Oh, the excitement of unwrapping a fresh pair of running shoes - so colorful, so clean, such perfect tread to support my tired road-tested feet. Those first few weeks in new shoes is like running on spring-loaded clouds, until inevitably, with slow, reliable progression, the tread wears down and I'm once again counting the months (or miles) until I'll allow myself the next new pair.
It's like clockwork, this cycle. What holds me up, always, is the reluctance to discard of old shoes - it is, in fact, entirely wasteful. When running lower mileage, I can make a pair last the better part of a year, sure - but higher mileage (especially with coupled with race training) speeds up that cycle, requiring at times (for me) 2-3 new pairs annually, with (ideally) 2 pairs in active rotation at a given time (to give my foot muscles some variety, and allow the shoes to recover between runs). Honestly, the shoe count is abhorrent.
Yes, there are donation programs for used sneakers, and yes, I've sent plenty of pairs down that path...but more often than not, my old shoes are close to decimated - not suitable for use. And, donated or not, shoes simply don't disappear when they die.
Enter (finally, at long last) an emerging generation of (much) more sustainable running shoes. Though, like any runner, I hesitate to fix what's not broken by subjecting my feet to a different brand of shoe, moving to a more environmentally responsible shoe is a no-brainer.
Adidas - Futurecraft Loop (2021 release)
Adidas has pledged to release a 100% recyclable running shoe by 2021, called Futurecraft Loop. This, my friends, is groundbreaking. This is the one to wait for, the shoe that - ideally - will send a signal to the entire industry that truly sustainable business and products are possible, profitable, and necessary. Read more about it, get excited.
And, while we wait for 2021 to arrive, a couple of runners-up to try in the meantime:
Adidas - Parley Collection
Made from plastic waste collected and recycled from ocean waters, this shoe collection feature 45 models. Ocean-sourced plastic represents is a major improvement over the former practice of working with "virgin" plastics, though it's not a perfect solution since shoe disposal still creates waste...for now.
Not new, but definitely notable, Allbirds Runners are available in 2 weights - wool and tree (eucalyptus). Allbirds is cool because its shoes are constructed with renewable resources, and they are committed to becoming a carbon-neutral company.
Have you tried these? Do you know of other sustainable running shoes on the market?
It is dark, 5 AM, and I am running through the streets of Kingston, Jamaica. Saturdays are for long runs, and today our local club has arranged a route for up to 10 miles. Having been provided the route ahead of time, I did my best to commit it to memory, but it’s complicated - there are 18 turns within the first 5 miles alone. It’s my first Saturday run with this group, my first go at the course, and again - it’s dark.
At the start, I fall in with a few other 10-mile runners, head of the pack type runners, friendly, and competitive. Self-proclaimed to be around a 9:30 pace, like me, our match seemed like kismet. But when their brisk starting trot becomes more of a sprint in mile 2, I know I’m in for a challenge with 8 miles to go.
Kingston is a small city, and rough around the edges, even in its nicer residential neighborhoods. Running over uneven asphalt, making the frequent turns past stray dogs, under broken street lights, jumping to miss a dead rat, keeping my group in sight, noticing the security guards pass on motorcycle, all makes me feel like Katniss in the Hunger Games. It’s adventurous, invigorating, and empowering. I need this run like I need to breathe; I feel happy, excited, and free; I don’t stop moving.
Thankfully, the route is broken up by a water stop every 2 miles. The club collects water bottles at the start, sending them out to the course for runners to use along the way. For the first 8 miles, my main objective evolves from keeping in step with the lead group, to keeping them in view - a challenge considering the often pitch black we run through, and 3-4 turns we make each mile. Also thankfully, this group runs like a team - I reach each water stop as my faster cohorts finish up, and we all run on.
By mile 8, the sun is rising, and we’re well into the return of this out-and-back run. I’m passing many runners still making their way to the half-way point/turnaround, making the course much easier to navigate. Runners wave, say good morning, share high-fives. I fall into step with a slower-paced group to finish the final 2 miles. We talk about weekend plans - someone is hosting a birthday cookout for his daughter, needs to leave quickly after the run to start roasting the goat; someone else plans to visit the botanical gardens.
I’ve always said that running is the best way to see a place, to get close to its details, to learn all its nooks and crannies, such that once you’ve run it, you know it differently, and more intimately. Next weekend I’ll run my first half marathon in over 2 years, on the other side of the island in Negril. I’ll set my own pace from the start; I’ll start from the back and work my way up - my favorite way to race. Out of the city, next to the beach, I wonder how that run will be different, how that place’s details will look up close, and how it will make me feel, in the dark, and as the sun rises.
This is a unique post for me, but I came across an inspiring compilation of clips from Matthew McConaughey's commencement speech for the University of Houston (2015), and just had to share.
Some of my favorite bits:
If you find yourself wanting more, read the full text, or watch the live speech here.
My Jamaica house sits on a hill above Kingston, in a small community among many small communities, protected by a tall, barbed wire-crowned fence, secured with two solid wooden gates and a guard post at the entrance.
I moved here 4 months ago from the US, just outside Washington DC, to reside with my fiancé - the love of my life - for the next few years. A whip-smart economist with a heart of gold, his passion is to work with and in developing countries, places that stand to benefit most his efforts, and those of the organization he represents. It’s a form of career-based altruism I admire, and more pointedly, the commitment of energy required by this type of work - to remain curious, engaged and innovative - are a large part of what attracts me to him.
At present, I am not working. Fifteen years into my career, this move has provided a deeply desired break, and opportunity to rest before diving into the next 15. I’ve filled the past few months contentedly organizing our home, finally working through my years-old stack of books “to read”, working out twice a day, preparing healthy meals, deepening my connection with my fiancé, getting to know this place, and getting to know its people.
So far, I’ve learned that Jamaica is a country loved by many, and passionately so. I’m starting to parse the driving forces of this, and I see that it’s first about the people. Jamaicans are warm, quick with a smile, and exude the feeling of family. Although Kingston is a busy, working city, its inhabitants are aware and engaged in a way I rarely encountered in DC; they say hello, make eye contact, speak with a reassuring tone of voice that often conveys something like, “I’ve got you.” Secondly, I think adoration for Jamaica is about the physical place. Not all Caribbean islands feature mountains, and what I’ve come to learn is that Jamaica is all about its mountains; getting out to “the country”, getting up and out of the city, losing yourself in the hills, where snaking roads are narrow and rugged, trees are dense, and the air is cool and crystal clear. It’s as much a geographic reality as it is a state of mind; Jamaica is uninhibited, colorful, and a little bit wild.
I’ve also been exposed to many day-to-day realities here, which don’t necessarily detract from its perception, just create a more complete picture. Jamaica is a place of diminished stature, aged infrastructure, corruption, economic disparity, and crime. It’s a place where at red lights, men descent upon your car to wash the windshield, or sell fruit picked from the roadside, or hold out their open hands in hopes of a meager payment; where shopping centers are fenced in and guarded by security (or they are to be avoided), where walking alone down the street - as a man or woman, most certainly as an expat - is unsafe, period.
Like most countries, economies, and societies, Jamaica is a complex place with many layers. I frequently vacillate between wonder-filled joy and deep sadness in this place. I marvel at the kindness of people I’m meeting, the beauty of mountains, trees, beaches and birds, the many restaurants, shops, gyms, cafes, and parks that are so enjoyable, and safe to spend time. I relish the exploration within this new life experience, which is teaching me about myself, and binding my fiancé and I together in a way few other things could. The sadness comes when I look more closely at the often crumbling surroundings, when I want to go for a walk around my neighborhood, or a hike in the woods, and simply can’t, at least not alone, and when I remember that - though Jamaicans are hustling to improve their economy - incomes are very low, and cost of living surprisingly quite high.
Finally, I’ve learned that gratitude absent of experience can be alarmingly shallow, more an exercise of abstract acknowledgement than true understanding. While often consciously thankful for my lifestyle and personal freedoms while living in the US, I have to admit that my view was extraordinarily limited. To be completely honest - while writing on my MacBook from an air conditioned room of my gated community home - it still is. But, through this experience, still in its early days, my gratitude has certainly deepened, and along with it, my desire to engage in a more meaningful way.