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GEAR CARE by Jamie Pang

I confess that I usually don't wash my running shoes. Perhaps the only time I rinse them are after my marathons, and that's twice a year. Don't pinch you noses now but I think running shoes are meant to look soiled, stained and scruffed. That means you have been putting the shoes to some serious use.

Other than after the marathons, the other times when I get my shoes wet are on rainy days, when out training or racing. And unless they're caked with mud, I don't even wash my rain soaked pairs.

Shoes are basically made of synthetics, foam and rubber. All held together by stitches and glue. You treat them right and they will reward you with miles and miles of nice road trips. Think of them as your vehicle. You don't abandon your car, right? You bought them with your hard earned money and you have a pride of ownership. While caring for a car is a much more complex and expensive affair, taking care of your running shoes are not that difficult.

The following steps will guide you on how to care for your running shoes, should they get wet or too gunky.

  1. Remove the laces and insoles, and rinse the dirt off them. Don't forget to also wash all the sand and mud off the creases in the mid and outsole.
  2. Open the tongue flap and stand the shoes up to drain off excess water. Be sure not to sun-dry them. You're not producing raisins!

3. Stuff them up with wads of newsprint to absorb the water and moisture. Replace the newsprint often.When they get reasonable dry, you should continue to stand them up and air-dry them in the shade.

Completely drying a pair of shoes will take time, even in warm weather. Speeding up that process with hair dryer is not recommended, as the hot air will damage the foam and glue. That's why it's wise to have a back up pair at the ready. Not only will your runs not be disrupted, you will be able to extend your shoes' lifespan as well with rotating your shoes. It's heartening to note that more and more runners, beginners especially, have begun to adopt the practice of shoe rotation.

With another pair of shoe at ready, your run isn't disrupted while the soggy pair is being dried

Apparels (including socks)
I've never gone back to wearing cotton running apparels after moving to synthetics nearly 15 years ago. I still wear my very first Nike technical vest bought 10 years ago, to this day. Sure they cost more but the benefits outweigh the cost. Plus they're much more durable too, so you get very good ROI.

Before we go to the care section, you may ask why wear synthetics? Here are some of the benefits:
  1. They're lighter. Some have reflective strips for added safety.
  2. They usually don't have stitches in awkward places that can risk chafing on your skin.
  3. They wick moisture, transferring your sweat from your skin and moving them to the outer layer, thus cooling you.
  4. They complement the way you move - technologies like Nike's FIT and adidas' Formotion come to mind.
  5. The better ones don't cling to your skin when wet.
  6. They dry faster.
  7. The better ones are constructed better reducing chances of bacteria breeding, thus post-run odour will be a thing of the past.
  8. They take up less space in your luggage since they can be easily rolled up.

As with most things, there are many grades of technical apparels, the cheaper ones are constructed from a standard piece of fabric while the more expensive ones have different gradients, strategic placements of vents and construction. Having said that, even the basic ones are better than cotton. Just take a closer look at the fabric. You'll see that the side that touches your skin is more closely knitted while the outer part is coarser. If you remember your basic science, you'll know that the close knit side allows the mopping and absorption of your sweat and the moisture is then moved to the outer layer where it's coarseness allows better evaporation. That's the capillary effect for you.

While you can afford to manhandle your shoes, technical running apparels require more TLC (tender loving care). Always look at the labels of the apparels for recommended care method. But in general, the following usually applies:
  1. Hand wash in cool water and remove immediately.
  2. Don't soak overnight.
  3. Line dry out of direct sunlight instead of squeezing it like the dhobis of olden days.
  4. Avoid softeners as they will clog up the very microfiber pores designed to cool you.
  5. Ironing is not required.
For a fantastic write up on apparel care, read this Running Times article.

Jamie Pang
June 6th 2008



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