08 May 2010

A Long Awaited Experiment

How great is it when different parts of your life collide in good ways and build on each other synergistically? Now and then the fickle finger of fate points in the right direction, and it can be very cool, as it was last week. As a result I’m going to try an experiment I’ve wanted to do for some time.

Just back from a few days of post-Boston relaxation I was greeted with – what else – about four hundred business emails, not counting the “congrats on a fine Boston” ones that don’t count as a chore to wade through. Yes, the benefit of vacation time and being home-office-based means you spend the night before returning to work already working. C’est la vie, it’s a living, and a pretty good one.

In my line of business, which is, in effect, trying to explain what our gadgets do and why you want them, where our gadgets are pretty complex devices that can be rolled out in any of about four-point-seven million variations, I get called in to see pretty much any customer in our fold when the time is right. The usual day brings the usual suspects: insurance companies, colleges, consulting houses, government agencies, you name it. Then once in a while comes a treat, the call you just can’t wait to go on. So how cool is it that my first customer call after coming back from the marathon was a running shoe company? Can you beat that? A meeting at New Balance. Way cool.

New Balance sports an impressive looking headquarters on the edge of Boston, but we trundled up to their other place in beautiful (he said somewhat tongue-in-cheek) Lawrence, Massachusetts. Truth be told, while Lawrence doesn’t have the best reputation as a garden spot, as one who’s heavily interested in history I find the place rather fascinating. And New Balance lives in a grand restored nineteenth century mill – with track lanes marked on the hardwood floors in places.

My sales rep of course opened the meeting by bringing up the marathon, and the moment I knew would come at some point came immediately: “And you ran it in New Balance shoes?”

Umm, uh, well, truth be told, no. I’ve been an ASICS guy, with a smattering of a few others tossed in for variety, none of which made me all that happy. And I’m a frugal guy, so I simply buy last year’s model at the cheapest close-out price I can find on the web. Hey, they’re not the newest, latest, and greatest, but if they were good enough last year, they’re good enough now. Sad truth is I’d never tried on a pair of New Balance that I thought had fit my feet. But it’s also fair to say that my trusty ASICS have changed a bit over the years, I’ve blistered more of late than usual, and I’m game for variety. I just hate paying running store prices to run those tests.

Yah, well, they understood, and we moved on and had a fine meeting. But they promised to take us upstairs to the factory store afterward. We’ll get back to that after a short interlude of extreme coolness.

Interlude of extreme coolness: New Balance has a lab where they do all sorts of dynamic biometric studies on runners and shoes. I’d heard about it some time ago, and corresponded with the guy who runs the lab about a year ago, but that was as far as it went. I figured I probably scared him off with my tale of bizarre foot surgery – I mean, how much useful data could he get on normal people’s feet by measuring my bionic one? By now, of course, things are a little more back to normal in the foot department, and I might actually be of some use to him. As a runner, the opportunity to get a better understanding of what my body was really doing sounds simply too cool to resist. And as an engineer, the opportunity to see how that measurement and analysis was done was again simply too cool to resist.

Since things in my life were converging that day, you’d expect me to tell you that it turned out that the lab was a mere fifty feet down the hall from our meeting room. And that somehow, the name of the guy who runs the place – with whom I hadn’t corresponded in over a year – just popped into my head halfway through our meeting (this, when the name of the guy across the table whom I’d just met had already left my head). And so I will tell you that these things were so, and that I was treated to a quick visit to the lab and a chat with said lab engineer. Whether I can be of any use to him remains to be seen (it would appear, in Seussical Grinchian fashion, that my foot is a size or two too small), but it was a great connection to make.

On to the shopping! Armed with a friendly discount, I hit the company store and to my delight did indeed find a pair of New Balance that appear to fit my feet, so I’ll give a pair of 1225s a drive and see what happens. But the much cooler bit was the 904s, which, at least in my opinion, are a cross between training and racing shoes. Light as a feather, but not so insubstantial as to leave your little piggies exposed to the nasties of the road. And shockingly yellow. Easier to pick me out of the crowd with these puppies on!

I’ve wanted to try out a pair of racing shoes for some time. It’s been close to thirty years since I wore those lime green Nike Waffle Racers around town and around tracks in upstate New York. But what’s been holding me back was the fear that real racers simply wouldn’t be supportive enough, and that old Yankee frugality – I had no great desire to dump a lot of money on something that experimental. Come the 904s, not really true racers, but a nice combination of lightness and support, and – just my style – last year’s model, discounted, with a bonus friendly discount at the already discounted factory store, and, well, even Mr. Stoic Shopper can’t resist making that kind of buy.

Which means I now have to consummate the experiment, which pushed me over the edge upon which I was tottering, which means yes, I went ahead and signed up for the Buffalo Marathon. Life just switched from post-Boston, to T-Minus four weeks to the next marathon. In cool shoes that will either kill my feet or – I hope – slice some effort and time from the tallies.

We learn best through experimentation.

Ed Note: A few days after I wrote this but before posting, I took the 904s for a short test drive. Like running in comfy slippers! Can my feet stand them for 26 miles? Actually, not my biggest concern at the moment as enough other things hurt that I’m really questioning my decision to run Buffalo.

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