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Before You Blame the Running Shoe

bomb24n-6-webImagine this scene. It’s a dark alley in New York City with the fog billowing up from the sewers. A city cop is talking to a distraught woman in running gear. She is in a lot of pain and appears to have been the victim of a vicious crime. The officer asks her “What’s wrong, what happened?!? It’s difficult for her to summon words and all she can stammer out is “injured…it was the shoes!!!” She then collapses to the ground in agony and the officer shakes his head in disbelief. It’s quite a stretch for him to imagine an inanimate object could do so much harm.

While the story above is a bit dramatic, it’s surprisingly not that far off from what one can see from a typical runner. They limp into a running store with their aches/pains with a shoe box and receipt in hand. They place the shoes down on the counter and say “I’d like to return these shoes please, they injured me.” When I witness this, I do an internal chuckle. While I do think some shoes are better than others (and some shoes can encourage injuries such as 12mm shoes;)), I find it hard to believe that a shoe, an inanimate object, is the sole cause of an injury. I find it far more likely that the person is injured because of their own shortcomings. With that being said, before you decide to blame an injury on your shoe, run through this checklist of other things that may have led to your injury.

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1. The Law of Toos

Did you break the Law of Too? Too much, too fast, too soon? If you do too much mileage, or go too fast, or do more than your body is capable of too soon, it will most likely lead to an injury. This can be semi-shoe related as there is an adaptation to all shoes, but it still is a user error.

2. Do You Have the Range of Motion?

Running requires a decent amount of range of motion to run efficiently and relatively injury free. The key areas to focus on are dorsiflexion and extension of the hip. Consult with a physical therapist to see how much range of motion you have and for ways to improve it.

3. What Is Your Injury History?

Most runners get injured several times of year for various reasons. However, when they switch shoes and encounter an injury, it all of a sudden becomes the fault of the new shoe. Seems a bit unfair, don’t you think?

4. Do You Strength Train?

Running isn’t just a sport where you lace up your shoes and go as many would like to think. It requires skill and drills to perfect the motion and decrease injury potential. Having a stronger kinetic chain will give you far more stability than any so-called “stability shoe”.

5. Do You Perform Your Running Drills?

Drills are an exaggerated motion to get to a desired motion. Practicing good running form can help to ensure you are running with a form that maximizes efficiency and decreases injury potential for your personal profile. Drills should be incorporated into workouts several times a week.

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6. Think Logically

What is it about the shoe that could have possibly “caused the injury”? It is a bit of a stretch to blame a piece of rubber, foam, and canvas for your injury. Think long and hard as to what exactly this shoe “did” to injure you. (I stay away from shoes above 8mm for heel-toe-offset.)

7. Look at Your Training Plan

If you don’t have a good sound training plan for your running, there is a good chance of getting injured. If your plan is to do a 25 miler everyday for the rest of your life, you’re most likely going to encounter an injury (unless you take many proper steps of build up). Make sure you allow to the body to recover and work in rest days.

8. The Big Picture 

Look at your life holistically and consider your sleep, nutrition, daily life, stress levels, medical conditions, genetics, and cross training. All of these play a part in your running and health whether you like it or not.

9. What Else is in the Shoe?

Some stores like to sell custom-made or over-the-counter insoles. With the exception of limited cases, I’m not a fan of these as long-term solutions. These devices could potentially alter your biomechanics and lead to injury.

10. Do You Have the Correct Size?

While the running population has gotten better at this, there are still a good many runners who refuse to change their shoe size, regardless of recommendations. A shoe that is too small can lead to injuries such as bunions, hammer toes, arthritis, and more. Make sure you have about a thumbs width in-between your longest toe and the end of the shoe.

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11. The Universe of Possibilities

This list could go on, but we’ll leave it at 11. The takeaway being that the running shoe is most likely not the cause for your injury. Be diligent about massage, strength training, range of motion, and drills and you will be able to eliminate a host of injuries.

Always in Stride,

Jack

P.S. Maybe it’s the shoe;)

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Stress Adaptations

7 Tips for Finding the Correct Training Stress

Runners toe a delicate line of training gains and injuries. Unfortunately there is not a machine that can take a drop of blood and tell us exactly what our body can handle and what it needs to improve. So we must resort to trial and error methods.

One of my favorite graphics for depicting the effects of training is shown below. It shows us the “sweet spot” of training that we should stay in. If we don’t stress the body enough we either die or experience muscle atrophy (deterioration). If we stress the body too much, this also can result in injury and/or death. The sweet spot is in the middle with increased tolerance (hypertrophy) and maintenance.

Stress Adaptations

So How To Find the Sweet Spot?

1. Identify what is causing your injuries.

The amount of stress you’re placing on your body may not be the issue causing your injury. It might be how you are using your body instead. Work with local physical therapists to figure out what is the source of your injury.

2. Follow the Law of Too’s

When running you always want to follow the Law of Too’s: Never too much, too fast, or too soon. Any of these or a combination of these can lead to injury.

3. Heart Rate Training

Heart rate training can be a good way of tracking your effort as well as your recovery. I’m a fan of using morning resting heart rate to see how my training is affecting me. If my heart rate is elevated above normal levels when I wake, I know my body has yet to fully recover. Phil Maffetone’s Book: The Big Book of Endurance Training Racing has some great chapters on heart rate training.

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4. Work in Recovery Days

It took hiring a coach for the first time for me to understand the value of recovery days. It is important to dip down into the maintenance area of the spectrum so as to allow the body to adapt to the stresses you have placed on it and build up muscle. Active recovery such as walking can also be a nice way to get recovered while still being somewhat active.

5. Have a Training Goal

It is impossible to have the goal of every athletic achievement in the world. You can’t be the world’s strongest human and be the world’s best endurance runner. The training goals aren’t aligned. Same goes for being a top 100 mile ultra runner and top 400m runner. There is some crossover but attempting both at the same time can cause issues.

6. Practice Makes Perfect

You are an experiment of 1, treat yourself as such. Diligently track your progress, heart rate, perceived effort, times, etc to find out the most information about yourself. Identify trends and techniques that make you feel the best and work for you.

7. Avoid Long Periods of Complete Rest

As said before, not stressing the body enough can lead to tissue atrophy. Jay Dicharry sums it up in his book well: “Wolf’s Law states that tissues in the body adapt to the loads placed upon them. Training breaks down the body. If the rate of recovery matches the rate of breakdown, the body will maintain its current state.” Long periods of bed rest and inactivity will most certainly lead to atrophy. Stressing the body is good in correct doses!

Anatomy for Runners

I hope this helps your understanding of how your body responds to training stresses. I know the first graphic was huge for me in understanding how to train my body for my specific goals. Leave comments with your questions!

Always in Stride,

Jack

_ Hypochondriac Convention

Runners: Kings of the Hypochondriacs

I work with runners every day of my life and I love it. Runners are amazing people with great stories, amazing drive, and lovely personalities. However, runners can also drive me up a wall.

_ Hypochondriac Convention

Runners are some of the biggest hypochondriacs I have met in my life. They are very quick to self-diagnose their running ailments and limitations. Hang out on the floor of a running shop for a day and you’ll be amazed at the number of runners who come in saying they have flat feet, fallen arches, broken feet, bad arches, and that they need every ounce of stability they can buy. The amusing thing is that very few of them know what they are saying or if these “conditions” are even issues.

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However, I can sympathize with them. The running shoe industry, running shops, and running magazines have done a lovely job at feeding the neurosis of the runner. In college, I suffered a few injuries and thought to myself maybe “motion control” would be the answer. It seemed logical enough at the time, stop the foot from moving, stop injuries. This couldn’t be further from the truth (and luckily I never picked up a pair). Motion control shoes have actually been shown to cause injuries as opposed to preventing them. However, this doesn’t stop people from buying them and running stores from recommending them.

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The neurosis is easy to play on and runners are über susceptible to marketing and nonsense. It sounds lovely to have a shoe that provides you with “cushion and support”, yet a lot of shoes that meet that description can cause more harm than good. In addition to shoes, profit margins can further be increased with the sale of insoles and injury prevention devices.

It is tough for the neurotic runner and runners in general to get the truth. There are research studies supporting anything you want them to support, media outlets pulling your attention in every direction, and so-called experts seeking to get you in that “perfect shoe”. At the end of the day, you need to find what works best for you. For me, I go with the simple approach of what feels good and has the least amount of junk in it or attached to it.

My advice for the running hypochondriacs:

1. Stop using WebMD for every tweak.

2. Stop reading Runner’s World.

3. Avoid stores that think an insole is right for every customer.

4. Don’t take your best friend’s advice on shoes.

5. Keep it Simple.

 

Always in Stride,

Jack

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5 Issues With Runner’s World Irresponsible Article

Yesterday there was an article that came from RunnersWorld.com concerning the almighty mid-foot vs. rearfoot debate. This debate has raged for the past 10 years with attempts to answer the question in a black and white fashion. Most of us have realized by now that nothing in life is black and white, including foot strike. I have my opinion on the topic, but also realize that different things work for different people.

I get really annoyed with Runner’s World because many posts are what I would consider “hacky”. They have found ways to make viewers pay attention, click on their links, and read their articles all in the interest of ad money and readership of their flailing publication. This is nothing new or novel and somewhat the model of how every website and blog works, but I do believe there are more responsible ways to go about it.

Runner’s World loves to post the same articles over and over as well as articles with little to no information. Amby Burfoot’s most recent post on a study conducted by the University of Spain was one such article. The title stated: “Heel Landing Beats Midfoot in Half-Marathon Study”. So, of course, everyone clicked on it as Runner’s World would hope. I too, was sucked in thanks to FaceBook messages, emails, and tweets from friends. The article had little to no substance on an insufficient study, with no details of how the study was conducted. This of course created a firestorm of comments, likes, twitter conversations, and buzz. Exactly what Runner’s World needs to try to save a struggling publication of repeating material.

So enough Runner’s World bashing, on to issues with their post and what we don’t know about the study:

1. Efficiency is a whole body issue, not just foot strike. Runners have many inefficiencies in their posture, arm swing, breathing, and alignment. To say that the efficiency of running is completely based around a mid-foot or forefoot strike is incorrect.

2. All of the runners were able to run in whatever shoe they liked. We know that shoe choice can affect gait mechanics. A higher heeled shoe can catch and encourage a strike more out in front of the body (typically with heel first), whereas a level platform shoe allows for the foot to swing through more freely and land closer to the body (less drastic heel landing or mid-foot strike).

3.The study contained only 20 runners. 20 is a very small sample size and not one in which an accurate data set can be gathered. It’s hard to come to conclusions with only 20 people.

4. Treadmill running was the only form of measurement. With the exception of the winter months, runners are most typically outside hitting the roads. Treadmill running isn’t a direct comparison to road running. I do realize that gathering data outside is difficult.

5. The title of the article simply states that heel landing “beats” mid-foot striking at the half marathon distance. However, inside the article they state that mid-foot strikers are on average faster. Running faster leads to decreased running economy. Just like driving faster lowers MPG. The goal is to run as fast as you can and have nothing left at the finish, not to have the highest MPG. That being said, if you run out of gas, you go slower or stop. It’s a trade off. As far as I know, the faster time “beats” the slower time in races.

 

I have been really annoyed with the number of irresponsible articles in all forms of media lately. After doing a lot of research of what sells on my website, I have seen trends in many of the “hacky” websites. It’s quite disturbing to say the least and goes unnoticed to the typical consumer.

I want everyone to be more aware of what is going on and to question silly articles like these. They are misleading and focused on driving ad sales and magazine sales. Question the authenticity of all studies and try to go to the root of it, not the Runner’s World take on it. Although, Runner’s World made that impossible by not providing a link to the abstract of the study. Runner’s World, you receive a F.

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Always in Stride,

Jack

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Runners! 5 Tips to Act Like an Athlete

Yes, you read that correctly. You, reading this now, are an athlete. An athlete is defined as a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina. So by definition, you are an athlete. That also means that you should start acting like one as well.

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What Does This Mean?

You have finally recognized your status as an athlete, but what does that mean? It means that you are dedicated to your sport and furthering your education on the topic. You are seeking to improve yourself in some way as well as to keep up a status that you have achieved. Even if it is your first day of running, you have achieved the status of runner and must work to maintain and improve that.

So How Does One Act Like an Athlete?

One of my qualms about runners is that they do not treat themselves like athletes and often neglect logic when it comes to the sport. For example, someone who is into lifting weights knows and realizes that you cannot lift the same way, every day, and expect results. However, runners practice a form of this by running the same pace, on the same route, in the same way, every day. They also neglect things like trigger point therapy, functional footwear, rest days, and recovery. They don’t see the whole picture and assume that running is not like other sports. Running is seen as an anomaly with its own set of rules that defy all logic. It is almost comical to watch.

5 Tips to Act Like an Athlete

1. Be a Student of the Sport

6648625-student-running-on-a-running-trackWork to learn as much as you can about your sport and what can make you better. The technology and information changes daily. Stay on top of it and find out what works best for you. Also develop your ability to separate what is marketing and what is true science when it comes to products. 

2. Look at the Body Holistically

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Running injuries typically aren’t a result of what ends up hurting. Often, the injury is the pain that is felt because of an inefficiency or weakness up or down the kinematic chain. Also take into account your nutrition, sleep, and other external factors that will affect your running.

3. Allow the Body to Recover

Give yourself the gold standard in recovery. Massage! Unfortunately most of us can’t afford a personal masseuse, but you can do self massage via Trigger Point Therapy. There is nothing better to keep you loose, limber, and ready to go for that next workout. Also make sure you have rest days worked into your training plan, your body needs these to build muscle.

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4. Maximize the Body’s Abilities

The body is complex and every part of the body plays a role in your running. Work to maximize these abilities such as range of motion, strength, length, energy delivery systems, and more. All of them combine to make for a better running experience. Athletes in other sports do a variety of drills to maximize their potential. You should do the same.

5. Start With a Strong Base

We all know that your first training run should not be a 22 miler. You need to build a strong base and build up to higher mileage and stresses. Similar to weightlifting, you have to start small, to get big.

Start Today

You may not have always seen yourself as an athlete, but start today. Start with the simple tasks of eating right, listening to your body, and massage before and after runs. You’ll be amazed at the quality of your workouts when you treat yourself like an athlete. I know some of these tips may not seem like rocket science, but it’s amazing how many runners don’t follow simple logic like these tips.

Always in Stride,

Jack

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What the Body Craves

The human body is remarkably adaptable and proved over millions of years how it can evolve. Evolution is occurring on a daily basis, though not as drastic as going from ape to human. I still remember when I first started running competitively in 7th grade. I couldn’t stand it. I ran because it was a social activity and because I had been cut from the baseball team that year. I longed for runs that were out of the coach’s eye so my friends and I could goof off. Running was not a top priority to say the least.

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However, over the years an evolution took place. Running became a passion and a necessity. Little by little the addiction grew until running became one of the most important things in my life. I am now at the point where I crave running. I have tuned my body with nutrition and training to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. In return, it expects to be tested on a daily basis.

I feel it in the core of my being if I don’t get a workout in during the day. My body longs to be in motion, doing what it is made to do and what I have tuned it to do (check out the YouTube video for a great commercial talking about this). This is rooted in evolution, given that if you didn’t move during the day to get your food, you most likely died. Even on days when I don’t feel my best, I still desire to be in motion.

Today, I wasn’t feeling so great after a long weekend of partaking in some delicious adult beverages with a best friend from high school. The day was winding down and I still had yet to get in a workout. I attempted to take a nap but my body wasn’t having it. Even in a less than ideal state, my body craved an intense workout. I summoned some motivation and laced up my shoes. That 8 mile run was one of my best in recent weeks followed by a killer 15 minutes of abs. My body ate it up and loved it. I was left feeling far better than if I had stayed in for a nap and resorting to laziness.

What have you taught your body to crave?

Always in Stride,

Jack

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Every Runner, A Motivation Source

The Nature of Motivation

Motivation has the tendency to come in unique forms and vehicles. We are never quite sure when it will show up and why we find it motivating. The important part is that it does motivate us and push us to become a better version of ourselves. Every day when I wake up, I start with a motivational YouTube video to get me inspired to take on the day.

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The Journey of the Everyday Man

One thing I find disheartening about motivation though, is how many people do not see themselves as motivating. They assume that to be motivating, you have to be an athlete, a strong leader, or someone “important”. This is not the case. I am in love and obsessed with the Ironman recap videos that NBC Sports puts out every year. They put on an hour to hour and a half recap of the Ironman World Championship documenting the journey of the pros as well as the average person. I watch the video, not to see how the pros did, but to hear the stories of the every day man such as Brain Boyle (below).

Being Relatable is Motivational

Hearing the struggles that the common man endures is relatable. We can see ourselves in that struggle far better than we can see it in the elite athletes of the world. They know our pain, struggle, and despair. They are training day in and day out with kids, spouses, mortgages, day jobs, and diseases. They are paying their own way to the race and doing it for their own self-satisfaction. They may think that no one is watching them, but they are wrong.

Passion is Fuel for Others

I love being in the cheering section in the final miles of a race. There is so much drama and human emotion during the tail end of the race. I vividly remember athletes slowing to a walk as the weight of the distance comes down upon them. What I find most motivating is watching them feed off the energy of the crowd and finding a way to turn their walk, back into a run. You can see the determination in their face and eyes. Their passion burns brightly and the surrounding people feed off that energy. The crowd surges with the quickening pace of the runner and all inhibition of human emotion is lost. It is pure and it is real. These are the moments I remember most.

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You Motivate Someone Every Day You Run

Keep this in mind, every day you go for a run. Often people are too shy to dole out compliments, but I can guarantee you someone you don’t know is inspired by your run. You are a motivator, a hero, and a leader just because you get out there each day and go for a run. Never underestimate yourself and always push on. You are a motivation source to many. (This means you too Mom:)

Always in Stride,

Jack

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Superbowl Runday!

That special time of year has come around once again, the time of year when most Americans embark on a day’s journey of countless chicken wings, more beers than they can count, and sitting on the couch. Superbowl Sunday. I enjoy Superbowl Sunday myself and will be cheering for the high flyin’ Seahawks today. However, just because it is a day of sloth for most, does not mean that you get to skimp on your run! Turn Superbowl Sunday into Superbowl Runday!

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Running on days when others are likely to take a pass feels just that much better. It’s nice to have the trails to yourself for a while knowing that you’re earning your beer, chips, and dip. If your team is in the Superbowl, run in your team’s gear and show it off. When you’re sitting down, watching the big game and seeing ridiculous commercial after ridiculous commercial, you will be satisfied knowing that you got that run in. Comment with who you are cheering for!

Always in Stride,

Jack

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There Is No “Normal”

Since around the time of Thanksgiving I have been stuck in a bit of a rut. My running, writing, and overall motivation have been off and not at the levels they should be. I simply told myself that once things returned to “normal” I would be right back at it, driven as ever. Fast forward to early January and the motivation for all these fine activities was still missing.

See the thing is, there is no “normal”. There will always be disruptions and there is no ideal time to do the things you need to. Distraction and resistance will always be there to meet you in whatever form she decides to take. It could be going out with friends, holiday dinners, cold weather, or any other myriad of options.The perfect time to do something is the least optimal time. When something is done at the least optimal time, you learn something about yourself. You learn that you are capable of doing anything that you set your mind to. 2AM on a Friday evening when everyone else is out can be the perfect time for a run or for a blog post. Who’s to say it isn’t?

If you often find yourself struggling with this resistance and inner battle, I highly recommend you pick up the book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. He does an amazing job at attacking procrastination, resistance, and how we put off becoming our true self we were meant to be. It has helped me a lot to overcome my own issues and realize I need to just get started with what I should be doing. The momentum builds from there until it barrels along and I find myself extremely happy that I did what was required of me.

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This especially applies to going for a run. It can be so easy to come up with so many reasons why you shouldn’t go for a run. However, all that matters is that feeling you get from going on a run. In 14 years of running, I have yet to regret a single run. Upon returning, I am always glad I embraced the struggle and made it out the door.

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Always in Stride,

Jack

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Time to Consider Friends With Benefits and Forget Long Term Relationships (With Running Shoes)

One of my favorite questions to ask a runner is what shoe they run in and why. The first answer is usually pretty easy for them to come up with and the second response is usually pretty typical. I usually find it to be one of the following: “I’ve always run in (insert shoe)”, “My friend runs in this shoe.”, “I’ve heard that (insert company) makes a good running shoe.”, or several other responses. All of these responses are nauseating to me and come with a mental eye roll. These are absolutely terrible responses if that is their only reason for choosing a shoe.

Remember your first relationship? There are a lot of good reasons why it didn’t last and why the person you are with now is a heck of a lot better. You’re smarter now, you’ve gotten experience, you’ve learned, and you know what you want. (To those who married high school sweethearts, erm, Congrats!:)) To run in the exact same running shoe simply because you always have is asinine, especially if you have no idea why you bought that shoe in the first place. Not to mention a wide variety of shoe models and companies pop up every year, pushing the envelope of technology and function. If you’ve run in the same shoe for 20 years, you’re missing out on countless opportunities.

When purchasing anything in life, some questions should come to mind. Some purchases require more thought than others such as a car, house, TV, and of course running shoes. Running shoes are a medical investment and preventative care. A running shoe is going to affect every aspect of your training, gait, posture, and a myriad of other things. You NEED to be informed about the features and specs of your running shoes.

So what should you be asking your local running shoe store employee when you go in?

  • Why did you pick this shoe for me?
  • How will this shoe help to make me a better runner?
  • How will this shoe affect my biomechanics?
  • What is the heel toe offset of this shoe?
  • How does the toe box width compare to other shoes?
  • Where is the research to support the claims this shoe company makes?
  • Do you have an agenda or requirement to encourage one shoe versus another?
  • How can this shoe help to make me faster?
  • How can this shoe help my efficiency?
  • How will this shoe help to prevent (or cause) injuries.
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naturalrunningcenter.com

This is just a short list to get you started. Going in and buying running shoes with little to no knowledge is running Russian roulette. It can end very badly. Get over your love affair and long term relationship with your current shoe or shoe brand. Make the store employee earn their paycheck and ask to try on a wide variety of shoes each and every time. Be polygamous! Run in several different brands and models during your training. Each will stress the foot in different ways and can be good strength training. Develop a few shoes with benefits relationships and don’t be afraid to cheat on them. After all, they are only running shoes and do not have emotions or feelings…yet.

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