Ode to the Trance

Years ago, when I was in high school, my life was endurance sports. I ate, trained, and slept cross-country (…I suppose I can’t say much has changed). I wanted to be the best on my team, the best in the league, and the best in the state. My parents encouraged me to excel. My dad would pick me up from school at 430pm every day, even in the off-season, where I’d train on my own through the blistery cold Lake Erie winters. But I did it because I loved it, and it was my boyfriend, my best friend, my everything.

My sophomore year, I developed issues with my hips and spine that caused to me take a season off from track and field. I took up pole-vaulting, because it was the only thing I could do that didn’t aggravate my hip. I watched my half mile record get crushed by my friend, Vanessa, the fast exchange student from France. I couldn’t even defend my title. I tagged along with the state qualifiers that year to support them: that was the only season, out of eight, that I didn’t qualify for the state championships myself.

I found out that I had developed a curvature in my spine, also known as scoliosis, and the only treatment for it was orthotics and muscle strengthening. I hit the weights, got a pair of shoe inserts for my Nikes, and thought I was on my way. I hobbled out of the room and kept visualizing the shape of my spine. An “S”, really? My spine can look like that? I soon discovered the world of biomechanics. It took time to be able to run again, and I learned patience and diligence. I read as much as I could about different shoe types and foot types. I learned about the gait cycle and foot strike and toe off. I mapped force vectors in my head as my foot hit the ground. My dad’s physical therapist taught me how to tape my arch to hold it up and prevent its collapse, and how to strengthen my arch with therabands. She provided some insight that if I got my hands on the right kind of shoe, it might alleviate the situation.

I quickly retired the old Nikes, and my dad took me to Dave’s Running Shop to get another pair. After I told him my alignment issues, the guy working, a lanky collegiate runner, led me to a rack of the Brooks line, and pointed to the Trance. He told me about “arch posts” and “stiffness gradients,” and how the foot rolls after it hits the ground. My dad bought me the pair, even though they cost over $90…

My back got stronger and straighter, and I was running again by the end of the season. Not fast, but at least I was running. I ran through the summer, and I had the best cross-country season of my high school career. I wore the Trances on every run. I retired the shoes every 500miles and made the hike down to Dave’s for a new pair. My dad was happy to see me running again, and I was happy to be pain-free.

When I decided to run in college, the Trances came with me. I eventually switched to the Adrenalines, because they were a little cheaper and lighter. They were impossible to find, but I bought a pair every time I went home for the holidays. I hammered through countless pairs and countless miles. As an undergraduate student in biomedical engineering, I hoped to one day work on designing shoes like the ones I wore. I wanted to work in a gait lab. During my senior design project as a biomed engineer, I worked in an orthotist’s workshop. I really thought that was what I wanted to do. I moved to Bozeman, Montana, and worked in a gait lab. I issued Brooks shoes to the subjects involved in my master’s thesis research.

Rockin’ the Brooks on a run up Lookout Mountain in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula

Although my plan eventually changed from the gross mechanical to the more molecular approach to joint disorders, I still have the utmost respect for the design engineers at Brooks Running Co. And although I’ve deviated a little in the past, I always return to my favorite tried-and-true brand.

In the past year and a half, I’ve been having issues again with my hip and knee. I had been ordering the past-year’s version of Adrenalines, and something seemed to change. I saw a chiropractor and he issued me a pair of heat-moldable orthotics. I still couldn’t shake the tight hamstrings and soreness. Plus, the orthotics seemed to pull the energy out of my legs and into the road. I felt like every step was along a sloshy, muddy trail. Finally, I rolled the dice and ordered a pair of Trances, and used them for the first time in a half ironman race. I was surprised how zippy I felt, how quickly my feet rebounded. The shoe was responsive, but I could also feel the connection with the road. Curious that maybe it was by luck and not design that I felt so good during that half marathon after the bike, I packed the shoes with me to California, where I tested their true durability on the Western States trails of Lake Tahoe. Again, I felt connected to the trail, but not pulled down by it. My feet didn’t get blistered or sore, they just responded to the trail as I ran for hours on end.

And so it was, I’m now reunited with the Trance. They are my training partner and support crew. The new Trances are much different than the old version I remember from 2000.

  • They are light! They are race-worthy for those that are less biomechanically efficient.
  • The larger toe-box has great ventilation.
  • The look sharp (that’s important, right?).
  • They are flexible. My foot can go through its natural roll, butthe shoe still provides structural support to my arches. But, I don’t feel like I’m wearing a boot or a highly supportive shoe.
  • Although they aren’t necessarily worthy of a sockless run, they are in my bike-to-run transition zone for triathlons.


To check out the whole Brooks line, go to the Brooks Running Company’s website. They have something for every runner. Their clothes are pretty nice, too 😉

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About megankillian

Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware. I love biomechanics!

Posted on July 30, 2009, in In Training. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Wow…I never knew about your back problem. We should all be grateful for being HEALTHY and able to do sports!!!

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