Neil Featherby: What could athletes of yesteryear run in today's shoes?

Neil Featherby in Kosice with Bill Adcocks

Neil Featherby with team mates Rosemary Ellis and Ian Bloomfield, led by Team Manager and former World Class Marathon Runner Bill Adcocks when representing Great Britain at the International Marathon of Peace in Kosice in 1987. - Credit: Neil Featherby

Whilst racing this year has been somewhat limited, what we have seen has still been pretty remarkable with of course another amazing world best being recorded just last weekend when Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie set new figures in Valencia for the fastest ever half marathon completed, recording an amazing finishing time of 57 minutes and 32 seconds. 

This of course has led to lots of dialogue and questions as to the validity of carbon plated shoes and while he wasn’t wearing one of Nike’s celebrated models, it was always a question of time before one of the other brands, and in this case Adidas, had one of their athletes cross the finish line in first place whilst setting new figures in an endurance race. 

Needless to say, we have also now had several enquiries at Sportlink this week about this latest new super shoe and how it compares to all the other brands who also now have at least one model with similar technology in their various ranges of footwear. 

I have always made it clear that I don’t think it is right, but hey ho the world will keep turning and even though many former athletes of my age complain, saying that race times these days are a little false, let’s be honest about it, the shoes that I and they were racing in back in our day were far superior to what top athletes were wearing 20 years prior to that. 

Something popped up on one of the Facebook groups this week remembering the time when Britain’s Bill Adcocks won the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan back in December, 1968 in 2hrs 10mins and 48secs in a pair of very lightweight minimal leather Puma shoes. Not only was this the fastest time of the year over the distance, but also the second fastest time in history back then. 

With regards to any advantage from what his shoes may have given him, the only thing I can think of is that they would have been relatively lightweight with just a little protection underfoot. As for cushioning, or indeed energy return, not a jot. 

However, if today’s highly technical models really do give an advantage of at least four percent, well if my maths is correct, then Bill’s time would have been around 2hrs 4mins. With it being over 50 years ago, mind blowing is all I can say. 

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Sports people and those behind the manufacturing of sports products will always be looking for advancements. For the athletes/sportspersons, it’s all about improvement in performance whereas for the manufacturers it is a huge business and therefore a case of keep moving forward or get left behind. At the same time, I am sure that many of today’s athletes may then also become the ones who question what the athletes of the future have on their feet. 

Nevertheless, and when all is said and done, whatever the technology, there will never ever be a substitute for hard work, determination and dedication and as long as you know you gave it your best when you could, then job done. 

Whilst I doubt this will ever happen, how good would it be to see a half marathon or indeed even marathon with all of today’s stars wearing shoes which perhaps replicated those back in Bill Adcocks’ day? 

My column this week is dedicated to an old friend and club mate (Norfolk Gazelles), Mark Arnold, who so very sadly passed away on Thursday. Mark, like his brother Nigel, possessed lots of natural ability when it came to running and while he perhaps never gave it his all on a long time scale like Nige has, he was still a very strong runner of high quality.

Most importantly though, Mark was always laughing and joking for which he would have us in stitches of laughter on club nights. He loved and lived life that’s for sure. He will be so very much missed for which my thoughts just right now are with all his family and friends.