SHOES. I swear I have had more trouble with running shoes lately than I ever thought possible. Maybe if they didn’t make about 3 million different kinds it would be easier to find a shoe that feels good, I don’t know. Maybe I just need to be less picky.
Chris has no issues with shoes. He has two pairs of New Balance sneakers and he likes them both. He loves these 870s
because they are bright and fun and light. And he loves this pair of 993s
because he custom-designed them (the colors as well as the embroidered LOVE LIFE) and because they were Made in the USA. They are a bit heavier than his rainbow shoes but also more cushioned, and he definitely prefers them for longer runs.
My shoe saga started over a year ago. Last spring, probably because my shoes were old, I was experiencing some arch pain. I went to a running store and got fitted for a majorly supportive shoe, even though in the past I had always worn neutral shoes. Still, I trusted the expertise of the store and ran in my new shoes (which did feel good in my arch) for a few months, as I proceeded to get terrible shin splints, calf issues, and eventually stress reactions in both tibias (worse than a shin splint, not as bad as an outright stress fracture). I had to stop running for months. Granted, this was probably not completely the fault of the shoes--I was also a heel-striker, which puts a lot of stress on the lower leg; a clomper (you could hear me coming a mile away); and heavier than I had been in the past.
So to try and ensure that I never had to deal with these injuries again, I decided:
1) drop some weight (working on that one, the running helps!)
2) go back to a neutral shoe
3) change my running form to avoid jarring the lower legs
I did some research on “injury-free running” and hit upon a few sites—Chi running, Pose, Natural Form, Good Form—that all touted the same mechanics, with some slight variations. First, try for a high cadence of 180 steps per minute; doing this will automatically shorten your stride. Pretend you are running across hot coals or broken glass---this cures you of a heavy landing. Second, think about landing your feet under your center of gravity, not out in front of you. Third, aim for a mid-foot (or fore-foot) strike rather than a heel-strike, but still be sure to let the heel kiss the ground---no mincing about on tippy toes or you will kill your calves!
So I got back into a pair of traditional neutral New Balance 1080s and set about learning this new form, hopeful that I would be able to run again without major problems. Things felt pretty good (though admittedly reaching such a high cadence is difficult and keeping it there even more so) but one thing still bothered me. The higher heel on the shoe made it hard for me to consistently avoid a heel strike. That’s when I started looking into minimal shoes.
The term “minimal” can refer to a variety of shoe characteristics. It can be how close the foot is to the ground, as in Vibram Five Fingers (essentially a rubber glove for the foot). It can be the weight of the shoe (the lightest ones weigh only 5-6 oz.). Lack of any built in supports can also be a factor, as well as how “naturally” the foot sits in the shoe (heel-to-toe drop). A traditional running shoe may have a drop of 12 mm or more, while a minimal shoe is usually somewhere in the 0-4 mm range. It’s important to transition slowly to these shoes, as your feet have to adjust to feeling the ground more, and working harder as the shoe does less; calves and Achilles tendons also need a break-in period because a lower heel on the shoe means the calf has to stretch further for the heel to touch the ground.
The first shoe I tried was a Newton Gravity. These 4mm drop shoes are beautifully bright and light on top and quite odd on the sole.
They have these orange “lugs” that are supposed to encourage a forefoot landing and give you an energy return to boot. I have to say my race results in these shoes were faster than any I’ve previously recorded, even 10 years ago. However, those awesome lugs also turned out to be the downfall of the shoe, at least in my case. My left foot loved the shoe, and had not a single complaint. My right foot--- a full ½” smaller—found the sweet spot elusive. That ½” made all the difference in lug placement and put them too close to my toes rather on the ball of my foot. I tried different lacings and even a heel insert but nothing worked for long. I believe the only solution for me is to buy another pair in a smaller size and wear two different size shoes, but that’s just not going to happen. I have to say that Newton customer service was excellent in trying to find a solution for me, even to the point of offering to send me a smaller right shoe if one turns up, but until that happens, these shoes are benched.
Upon realizing the Newtons were not going to work out, I did more research and hit upon the Brooks Pure Project line. I chose the 4mm Pure Flow—this shoe is so comfy!
It is also extremely neutral, and has almost no external support at all. I enjoy running in them, but after 3 miles or so I have sore feet and twingy Achilles. This is probably due to the fact that I am using muscles and tendons, etc that I have not had to use in years of previous running/walking in built-up shoes. Still, as my goal is to avoid injury and finish this marathon, I have come to the conclusion that these, too, are not right for my long-distance training. I do, however, love them for walking and for shorter runs. Given time to slowly build up miles and adjust properly, I believe these could be used for longer distances quite enjoyably. I just can’t afford to test that theory right now.
At this point it was apparent I needed a shoe with a few more “traditional” characteristics, yet I still wanted to avoid the high heel and bulky, heavy feeling of my old shoes. After all, though I had some problems with the more minimal shoes, I did gain a lot from them—my form is improved; I have not had a single serious shin or calf issue; my calves and Achilles are elongated and flexible; my feet are stronger. Tired of research and somewhat embarrassed by needing to look for yet another shoe, I went back to where I started—New Balance. After all, I did run my other marathon in a pair, and I have usually had good luck with them. As it turns out, they had recently redesigned my old 1080, with a few important differences. The 1080v2 weighs less than its predecessor due to the use of high-tech lightweight materials for support and cushioning, and the heel-to-toe drop is now 8mm rather than 12mm—I know this doesn’t seem like enough to make a difference, but it is. The heel stack height on the new version is also lower.
I immediately ordered these shoes and they are wonderful! I barely feel them when they are on, they don’t interfere with my new running form, my tendons don't twinge, and my feet don’t ache when I take them off. I ran 5 miles in them over the weekend and felt great! So hopefully I am DONE thinking about shoes for a while, and I can move on to thinking more about fundraising for Fisher House…
Our weekly stats:
Tue 5/22 2.07 miles in 19:59
Wed 5/23 3.05 miles in 30:48
Thu 5/24 2.08 miles in 20:33
Sat 5/26 5 miles in 58:00 (this was a 5 mile race, very hilly and it was quite hot; glad I brought my vest as I sipped water throughout. I confess we walked the two biggest hills as the heat was making my head throb and I started to get goosebumps and feel a bit nauseous....still was able to run it in at the end! Chris did great as usual and probably could have come in under 50 minutes if he hadn't stayed with me.)
|Photobombed after the race!|
Total: 12.2 miles
Thanks for reading!