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I am a Bicolano by birth and choice. By any standards, I am a slow runner but I like it that way. I look at running as a healthy and exciting way to make a difference. Together with my fellow runners from our family, school, office and the community, we use running to give back..

May 15, 2012


For one year now, I have exclusively been using Asics running shoes, the Cumulus to be specific, for my running.  To my mind,  Asics provides the best in cushioning.  And for long distances beyond 42 kms,  a generous amount of cushioning is an ultra runner’s best friend.

Given this, one can expect that the brand and model that I will be buying for my new pair of running shoes is the Asics Cumulus.  Wrong this time.  One  factor comes into play.

My Bataan Death March adventure this March showed for me the importance of  running shoes with a wide and roomy  toe box.  Given the many number of hours required to finish an ultramarathon event, an ultra runner shoes should ideally have a wide toe box that will give ample space for the toes to splay naturally.  If the toe box is not wide enough, it will make for an uncomfortable run and even lead to blisters, which I had in the BDM using my Asics Cumulus.  Several  running shoe brands provide for a variety of width sizes for its shoes.  Unfortunately for runners here in the Philippines, the Asics pairs being sold locally are almost exclusively of the normal width. Rarely do you find an Asics pair with a bigger than normal width.

I checked out the running stores here in Metro Manila (Riovanna, ARC, Runnr) and the Nikes, Adidas and Brooks  they carry are of the normal width. What am I left with?  New Balance.

Team New Balance

New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc. (NBAS), best known as simply New Balance, is an American footwear manufacturer based in Boston, Massachusettss, United States of America. It is one of the few companies famous for creating footwear in a wide range of widths. It has shoes for runners with narrow to extra-wide feet:  typically men's range from B to 6E with 3 other widths in between (D, 2E, 4E) and one narrower offering (2A). Women's range from 4A to 4E with four widths to choose from in between (2A, B, D, 2E).  . The company believes that the length of the shoe is not the only factor that should be considered to get the perfect fit. In fact, shoe widths also play an important role in preventing injuries.  New Balance has acquired a reputation among runners of offering shoes with comfortably roomy toe box. 

And such reputation is well deserved.  I chanced upon a blog entry by Pete Larson (www.runblogger.com), anatomy teacher at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH.  Entitled “Forefoot Width in Running Shoes : Toe box Measurements from my Shoe Collection”, he went on narrating his little experiment where he measured, using calipers from his research lab, the width of the toe box of his running shoes.  Out of his 22 pairs, his 3 pairs of New Balance running shoes ranked among the top 5 in terms of the widest toe box.  

A few more tidbits about New Balance and its rich heritage:

The company was started  in Boston in the year  1906 by a British emigrant William Riley who made arch supports and other accessories designed to improve shoe fit.

New Balance arch support poster
The name “New Balance” is generally thought  to have been derived  from Riley’s  first product, a flexible arch support, which was designed with three support points (a triangle) to provide greater balance and comfort in the shoe. It is believed that Riley came up with the name "New Balance" by observing chickens in his yard and demonstrated the way his arch supports worked by keeping a chicken foot on his office desk. He explained to customers that the chicken's three-clawed foot resulted in perfect balance.   

New Balance introduced in  1960 the Trackster, which  marked the transition from sneakers that were lousy for running to a shoe made exclusively for the sport. Shaped to conform to the human foot, with a soft leather upper and a saddle to help cinch the shoe around the midfoot, the shoe carried many guys "running around in their underwear" down American roads and around YMCA gyms. The Trackster was available in widths, a practice New Balance still follows, and cost $15.65 when introduced. In the article “Shoes of Our Youth” which appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of the Running Times Magazine, Dave Kayser has this to say – “New Balance's farsightedness -- to develop a production running shoe when so few were running -- is to be applauded.”

New Balance Trackster
The New Balance brand gained national and international prominence in the 1970s as the Boston area became the  center of the running boom, what with the most prestigious marathon in the world being held there.  One of the more popular running shoes of this decade was the New Balance 320.  At 9.6 oz, it was one of the lightest running shoes of its time , and its light weight kicked off some vicious competition among shoe manufacturers to make ever-lighter shoes.    The plain nylon upper, dual-density EVA midsole, and the space-age "Astrocrepe" outsole were instrumental in bringing the shoe under the magical 10-ounce mark.    The 320 was the New Balance shoes worn by 6-foot-1 (179 pounds) Tom Fleming when he placed top 3 at the 1975 Boston Marathon. 
New Balance 320
So there we have it.  I will be buying a New Balance for my next pair of running shoes.  I adore the history of New Balance and its intimate connection to the Boston Marathon,   the mother of all marathons.  I respect its old school genesis of giving importance to  comfort in the fit  of its shoes.  It is a running shoe company that understands that not all runners are lightly built.  It knows that many runners are of the 165-lb and above range and thus require shoes with above normal width.

At the start of this article, I mention that the Asic’s cushioning is an ultra runner’s best friend.  Well, an ultra runner can have more than one best friend(s).  This time, it will be New Balance’s wide toe box.  

There is wisdom and joy in variety.

Next question:  What New Balance model will I pick?  Abangan.......

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