Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It's Gotta Be the Shoes

I had a couple conversations (in the 21st century digital sense) about running shoes recently, and they inspired me to throw a little something together. 

The first began as a chat about marathon recovery lessons learned, continued with a brief discussion about running as an exercise in lifelong learning and ended with a case of oneupsmanship; in poker terms,  I saw a runner whose career began in Nike Free and raised her a pair of basketball shoes. I won that pot. 

The second came in response to a comment on my last post, when I read another blogger’s most recent post and learned that she recently discovered she’d been wearing shoes one size too small. I did this, too, for several years, only mine were one size too big. (In my defense, I'm a guy, I don't think about shoes and I thought it was perfectly normal to spend five minutes before a run tightening the hell out of one's shoes.)

As the previous paragraph demonstrates, I don't know a ton about running shoes (or shoes in general, for that matter). But, as the "runner" at work and among my friends, I’m often asked for recommendations. This is what I tell folks.

Get your stride assessed. Go to a specialty running store, or even to a doctor, and have your running stride looked at. The right shoe will depend on whether your heel, midfoot or toes hit the ground first, as well as whether you land on the inside or outside of your foot. (I'm lucky enough to have a "normal" stride. Please don't hate me.) 

Don't skimp. My everyday wardrobe reads like an Old Navy catalog. In other words, I'm cheap. But I splurge on running shoes. Why? Good shoes prevent injuries. 

Ask around. Runners are loyal to their brands. (In my case, it’s Brooks.) They also love to talk about running. So if you need a shoe recommendation, ask and ye shall receive. (Probably way more than you want, in many cases.) The Runner’s World Shoe Finder is a good resource, too -- it helped me decide which lightweight shoe would work for me. 

Break 'em in. Whenever I get new shoes, I wear them to my retail job a couple times to break them in. From there, I'll do a couple easy runs. I won't do a speed workout or long run until I feel comfortable. For the love of all that is good and pure, NEVER wear a brand-spanking new pair of shoes in a race.

Know when to walk away. Conventional wisdom says you should replace running shoes after about 500 miles, and fewer if you use lightweight shoes. I often exceed this milestone for two reasons -- one, I keep my "least old" shoes around for running in inclement weather (so my news ones don’t get gross), and two, I'm cheap. I've never felt the ill effects of running that 501st mile in a pair of shoes, but if you've had the same pair of running shoes for a few months, it may be time to replace them. (One sign that they may be worn: The sole looks like crap.) Given that new shoes take time to break in, too, you may want to get new shoes before you actually need them. 

Approach lightweight shoes with caution. Full disclosure: I wear lightweight shoes and love them. That said, I've been running for a long time, and I made the transition slowly, even more so than with the usual new pair of shoes and at a time when I wasn't training for a marathon. I also had some experience with them as racing shoes (we called them "waffles") in high school and college. If you're new to running, your feet, knees, calves, quads, hamstrings and IT bands need all the support they can get. If you want to consider lightweight shoes, ask a few friends (not just one) or talk to your doctor / trainer about whether you’re ready. Also, be warned: The effects of puddles, snow banks and blunt objects are magnified when you wear lightweight shoes. 

If the shoe fits, wear it again. As I said, runners are loyal to their brands. When we find a shoe we like, we often buy a second pair shortly after getting the first. When the next version of our favorite shoe comes out, we'll first stock up on the old version (since it’s probably on sale) and then get the new one. Why not? When you step up your training, you’re going to wear as many as several pairs of shoes in one year. 

Reassess. Your body changes as you age. I had no idea my feet were smaller. Your stride may change, especially as you lose weight, get faster or increase your mileage. If something doesn't feel right, it may be time to think about your shoes. Yes, you paid good money for that pair that may suddenly start pinching your toes or the top of your foot, but in the long run, getting yet another pair of shoes is less expensive than multiple trips to the doctor. 

Plus, you can just wear those extra shoes for yard work.