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Buying the proper running shoes

January 2012
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I’ve been noticing a lot of new runners, or cyclists turning to running to cross-train, blogging lately so I thought it apt to post about picking out your running shoes.

I run.  I’ve also made it quite obvious on this blog that I don’t have the same affinity for it that I do cycling.  On the other hand, running is what has gotten me back to a reasonable weight and kept me young – at least physically.  Running did not come easily for me though.  I began with shoes that were too small which lead to a lot of running pain that I had to work though, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing either because I gained a good deal of knowledge in repairing and avoiding the problems that caused it through working with my fantastic doctor, a kinesiologist who doesn’t do sitting on the couch or pain meds unless there’s no other way.

With that said, and I’ve written about this before, shoe size is an imperative.  Equally important is the manner in which your foot naturally strikes the ground – or whether your foot naturally pronates, supinates or is neutral.  The image should be quite self-explanatory.  If your foot rolls out away from your arch, you supinate.  If it rolls in, towards your arch arch you pronate.  Now, I won’t get into which shoe to buy for each because I truly believe in buying my running shoes at a local mom and pops running shop that employs real runners to assist their customers.  You certainly won’t be saving money in doing so but the help you get will be worth a few dollars and far and above that of a big box shop – so has been my experience.  There is one important piece of information to have when walking into the store that every runner (or soon to be runner) should be armed with and that is what your actual footprint looks like so that you can assist the pro in helping you choose the proper shoe.  The next image shows the three footprints (pronation, neutral and supintation), or what they look like if you get your bare (or socked) foot damp and walk on dry pavement.  This is important.  I didn’t have this info on hand when I went shopping, or more to the point, I had to go by distant memory.  I also didn’t have technology on my side yet (phones with cameras hadn’t hit the mainstream when I started running).  The easiest way to handle the footprint is simply to get your feet wet and walk on dry pavement or paper and take a quick picture so you can show it to your sales person (or print the image to the left, do your wet foot walk, match your footprint to the image, circle the right one and hand that to the sales person).  Having this ahead of your first purchase will save you time, effort and possibly money by purchasing the right shoe the first time.

Going back to size, the important point for me was not where my toes ended, but where my arch is in relation to my toes.  If I go by the standard “your toe should be here” method of sizing shoes, I end up on the couch in so much pain that I can’t walk up a flight of stairs because my arch is farther back.  I have to go with a looser size eleven (rather than a ten) in order to get the arch in the right place.  When you are being fitted, pay very close attention to where your arch is hitting on the shoe.  If you can feel even the tiniest bump of the shoe hitting the ball (forward of your arch) of your foot this will translate into disaster after ten miles.  In short, be picky.  I regularly try on four to six pair of shoes in finding a new one.  For the longest time I bought the same brand and style, New Balance Light Weight Trainers.  The numbers change every year with New Balance so care must be taken in choosing.  Ten years ago they were 920-somethings.  This last May I switched to AdiZero Tempo’s because my shop had them in stock and I didn’t want to wait the several weeks required to get the special order shoes in (and I’ve been quite happy with them) because my old shoes were nearing the end of their useful life.

This last point brings up an interesting question:  How do I know when it’s time for a new pair of shoes?  There are a few easy answers to this question.  First is the 500 mile rule.  You should replace your shoes every 500 miles.  It just so happens that’s about what I’ll run in a year so I replace mine every May because that gets me beyond the spring rainy season (I HATE muddying up a brand new pair of shoes first time out).  Second is to look at the soles.  If they’re wearing out, it’s time to trade up – bring them with you to the shoe store so your pro can look them over and see if they’re wearing correctly.  The final way to tell if you need a new pair (whether they look worn out or not) is listen to your legs.  Your legs will tell you when it’s time by giving you little fits of pain.  It won’t be enough to derail you but you will feel it.

Finally, there is a new movement afoot (pun intended) that suggests a minimalist approach to choosing shoes.  The argument goes that the human body has all of the cushioning it needs built-in, you don’t need the cushioning in a shoe.  I won’t weigh in on the validity of the argument as I haven’t researched it and I really don’t care to.  The shoes I have work just fine and I’m not going to a) slow down to learn a new way of running – and the minimalist approach will slow you down, at least for a time or b) change something that doesn’t require changing.  There is one part of the argument that I will weigh in on though.  A friend of mine is fully convinced that there is a spooky running shoe cabal that conspired to create the need for more and more padding in running shoes so they could charge more money for them, while throwing runners under the proverbial bus because this cabal knew that the added heel padding was bad for runners and would lead to injury (based on his reading Born To Run I believe, though this book does not, to my knowledge, sink to that argument).  Hopefully you’ve figured out by now that I don’t have much use for spooky cabal hypotheses as they’re quite usually based on ignorance and the acceptance of minor falsehoods that purport to uphold a baseless argument…  Take for instance this simple truth:  Minimalist running shoes cost just as much as fully padded shoes.  It does make sense that running shoe makers were trying to help runners run as fast as possible so they added a bit of padding to the heel of a shoe to allow runners to stretch out their stride.  This can hardly translate into a desire to injure runners just to sell shoes…  That would be crazy as they would eventually injure paying customers out of running, relying solely on new runners entering the sport to “fleece”.  I don’t care how little you know about business, there’s no such thing as cabal that stupid.

Next up, I’ll post on how to run into “the zone”.  It’s an art.

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