Checking Out Dellinger's Spikes

Checking Out Bill Dellinger's Spikes

One of the absolute coolest parts of being a professional Nike athlete is that I get to play a small part in determining how next year’s running shoes are made.  Their shoe designers come to athletes like me for advice on making world class sneaks…can you imagine?!  (Its even cooler than you are imagining. Really.)

Three Nike shoe designers invited me to join them at the legendary Bill Dellinger’s home in Eugene for an afternoon of feedback on various sample products.  A humongous roller bag full of shoes was unzipped, and a waterfall of shoes cascaded onto the floor.  And like a bunch of kids huddled over a new lego set, we inspected each piece, turning them over in our hands.

Dellinger's Bronze Medal Spikes

Pretty sure Dellinger won bronze in these bad boys in '64

“What are your favorite running shoes for training?” asks a totally hip runner girl/designer.  “What do you like about them?  What would you change?”

“uh…I….um…me likee how they feel on my footsie.  err…yeah,” I bumble to the group of expectant employees.

I felt totally intimidated at first.  I mean, here I was a moment earlier holding the spikes that Bill Dellinger wore during the 1956 games in Melbourne, feeling the Kangaroo leather under my fingertips while he determinedly explained bits and pieces of his race experience to me (which is no easy task after a stroke affects the language center of the brain).  This man was not only a great athlete and coach, but a designer of shoes himself back in the day, and now here I am sitting in his living room in front of a pile of shoes surrounded by their modern creators.

What the hell, they asked me to come, I reminded myself.  Might as well tell them what you think.

Some parts of the discussion were easy for me, like talking about why I have a nearly-romantic relationship with my Lunarglide trainers.  But when they started handing me individual unreleased designs and saying, “What do you think of this one?” things got a little tougher.

If I think it looks like a baby threw up on a basketball, do I tell them?  Would this make me cruel like Simon on American Idol?  I mean, someone in this room made that.  I couldn’t help thinking about what the Idol judges would say in my position. “Dude, check it out, dude, the color is a little splotchy here, but you’re HOT man, HOT!!!” (Randy).  Kara might say “I just don’t think you know what kind of artist you are yet.” I started imagining myself telling an Ellen joke by placing the right shoe on my left foot and with a puzzled expression say, “well…if the shoe were on the other foot…”

In the end I decided to employ respectful honesty.  I tried them on with and without socks.  I walked around, hopped, and ran in them.  I took them in my hands and flexed them every which way they could bend.  Every contour was felt by my fingertips, inside and out.  I even smelled them.  And then I told them what I thought.  Some of them you guys are going to absolutely go ape-shiz over.  A few of them will be good for a laugh.

Standing beside a legend

Standing next to a legend, (and a really cool guy.)

The thing that stuck with me most is the necessity of innovation.  Before today, it drove me crazy that right when I found a shoe I loved, they changed it. Footwear is intimate.  You just spent 400 miles making your shoe a perfect mold of your foot, so replacing that is a grumpy experience to begin with, and changes in design make you involuntarily release anger pheromones.  But after holding all those shoes in my hand, I could finally see how a simple tweak in the construction of a heal cup, a new combo of foam densities or a change in fabrics can revolutionize the way a shoe performs.

The result of changes like this are what allows me to run 80 miles a week on concrete, rocks, and trails without getting hurt, all in a pair of cute shoes that I can wipe clean in less than 30 seconds so I can wear them out with jeans.   And until this tomboy learns to walk in heals without looking like a cross-dresser, those will remain the qualities I push for in the evolution of Nike running shoes.