Saturday, July 28, 2007

Out of Africa

About a year and half ago, a good friend (name hidden to protect the guilty) bought me an extremely generous gift: a pair of MBT running shoes, which cost the grand sum of about 150 GBP, a sum I'm entirely unworthy of.

What kind of shoe costs that much? One that comes with its own DVD, of course. MBT stands for Masai Barefoot Technology, and you can immediately see it all come together, the confluence of technology (Technology), its opposite (Barefoot), and its appropriately politically correct second-cousin twice-removed (Masai). MBT shoes are characterized by a curved sole—think the shape of the Nike swoosh— that make the very notion of standing stil a bit of a balancing act. The theory is immediately obvious: the sole's shape mirrors the manner in which you're supposed to place, roll and lift your feet while running, so the shoes will improve your running motion and quite likely result in less stress on the knees. And so forth: there are details about the lace fasteners, and so on, but these are all second-order attributes.

I haven't, I'm afraid, had a chance to test any of these theories. Because my friend bought me the shoes from some sort of exercise center-cum-spa in London, to which I haven't been able to return, I was entirely at the mercy of the extraordinarily unqualified fitting, ahem, sales agent, who failed to account for either the width of my feet (wider than normal) or the thickness of socks. Result: the shoes don't fit me, and I've only used them about six times, usually with painful consequences.

Before leaving for Banff in May, I decided to go for a quick run in the morning. For reasons not worth elaborating, I decided to do the run in the MBTs, and without socks. (The latter is less daft than it sounds once you accept the initial premise, seeing as that's the only way I can fit my feet into the shoes.)

I was doing quite well for the first several minutes until I began to feel a slight itch in the rear of my right foot. After a while it got rather irritating, as if a small, sharp stone had gotten wedged. Squriming my foot didn't seem to move the stone at all so, at the end of a mile, I stopped to investigate. A goodly surface, about the size of an American quarter, had lost its epidermis and was raw, pink, bleeding flesh.

There was only one natural course of action. I took off the shoes, in the best puss-in-boots fashion put one on each hand, and proceeded to run the mile back Oh, the irony.

For anyone tempted to smack down several Dead Presidents for MBTs, don't let this tale dissuade you. I'm sure they have wonderful reasons for making the backs of the heels chafe. They certainly can't be blamed for selling their wares prominently through incompetent outlets. The DVD alone may be worth the price. But I must warn you about one more unexpected side-effect of wearing MBTs.

Two winters ago we visited my wife's family in Williamsburg, Virginia. Kathi, her sister Jodi, and I went for a run through the historical area, and ended up in the cheese shop(pe?). As we traversed the store I heard a rather delighted squeal from behind, in stereo. I turned to find a mother-daughter pair, looking for all the world like they listed a spa as their home address, staring in delight at my legs. My ego deflated slightly when I realized they were actually staring at the bottom of my legs. We made eye-contact and they proceeded, mother taking the lead, “Ohmygawd! Where did you get those from?” After several rounds of exchange in which they revealed the celebrity status of MBT trainers at their spa, one of the distaff pair finally let it drop: “We've nevah seen those on a man before!”

Caveat emptor.

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