Neil Featherby: What happened when I started running again with trainers from the 80s

How do the trainers from yesteryear compare to today? Picture: Archant

How do the trainers from yesteryear compare to today? Picture: Archant

Firstly I want to offer my congratulations to Logan Smith for his super run when winning The Run Norwich 10k last Sunday which was made just that little bit more special for him after what he says himself has been a bit of a lull in form during May and June.

Neil Featherby - a man, who knows a lot about running trainers. Picture: Neil Featherby

Neil Featherby - a man, who knows a lot about running trainers. Picture: Neil Featherby - Credit: Archant

He put it down to an overload of racing which he says began to disrupt his training mileage for between six and eight weeks.

I said in one of my columns a few weeks ago, when you have the determination and a winning mind, you will always come good eventually. Logan most certainly has that mindset, that's for sure.

Someone who else deserves a big mention this week and that is Carmine De Grandis who achieved the status of being able to call himself a Bob Graham rounder. The Bob Graham Round is an extreme test for ultra and fell runners of trying to complete the ascent and descent of 42 of the most demanding Peaks in the Lake District whilst also covering approximately 74 miles of running within 24 hours. With the start and finish being in the Keswick Town centre, Carmine finished the round in 22 hours and 49 mins for which he will now become part of a very exclusive club open to only those who can complete this incredible feat within the allocated time span.

Primarily this week I want to talk about trainers. Having a large collection myself I wonder how far running footwear technology really has come during the last four decades when I first became fascinated by them. At the same time also having worked in the sports trade for over 30 years, I have seen so many changes and upgrades in technology during that time.

I think it is fair to say that shoes really did start to become more technical towards the late 70s and even more so during the early 1980s what with the birth of the then marathon running boom. Everything suddenly became scientific with the manufacturers all claiming that they were producing what they said were not only the most comfortable running shoes yet but the most protective too what with the use of layers of foam, rubber and PU materials all being used for underfoot protection i.e. midsoles and even special pimpled outer soles.

I even remember one of the running magazines depicting on its front cover what was supposedly the most advanced running shoe yet having landed on the moon with the earth in the background with its in-built computer which told you how far you had run via a pedometer (no GPS in those days) and a stopwatch.

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Anyway, whilst we all have that favourite ever shoe or in my case at least a dozen favourite ever shoes, I do actually have a bit of a theory that the best shoe or shoes which we ever had was when we were at our very best as a runner. Needless to say with that statement, most of my favourites go back to the 1980s.

However, and assuming my theory was correct, I decided to go about trying to find a pair of shoes which replicated a pair of one of these old favourites of mine for which I could test them out. Whilst I could have used a pair from my collection, they would have only lasted a couple of runs before breaking down through age deterioration. At the same time this would not be a fair reflection on what they would have felt like in their day.

After spending a morning searching the internet, sure enough, I found a pair in the US made under exactly the same spec as the originals for which I immediately made a purchase. I first had a pair of these bought for me by my mum for Christmas 1980 for which I was gobsmacked at the time as they cost the princely sum of £32. I was not worthy as far as I was concerned and I told her so in no uncertain words as these shoes really were for the elite. Nevertheless, I went straight out from my Hellesdon home at the time and ran 6 miles out along Reepham Road before turning round and heading back. I really did feel like I was bouncing along in them although of course here is not forgetting that I was only 22 years of age at the time.

Anyway, upon now receiving my new remakes and after excitedly opening the box, they most definitely looked identical to the originals.

The uppers were the same as were the midsoles and outsoles. Just like back in 1980, I couldn't wait to try them out again albeit not over 12 miles this time. The first run in them was if nothing else enjoyable despite the bright blue and yellow colours.

However and after now having worn them several times during the last three weeks, firstly, whilst I did like them, I definitely was not bouncing along in them in the same way as I was the first time around, but as already suggested this was probably more down to the 29 year age gap difference during that time. Also and in truth these shoes are most certainly firmer and more rigid than a high mileage running shoe of today.

The biggest minus however for these old 1980s shoes was that even after just three weeks of running (twice most days), signs of wear tear and even midsole break down is already apparent and thinking back, I do remember the same issues back then too.

As it happens I have never really liked shoes that are too cushioned which is probably why I still found them okay to run in and why I have fond memories of the shoes from yesteryear.

Nevertheless, if they were good enough for me to run 100 plus miles a week back then, I personally would still have no problem using them along with other shoes through a training week which now consists of about 50 miles a week.

When it comes to what is now 40 years of further technology and continuous improvement and whilst I do genuinely believe that we currently have some of the best running shoes ever on the market, do I actually think that shoes of yesteryear would still have a place in today's running shoe market? The answer is yes, but only for a very small minority.

Whilst I really did enjoy running in my old retro shoes which really were part of a golden era for the running trainer back then, I am pretty sure they would not be accepted by most of today's runners when looking for a comfortable running shoe.

However and if nothing else it provided me with a little bit of nostalgia and memories just in the same way that I assume a classic car enthusiastic would get a buzz when he or she takes out what is no doubt their pride and joy.

Two final footnotes….firstly my £32 shoe from 1980 would now be the equivalent of about £120 which is indeed the cost of a wide range of current top running shoes and secondly how amazing was it to see that an old running shoe, designed by Nike founder Bill Bowerman for the 1972 US Olympic trials was sold at auction earlier this week in New York for £350,000?

That certainly makes for an even better reason now for me when convincing my other half that my old shoe collection really is a treasure and not just me hoarding junk as she likes to say….

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