Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Shoe That Changed Everything

The shoe pictured above is the Nike Waffle Trainer. I bought a pair of these shoes out of the trunk of the car of a man named Dave Ellis in the fall of 1974, at a High School cross-country race in High Park in Toronto. Dave was the distributor for Nike in the area at the time. I thought they were the coolest and fastest shoes on the planet! It was all kind of clandestine, because you could not buy Nike's in any stores locally. So you handed, Dave $25, and he gave you your shoes!

It's hard to believe, but at the time, outside of a hardcore group of skinny running geeks, no one knew what Nike was back then.

These shoes changed everything in many different ways. It was the shoe that really set Nike apart from the few other players in the serious running shoe business of the time. For me, it was the shoe that I really discovered the agony and the ecstasy of distance running in. I learned how to push myself really hard - right to that aerobic edge, and then surf along it for as long as I could. I felt like I was flying, when I was wearing those bright red Waffle Trainers!

The waffle soles really did look like the inverse pattern from the waffle-maker that we had at home. Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman was not making this stuff up. The soles of the Waffle trainers, were light, but they also delivered extraordinary grip and amazing cushioning. Bill was definitely onto something.

I ran that first pair of Waffle Trainers into the ground. It was cross-country season, so lots of mud, rain and wet running. I seem to recall the tops giving out before the soles. I tracked Dave down at another cross-country race and bought another pair of Waffle Trainers, as well as a pair of Oregon Waffles - these very cool yellow and green cross-country racing flats. And I was hooked. I have been a Nike guy pretty much since.

From the get-go, Nike seemed to get it! The product was cutting edge. The marketing and promotional material seemed to speak directly to the athletes they targeted - runners. I recall an ad in the, "There is no finish line series". It was a picture of several young runners. Some hands-on-knees bent over. Others slumped on the ground. It was obvious they had just finished a hard interval effort, or a tempo run and were recovering as best they could. Just like I did countless times with my teenage running buddies. Nike got it. This was running!

It came full circle for me recently when at the offer of a good friend, while I was passing through Portland, Oregon recently, I was given a tour of the Nike corporate headquarters or, the Nike Campus as they like to call it. In a word, "Wow" - from selling shoes out of car-trunks to kids at cross-country meets to that. Impressive stuff.

I saw an old pair of those red Waffle Trainers preserved in the Bill Bowerman memorial and museum area along with much other assorted Nike memorabilia as part of the tour at the Nike Campus. I wish that I still had those first pair that I bought. I still remember that sensation of flying along on a tempo run over hills and fallen leaves in the Fall of 1974 like it was yesterday!

What shoe did it for you?

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