Over five years ago I thought my race walking shoe selection problems were over. I kept getting disappointed when my favorite shoes were discontinued before I could buy more. Then I discovered Hersey Custom shoes.
Owned and operated by Bart Hersey, Hershey Custom Shoes create custom race walking shoes for both competition and training (in addition to running and hiking shoes). Although not required, I visited Bart to get my custom last sized, primary because I wanted to find out more about his methodology. I was thoroughly impressed and ordered a pair.
Simply put, they were the best race walking shoes I ever wore. No more worries about one foot being bigger than the other. No more worries about a lack of support. No more worries about a lack of flexibility. Instead my feet were treated to low solid heels with flexibility in the proper places, and more importantly, stiffness where required. These shoes were made for race walking, not just walking.
For years I recommended Hersey shoes at my clinics and was sad when I heard Bart was no longer taking new customers. I needed to search for another solution, but was disappointed more than ever with store bought shoes. Instead, I kept wearing my original Hersey shoes. While it's safe to say my fastest race walking days are behind me, I still like to race walk for fun and fitness. I was told by those using Hersey shoes that they lasted much longer than off-the-shelf shoes. Little did I know how long they would endure.
While I have no accurate estimate of how many miles they've logged, my initial pair made it to its fifth birthday. To be honest, I probably only averaged once or twice a week of race walking, but that's still an amazing number of miles.
I recently found out Hersey Custom Shoes are back in business and taking new customers. Thanks to a PBS documentary about things made in Maine, Stephen Keoseian took an interest in Bart's work. Steve worked in the family shoe repair business and was looking to do more. He quickly "fell in love with Bart's work" and went to Maine to study under Bart's professorial tutelage for six months. Bart sold the business to Stephen and now it's up and running at full force.
How do the new Herseys stack up to the old model? In a word: perfectly. I asked Steve to make me a pair like my old ones. He had the original custom last and knew to make the arch slightly stiffer than standard (something I recommend to everyone). I've race walked in them this week and they are perfect. No break in period whatsoever. While I won't wait five years to order a new pair, I do believe I should get one to two years of walking a few times a week as I tend to only walk an easy 5K when training.
Hersey shoes do not come without a cost. They are initially more expensive than their mass-produced counterparts. A custom last must be composed. This used to be very expensive at a cost of $235, however Stephen informed me he is dropping the price to $135. Once a last is built, you can have either of two shoe models made or any other model Hersey constructs. The training shoes cost $180 and the racing shoes $165.
However, you can have them resoled two or three times for only $60. When you figure how much longer they last and the resoling option, they are a bargain. I have only walked in the trainers and find them durable and light enough to race in. I would recommend starting with them. One last issue, Hersey shoes are in demand. There is currently a 24-week wait for new shoes. So if you want a pair, think ahead and order now.
When it comes to custom race walking shoes, Hersey is not the only option in town. Carmen Jackinsky founded Reshod shoes, which offer another slant on walking shoes. She resoles shoes you already own and love, but have worn out. Using a patented design, she replaces the midsole with one with a dynamic technology that assists walkers in forward motion by creating a fulcrum and lever. It's a teeter totter effect.
By changing the angle of impact, it allows the walker to use the entire surface area of the foot with each step. I tried a set composed on a pair of very old Asics running flats and gave Carmen a lot of feedback. She's great to work with and genuinely interested in creating an alternative to the mass produced shoes people currently train and race with. Carmen is still working on the final design and a shoe that will be built from the ground up. Check out www.reshod.com for updates.
Jeff Salvage is the founder of www.racewalk.com, author of the Race Walk Like a Champion Book and DVD set, as well as the new book Two Feet Goes Race Walking. He has coached walkers at all levels including beginners, juniors, walkers attempting the marathon, masters race walkers, and elite athletes competing internationally. He is a diligent promoter of race walking, covering events like the Olympics, the World Cup, and national championships for www.racewalk.com, Walk! Magazine, and the Race Walking Record.