There is a grand stretch in the evenings.
This will come as a shock to some people who’ve already forgotten that this happened last year as well. The lengthening days are stirring the population from its torpor and, before any new government has a chance to introduce a Universal Jogging Charge, people are taking to the streets. And for the first time since last February, d-ya know something? I think I’ll go out for a run.
For a while things seem to be going well. I have got into a rhythm and I daydream I’m Haile Gebreselassee O’Regan – the Ethiopian-Irish middle distance runner. I’m locked in battle with Moses Karenga the Kenyan champion. Jimmy Magee is doing the commentary

…Well this is quite extraordinary. My fellow commentators are on their feet. Two men battling for gold. 10,000 metres of hard running hasn’t separated these wonderful athletes. And there’s the bell and suddenly Gebreselassee O’Regan picks up the pace. The Kenyan tries to respond but has nothing left in the tank. O’Regan opens up a lead and it looks like this remarkable sportsman – this former dual football and hurling All Ireland winner – will retain his Olympic title. And in a WORLD RECORD TIME. The stadium rises. O’Regan kisses the ground. He is Ireland’s first track-and-field gold medallist since Ronny Delaney in 1956. And he’s achieved this all while being Taoiseach and negotiating with the IMF. Truly amazing…

About fifteen minutes into the real-life run, I realise something’s wrong. My feet are not making the kshum kshum sound of someone who’s wearing correct running shoes. Instead they are making the bdam bdam of someone who wants to try and dislodge his knee-cap from its moorings. I’m wearing plimsolls so it’s not a surprise.
Plimsoll – it even sounds effete.

The following day, I’m standing at the back of a major sports retailer looking at a wall of runners. The sales assistants lurk nearby, all healthy and youth-y and anxious to help. They’re dressed in polo shirts and tracksuits. All are wearing telephone headsets. I’m not quite sure what kind of sports shop emergency requires such immediate communication.

“Store Room Are you reading me. I repeat. We need a size 9 out here for a Nike GaleForce Carburretor. I repeat Store Room Are you reading me? Come In Store Room. Give me some signal you’re okay!”

“I’m standing next to you Dean. You can just say it to me, like.”

I’ve never been much of a runners-man. In secondary school in Deerpark, I soon realised I couldn’t compete with the trends. My eyes were opened in First Year when one classmate came in wearing the first pair of Nike Air Max and proudly telling everyone they cost 75 pounds. 75 pounds! Imagine all the white sliced pan and Easi Singles you could buy for that money.

When Nike Airs first came out it was revolutionary. A shoe with A BUBBLE. You could see right INTO THE SOLE OF THE SHOE. This was space-age stuff. Some more inquisitive – and thick – children stuck pens in the bubble to see what was in there. Air – it turned out.

Not everyone had the latest runners and the alternative – getting cheap runners – could get you singled out for a mocking. It was better to opt out of the game altogether, to retreat to the relative anonymity of the Central Shoe Stores Standard Issue Sensible Sure Aren’t They Grand Sure Who’s Going To Be Looking At Your Shoes Anyway shoe.

Some children seemed to have a certain immunity in this. If a child was proper poor he might be left alone when he arrived in his Dunnes Stores ‘Strider’ runners. In fact Striders were so beyond the Pale that they had a kind of a counter-cultural caché. One classmate received widespread respect for announcing proudly: “Biys I’n after paintin de Nike sign ontamee Striders with Tippex. Nawan’ll know de diffrince biy

After Nike’s Air Max and Air Jordan, other brands followed swiftly but their creations became more and more silly. Reebok brought in the Pump system. This revolutionary concept meant that you could inflate or deflate some parts of YOUR OWN SHOE. It had limited application though and soon it’s chief function was to give bored young lads something to fidget with during Double Business Studies after lunch.

– Who can tell me main points of the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1986?

– (Quish-hih Quish-hih Quish-hih…. Quissshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh)

– Kevin Sullivan leave your shoes alone or I’ll take them off you until the end of class. Dja hear me?

– Ididndonawwwwtinsur!

First featured in the Goonies, the Puma Disc had a disc to which were attached some lengths of plastic wire instead of laces. By rotating the disc you could tighten or loosen the shoe thus dispensing with the tiresome task of actually tying your shoe-laces. This was particularly useful for the busy child and freed up more time for them to smoke around the back of the sheds.

The Puma disc system had one drawback. It was shite. The disc ‘system’ broke down soon after purchase. All you were left with was a pair of shoes you couldn’t tie. That and the vague feeling that the Puma organisation was laughing at you.

“Do you need any help with sizes?”

It’s the sales assistant. I’ve been holding the same running shoe in my hand with a gormless ‘reminiscy’ expression on my face for 30 seconds. I browse the other choices. Some are so dramatically engineered that the heel looks like it’s built to hold up a fly-over.

I pick something sensible and that evening I’m out again, bouncing along, enjoying new previously never-reached heights of comfort. I could run a marathon at this rate I think to myself but commonsense soon interrupts. “That’s stretching it.” it says.

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