Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Moments Of Weakness (1)

We all have moments of weakness, and I'd just had one.

After banging on to Tammy and Our Kid about 2015 being my 'year of no gear', I'd let myself down badly. The plan I'd concocted was sound enough. In an age where excessive and vulgar consumer spending is encouraged, is normal, I'd attempt to clock up my usual 4000+ miles next year without buying any running gear at all. It wouldn't be difficult, I'd reasoned. I'd got a rack full of shoes that could be coaxed through to 2016 with the help of old cycle inner tubes, duct tape, superglue and ShoeGoo, and enough clothes to keep me comfortable through both the benign heat of an English summer or the worst conditions that a winter weekend in the Lakes or the Peak District could throw at me.

But in spite of the best intentions, I'd let my guard down. My imagination had run away with me, and before I knew it. I'd typed that bloody debit card number into that little box on the computer screen and pressed 'CONFIRM ORDER.' Another pair of trainers. I'd justified the purchase beforehand - tried to ease my guilt over spending more money on shit, and, more importantly, the fact that I have a worrying tendency to often say one thing but do another - by correctly stating to myself that it was fine since it wasn't even 2015 yet. All I was doing was the running equivalent of what all the youngsters do on a Friday and Saturday night nowadays. Instead of getting pissed at home before hitting a club to save money like they did, I was just pre-loading my quiver of shoes to save any unnecessary purchases when my experiment started in earnest on January 1st next year.

Of course, like a great deal of my internal reasoning, this was utter bollocks.

The truth was that I'd been seduced by the dream duo of Rob Krar and Rory Bosio. Weeks of reading about their extra-ordinary performances through the summer had led to me becoming the fawning filling in a tasty North Face sandwich.

It was the beard that had turned me onto Rob. I'd grown my own version in sycophantic homage to him. He'd had an outstanding season, and the 'Depressions' film of his Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim FKT that had done the rounds on social media had only deepened the extent of my man-crush. Although obviously sponsored by The North Face, he had managed to hold onto a little dignity (in contrast to my other main man, Anton Krupicka, who's every Facebook post now seemed to end with a variation of '@newbalance@buffusa@zealoptics@ultimatedirectionusa@petzyl_official'.) This unwillingness to fully prostrate himself to corporate whoredom - whilst being a quality that exalted him in my eyes - was a pain in the arse when trying to ascertain exactly which pair of shoes I was going to splash out on. Type 'What shoes does Rob Krar run in?' into Google, and all you'll unearth is vague soundbites like, 'I like to run in light, minimalist shoes.' Not a great help when you've got a burning desire to spend money on those exact same shoes (whatever the hell they are), the contrary bugger.

Rory Bosio had been a bit more forthcoming, however. In amongst reading about her multi-coloured cruiser bike, her frog shower cap, her love of crosswords and her taste for kale porridge and Cherry Coke, I'd managed to track down an interview where she'd spoken briefly of the shoes she'd worn during this year's UTMB. You know, that race where she'd wupped the women's field for the second year running and beaten AK by, literally, hours (even though he'd been equipped with New Balance trainers, Buff headwear, Zeal Optic sunglasses, an Ultimate Direction backpack and a Petzyl headtorch.) Good enough for super-cute, kooky Rory, I'd reasoned, as I'd found a pair on the internet reduced from £110 to £66, then good enough for a no-mark like me.

Hitting that 'Enter' button on the computer keyboard and seeing that web page spin off into cyber space to be replaced by the 'Your order is being processed' page that always follows hot-on-the-heels, I'd briefly wallowed in the refreshing and invigorating anticipation of how these new shoes would change my life. Firstly, they'd make me a better runner - probably not as fast as uber-speedy Rob, but certainly within touching distance of the delightful, beautiful and dainty Ms. Bosio. Not only that, but just by wearing them, I'd become more like the esteemed duo in other ways. Put on those new shoes and I'd be enveloped by supernatural forces beyond my control, a bit like that young lad in the old Ready Brek adverts. By doing absolute naff-all apart from wear those lovely trainers, I'd become humble, yet ultra-tough like the Krarmeister - able to work a full working week then push through the pain barrier on mega-long runs with a determination that simply made lesser rivals wither and fall by the wayside. Put on those crisp, blue, almost kissable babies, and I'd be unavoidably invaded by the energy of the Bosioster. I'd start listening to crazy podcasts, pulling faces during races, star-jumping at finish lines and getting all my half-arsed opponents to kiss butt big-time in any race I goddamn liked.

It's a con, though, you know.

Sponsorship is just advertising. Advertising is just brainwashing - an incitement to spend money on an object in which you invest, for a moment, magical properties - that makes you happy for a tiny moment - before it becomes, yet again, just an 'object'.

As soon as I'd ordered them, I knew, deep down, that I'd been mugged. I guess, in theory, that I could have cancelled the transaction straight away. But my personality doesn't work like that. In much the same way as I've never DNF'ed a race, once I've started something, I can't turn round and go back. I just have to keep ploughing forwards no matter how bleak my prospects may appear.

Before the advent of mobile phones, the following scenario used to play itself out on occasions:

Lying in the bath before a Saturday night out, swigging from a bottle of the cheapest wine the local shop had on sale, a record would come on the radio that would spark sparkly memories of some girl you'd loved, but had dumped you, fucked you over or just simply fucked off. 'Her loss,' you'd think as you followed up that statement with a stream of derogatory adjectives and unbecoming nouns to describe said girl that are simply too vulgar to repeat in a civilised blog such as this.

Seven or eight pints later, however, after failing dismally, yet again, to woo a young lady - any lady at all - not too choosy - with witty banter or loose-hipped dancefloor devastation, you'd arrive back at your poky flat, try to put together a cup of tea in a drunken stupor and suddenly come up with the idea that calling up an old flame, who clearly wants nothing more to do with you, and telling her you love her, might well be the cleverest thing you've ever done. Two minutes later, when you've done just that and been told in no uncertain terms to piss right off, you sort of realise what a sad tosser you've been.

That feeling -'I'm such a prick but I just couldn't help myself' - well that's exactly how I felt immediately after buying those shoes.

I proceeded to check out a few online reviews (it might have been a decent idea to do this before I'd bought them, not after), and my anguish was salved somewhat by a few glowing ones. I'd read somewhere though that up to 70% of online reviews are fake, planted serreptitiously by the manufacturer or retailer to make that cash slide out of your feeble bank account more easily. That'll be most of the good reviews then, I'd reasoned. Which left only a handful of dire ones, all complaining about the durability of my newly-purchased footwear. 'Fell to bits after only about 40 miles,' one of them said. Proper put a smile on my face that one.

I'll not launch forth now into a rant of apoplectic rage at being ripped off by a company that clearly manufactures goods to fit perfectly with that fine capitalist ethos of 'planned obsolescence.' No, I'll just state simply - and with only a hint of bitterness - that these shoes, bought in a moment of weakness, were, indeed, crap.

After 72 miles on The Cumbria Way, the uppers were trashed, respendent with holes and fabric tears that I'd like to associate with a thousand miles, not a hundred miles, of wear. If I were the CEO of The North Face, I'd be mortified at the abject woefulness of one of my flagship products.

But, of course, I'm not the CEO of The North Face. I'm just the idiot at the end of the chain, who occasionally puts my trust in the promises spewed out by someone in the world of globalised big-business, only to discover, much sooner rather than later, that he's a complete lying bastard.

                                Rory Bosio. Ace.

                                Rob Krar. Ace.

                              The North Face Ultra-Trail. Crap.

Which brings me round, somehow, to what I originally intended to write about when I came up with the title, 'Moments Of Weakness' on this morning's long run...