Thursday, January 16, 2014

Running Shoes, Here are my thoughts……

I am asked all the time about running shoes.  As a long distance runner, it would seem reasonable to think I have this topic down pat.  The fact is I don’t.  Then why would I write a blog?  Well, I feel that I do have some decent guidelines to share, and some do’s and don’ts that can help other runners choose the best shoe for them.  There is no exact shoe science, everyone has an opinion.  The bottom line is you have to find what works for you.  It can be a “trial and error” effort and can cost a few extra dollars if you miss the mark and end up buying another pair of shoes.

How I pick shoes: The very first pair of running shoes I ever bought in the early 90s were Asics Gels.  They were a basic, mid-priced running shoe and I think back then they were the GT series.  When I started running again 2 ½ years ago, I went back to what had worked before.  I picked up another pair of the Asics in the same family and I was off and running!  Up to this point, all was going well.
As I started running and increasing mileage, things went pretty well for me.  I did not have any major issues and no additional injuries after I recovered from a slight case of planter fasciitis right when I started running again.  Keep in mind I was very heavy then and attribute the injury to being out of shape and overweight.

Over a year ago, I read “Born to Run.”  This is an excellent book about the history of running and a considerable amount of time is spent on running shoes and the history behind them.  There is also a lot of information about natural running in the book (runners who wear no shoes or minimal shoes).  This made me wonder if this approach would work for me!  I recently read “Tread Lightly.”  This is a detailed book about running form and shoes and, while they had a lot of information, they did not have any specific conclusions either.
The first change I made in my personal running was to focus more on “mid-foot striking.”  This is where you transition from landing on the heel to more of the middle or front of the foot.  I have always been a heel striker and who wouldn’t be if you had a big cushioned sole to land on, right?  As I made this change, I quickly realized that the shoes I wore actually made it hard for me to run the way I wanted to.  So off I went to the running store and started asking about lower-heeled shoes. 

I was currently in a 13 mm drop shoe (heel height compared to toe height) and wanted to get to a 4 to 6 mm drop.  I ended up buying the Brooks Pure Flow II.  They felt good and accommodated my wide toes.  These shoes have worked well for me and I run more and more forefoot these days.  The other change that has recently occurred is my foot has gotten wider - I now wear a ½ size larger running shoe.  This is a result of running more mid-to-forefoot and spending more time barefoot.  I made a conscious decision to go barefoot around the house and wear five-finger shoes when I walk.  Our feet were not designed to be cooped up in shoes.  Shoes actually prevent our feet from being as wide as they might normally be.  For the fashion conscious, this is a disaster BUT we need to take care of our feet.  Walking barefoot also helps to build up the foot’s own natural ability to support our bodies without relying on shoes to make our feet weaker.
Here is what you have to look for in shoes.  First, the store clerks may not be your friend!  They are typically trained by the shoe companies to focus on the latest features, current lingo and using the approach that “more expensive” is better.  This simply is not true in most cases.  You can find very reasonable priced shoes to accommodate your running needs.  Heck, I look for last year’s models and save 30-50%!  How much can technology change in one year to magically fix all that ails us?

For you fashion-minded runners do not get caught up in the look or color of the shoe.  Focus on fit and function - not razzle and dazzle!  Most shoes offer color choices, although you may have to order the color you want.
I suggest you seek out a shoe store with real runners working there; at least they have personal experience.  Second, go to several specialty stores. Big box retailers are fine if you know what you want, but they are horrible places to get advice and recommendations.  Ask around, try various shoes on and go for a quick jog in the store!  Many of the good running stores will let you run in the shoes for a short period of time and still exchange them.  Having salespeople tell you that you need to fix your own natural running form can be a stretch!  You certainly can change your running form and make corrections, but you are who you are.  So what if you pronate, 80-90% of us do.  It does not mean we need to overcorrect it and cause our feet not to naturally land and then push back off. 

A running analysis in a shoe store may also be counterproductive.  How can one person tell how well the shoes fit by watching you run for 5 to 10 seconds in the store?  The naked eye is not that perceptive.  Video analysis is much better if you are not running in your normal environment.  Would you want to buy shoes while running on a treadmill while 90% of your runs are on pavement? 
If you can get away with less shoe and still run comfortably, then this may be your best approach.  Buying big bulky over cushioned shoes prevent our foot’s own natural ability to support our bodies.

Shoe Mileage – you will hear a lot about how many miles you can run in a pair of shoes.  The typical manufacturer says 300 to 500 miles.  So how do they know this?  Your own style of running will determine this.  The type of runner you are, your weight, and the surfaces you run on, etc.   I usually get twice the distance out of my running shoes.
You should also consider having multiple pairs of running shoes.  I typically use two of the same pair and rotate them.  As the shoes age, I use them more for shorter runs and the newer shoes for longer runs (after they have been broken in).

I have other long distance runners tell me they like a variety of shoes. Their thought is - why run in the exact same pair?  Change it up so your feet are more adapted.  I see their point and have no issues with it; however, for me personally I run in the same environment week after week, typically paved trails and roads, so I want the consistency.  Obviously if you run on a track, do trail runs, or run on dirt, then this will lend itself to having to stock up on a wider variety of shoe types.
I find that brand matters as it relates to the shoe fitting your foot.  For example, I love Nike shoes, but I cannot run in them because they tend to be narrower.  You may find that certain brands will fit your feet better and you can then narrow down the choices among those brands.

You want to be sure and get the right size shoe.  Most brands of shoes will require that you buy a ½ to a full size larger.  You want at least the width of your thumb between your longest toe and the end of the shoe.  Trust me - this is important!  Your feet will swell while running and the extra room is needed as you run because of the contact flexing of the foot.  If you have issues with blisters or bruised toenails, it may be time to size up or change shoes.
If you decide minimalist running is for you - be cautious in your approach.  You never want to make drastic changes in shoes or running style, especially if you are in the middle of your training season.  Going from a full-sized heel to a minimal shoe can be a shock to the body and your legs.  Slowly transition to a minimal approach.  If you run 20-30 miles a week, you may only get 2-3 miles in a minimal shoe the first week.  Yes, it is that drastic because you are running on your foot in a different way and you need to give your feet and legs time to adjust and grow stronger.  In a full-cushioned shoe your feet are more relaxed and do not have to work as hard.  However, making this change can have a positive impact on your runs after you make the adjustments.

I doubt I will ever be a full-blown minimalist shoe runner, but I do want to continue to reduce the dependence on the shoe and strengthen my feet to provide the support they were designed to give me and my body.


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