Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Marketing Confusion: Generalizing Specifics

My daily commute to work takes me from Brooklyn to Manhattan, or in borough-speak, from outer to inner. To accomplish this Herculean quotidian feat, I alternate between riding the subway and riding a bicycle. There are occasional lapses in my cycling habit, but I always get back to it before long. Most recently, after neglecting my cyclo-commute for a few weeks on account of other commitments of the athletic variety, I once again set off "awheel" on a cold morning in early March.

As I began my commute, I was feeling both hale and hearty, as well as one or two other redundancies which I have since forgotten. Upon the "inbound" ascent of the Manhattan bridge, however, in spite of keeping in good shape the preceding fortnight or so, I quite suddenly felt the negative effects of too much time away from two-wheeled contrivances.

While "cross-training" sounds like a fabulous idea, and may even look fabulous with the right sneakers, it doesn't always work out that well. You can run yourself silly or sprint up an office building's worth of stairs if you train yourself for it, but that doesn't instantly translate to cardiovascular success in all other areas. Only the exact confluence of exertion of a select group of muscles, with precisely timed huffing and puffing, can fully prepare you for, well, doing that particular confluence of things.

Without a continued regimen of such confluences, or "confluations," if you prefer (which is to say, if you prefer made-up words), you may find yourself aching to quit at a point where you'd otherwise scarcely break into a sweat. And so it was for me: just half way up the relatively small ascent of an East River bridge, and I was thinking about stopping. Here's a summary of what I was feeling:

- shortness of breath
- fatigue
- dizziness
- the erection went away after a few minutes so I decided not to seek medical assistance

At this point I really should explain that I am given to frequent (and sometimes fabulous) conflations. So to be honest, while I was feeling a bit winded, the fatigue and dizziness were not so much symptoms as fictions. (The erection, however, was real, and it was powerful, and life-affirming.) And so in spite of my difficulties, both real and conflated, I was able to sufficiently coordinate my physiological confluences to finish the bridge ascent and the rest of my journey to work.

Recalling this incident now, I must admit I'm a little dismayed. I have secret aspirations to expand my cycling proclivities to include some road racing, but how can I seriously expect to succeed at that if I can't even ride over a bridge without feeling the need to whine about it on the internet?

To be fair, there were several mitigating factors. As I said, it was chilly, or at least chilly for March; it may have been a Monday; I was surely suffering from TV-induced sleep-deprivation, as described in my previous post; and, apparently, I'd been cross training without the right footwear.

You see, the truth is I might have felt weak on the bike because during my non-cycling activities I was not wearing cross-training shoes! It sounds naive to say so now, but since I was running (variously on pavement, a treadmill, and up flights of stairs), it seemed natural that I should wear running shoes. Ahh, but had I only been equipped with bona fide cross-training gear, the cardiovascular benefits of my alternative sporting activities would have better transferred back into my cycling capabilities.

Back when cross-training shoes were all the rage, I assumed it was some new sport, only nobody seemed to know the rules. Upon learning that was not the case, I wondered how "they" could presume to know what cross-training activities I might partake of, such that they could market a shoe, to me, for that purpose. (Of which. For doing. Grammar. Sneakers. What?)

It then dawned on me that cross training was not some complicated new idea; it was probably an unremarkable term within the athletic lexicon, used now and then by coaches and athletes while detailing a particular week's schedule, without attaching to it any additional fanfare. Only now, like a janitor discovering a soiled jockstrap left overnight in the showers, some marketing executives had gotten wind of it. And by Dammit, they were going to use it to move some shoes!

Most of what I was hearing called cross training would previously just have been called training. Let's say I'm a football player, and I put on a pair of running shoes and run 3 miles. Look ma, I'm cross training now! Can you take me to Foot Locker and buy me some Nikes with thick soles in case I cross some dirt?

Now, given my admitted habit of adorning the facts to suit my needs, you might suspect my cynical view of this subject to be a bit biased. So let me take a minute to present both sides of the matter more objectively: The concept of specific gear for cross training could be seen as a real stretch (also known as dubious or conflated), but on the other hand one could argue that it only lacks credibility because it hasn't been taken far enough.

In the first view, you don't need it because you already have basketball sneakers, or running shoes, or whatever the appropriate footwear may be, or something that's close enough and besides, what, are you some kind of pussy who has to go change his shoes before playing a game of H.O.R.S.E.?

The other angle suggests that you may wish to do a combination, or "cross," if you will, of multiple sports without having to outfit your feet anew for each activity. And so the cross-trainer is meant to be a good all-arounder.

But I think that's why my skepticism is roused from it's slumber in the back of the cave that is my mind: here is an athletic shoe that is specifically designed for nothing in particular. For a cross-training shoe to be taken seriously, it should fulfill the precise requirements of two specific activities. For instance, a tennis shoe with an "anarchy" symbol on the toe, to double for use on skateboards. A cleated flip-flop that can be worn to play soccer as well as table tennis. (And those are just off the top of my head!)

Until sporting goods manufacturers and their marketing departments learn to inject a little more creativity into their insoles (maybe they can mix it with impact absorbing gel), cross-training shoes will never know their full potential. And in the meantime, the all-time champion atop the heap of fully-specified sneaker technology will remain:

The original Reebok Pump. The first shoe that could only be fully conflated by the consumer.

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