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It’s Gotta Be the Shoes, Or Does It?

by Austin Bonds (

A week ago I was helping a man find some running shoes and noticed an older gentlemen slide into my peripheral vision. Since my head is usually turned downward as I tie laces countless times throughout the day, I glanced at his sneaks and observed that he had an older pair of shoes that were red and black with that iconic Swoosh. Though I don’t recall the model, he proceeded to tell me that his closet is full of Michael Jordan shoes. Speaking of which, The Cardboard Connection, like other websites devoted to number 23, has put together a visual history of Air Jordan shoes.

After leaving the store, I started thinking about that man’s shoes more and my mind wandered back into the days of middle school. As a burgeoning adolescent, the perception of being thought of as “cool” by my peers was constantly on my mind. We all wish to be liked and we all wish to be validated by our outward appearance. I can’t remember the shoes I wore at this time, but I do remember that the popular guys in my classes wore Air Jordan shoes, along with other emerging basketball stars at the time (e.g. Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway).

I remember pestering my mother to buy me some new shoes, shoes like my “friends” had, but like any wise mother she thought the cost was outrageously exorbitant; however, I persisted, and I even managed to earn some money by completing chores inside and outside the house. I didn’t purchase a pair of Air Jordan shoes, but I did acquire the Nike Air D.T. 4 Max worn by the talented Deion Sanders (who played professional football and baseball).

I wore Deion’s shoes to school proudly, but I still managed to receive some biting criticism from my “friends” who thought my new shoes were weird and inferior to their respective kicks. Thank God that middle school and high school are now over and comparisons like this about shoes are lost to the sands of time. And yet here I am again, surrounded by shoes anew as I work for a specialty running store. Thankfully, comparing my running shoes to others is now completely irrelevant; this is due to the fact that staying healthy and free of injury supersedes looking fashionable.

When I help people find new running shoes, I like to offer up this phrase as a guiding philosophy: “Form follows function.” In other words, how the shoe looks should always be secondary to how it feels. Unlike shoes worn by Michael Jordan or LeBron James or Stephen Curry, running shoes are usually not bought to garner comments of praise, though the designs continue to get better and more colorful. They are purchased to be beaten down on the roads and trashed on the trails. And then the process repeats again and again. Form follows function.

I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t wanted to fly like Michael at one point or another. You start to wonder if he has jet packs in those shoes of his. Spike Lee even asked the question. But as Jordan has pointed out in a very pointed ad, it was never the shoes. His success was based on many, many hours of practice. So it is with running. Practice builds strength, speed, and endurance. Practice improves form and lowers the risk of injury.

I suppose that a picture from a race is the closest that runners feel to flying. This snapshot is a reminder of a good moment in time. I’ve seen many race pictures of myself, both good and bad. The ones I like, as you may gather, are the ones with both feet off of the ground. I’m not barreling towards a rim like Michael to dunk a basketball, but I too am defying gravity for a fraction of a second as I feel fast and free.

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About Austin Bonds

Austin Bonds is the creator of Run Lore, a blog for the "lesser known side of running." His musings can be found at


  1. leeapeea says:

    I feel like running shoes are still marketed for the “cool” factor, but in a different way. The shift is that shoe companies market through function, in the same way high-end cars market that their cool look is really the result of engineering, (because physics wants you to look awesome). Instead of TV ads showing sponsorship, running shoe companies rely on blogger reviews and specialty publications as well as athlete sponsorship. The cool factor is tied to new technology and design, stats about cushion and heel drop. How the shoe looks is a consideration for the buyer otherwise they wouldn’t offer a model in 5 different colors schemes.

  2. Wow, thanks for the trip down memory lane! I distinctly recall coveting many of those 90’s era Nike models, especially my first pair, the ’90 Air Trainer. Sounds like we had very similar middle school experiences with regards to shoes. I always wonder how much that has contributed to my current running shoe obsession.

  3. Wow, a trip down memory lane – I remember getting my Air Jordan II’s in high school and thinking they were the coolest thing ever. I’ll tell you, it was easier to find basketball shoes for my size 15 feet than it is trail shoes (Altra excluded).

    My brother was also a pretty big guy in high school, and bought himself a pair of Reebok pumps. After a couple of weeks of use they sprung a leak so he sent them back for a replacement. Another few weeks on the new shoes, another leak, and another replacement followed. These too sprunk a leak, but when he got his replacement shoes in the mail, he found a 2nd pair of non-pump Reebok court shoes in the box along with a note asking that he quit buying the pumps!

    Having said that, if Reebok ever comes out with a pump trail shoe, I’d snap up a pair of those bad boys for sure. I can just see myself at the starting line of some mountain ultra, doing a couple of striders and then casually bending over and giving a couple of pumps in view of everyone before strolling … no strutting … to the front row. Gotta be the shoes…

  4. Flaming June says:

    I’m a female wearing Men’s Altra One2….. possibly the most unattractive shoes on the market! I live by the “Form Follows Function” mantra. (But I do try to counterbalance with cute running skirts!!)

  5. I agree, I am more concerned about fit that color. I’ve had my share of ugly but perfect shoes over the years (NB 1400, for example). But hot pink, that has got to be banned. I am talking to you Adidas Boost Boston. And you, NB 890. Seriously, what is with the pepto bismo pink? And if that’s the only color my store has, the shoe gets banned. (it helped on my recent visit that I like the Kinvara better anyway)

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