, he also predicted runners wearing tiny sensors in races for timing and scoring whilst many athletes would also be feeding all their daily training data into computers with feedback determining progress. I am not sure where he got his crystal ball from, but he was certainly correct about the technical data.

When asked if I miss my racing days – the good old days – the answer is most definitely, ‘yes, of course I do’.

However, I will always remember what one of Norfolk’s most respected coaches once said to me, and I quote Tim Ash: “The good old days will always be the best just like the older we get the better we were!”

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