An Ode to a Shoe...Please Get Me to the Finish

“Shoes make the man,” they say. Well, I don’t know about that, but to the runner shoes are everything. Even if you don’t have the latest ultra light, moisture wicking jacket or mega-energy gel, at least you need to have a pair of shoes. Not just any shoes, but ones that are comfortable and fit to your running style. 
So many shoes!!!
 By no means am I an expert on shoes or a doctor, but over the years of running, I’ve learned a lot about them and can provide some perspective to help you in your shoe quest. My post should not be mistaken for medical advice. Always contact a professional if you have any running queries.
You may ask yourself, “Trainers, Supporters, Minimals, Flats, Racers, Overpronators, Underpronators, Neutrals, Trails, Heel Drop, Toe Box. What does all this jargon mean?” Normally, words tend to be marketing talk for “You need this, but you ALSO need this…” However, in running shoes those words make all the sense in the world to get you on your way pain-free and happy.

First and foremost, get fitted. Even if you have been running in the same style of trainers for years, go to a shoe specialist at your local running store. The majority of the time they aren’t there to sell you, rather they want to make sure you get the right shoes so you can enjoy your runs. The running community is tight that way, whereas we jab and jostle in the corral, but at the end of the day we’re all in this together.  The specialist will measure both of your feet and ask you a lot of questions to get a feel for your experience and running frequency. They may ask such questions as: How often do you run? Are you training for anything specific like a marathon or 5k? Have you had any injuries since running? Are you single? Okay, well not the last one, but you get my drift. What they are doing in those amazing minds of theirs is cross-referencing your inputs with thousands of shoe models, amazing!

Two things they will never ask you, “What brand do you like?” or “What color do you want?” When you start running, what should matter more is the way they feel on your feet. Shoes may be status in other sports, but in running, folks tend to stick with what works. Try a lot of shoes and don’t worry what they look like. I mean, c’mon we have to be a pretty secure breed with some of the colors coming out.
After bringing out a few dozen pairs of shoes, they may ask you to run around a bit on a treadmill or area of the store to see how you feel in your shoes. Is there too much cushioning? Is there not enough? Be honest with these guys since these beauties will be on your feet for upwards to 300 miles, depending on the shoe. You should make sure your toes have enough room laterally and aren’t pushing near the front of the shoe, as well as the shoe is low enough around the back so your heel won’t scrape as you run.

More and more online retailers are developing tools to get a good fit over the web, but I’d much rather go into a store and get real-time feedback from the shoes and a person (Full disclosure: I have bought running shoes online, but only multiple pairs of my current racers since I knew exactly how’d they feel and the model was being retired).

This brings me to my next point: What kind of shoes do you need? Are you a beginner who has recently bought a pair of shoes at a big box store because they were on sale (no no) and they don’t seem to fit right? Or, are you an experienced runner who is looking for running flats? If you’re the latter, you’re already on your way and have probably passed me in a race, so this post may not be that helpful, but feel free to read along.

Each pair has a different purpose

Overall daily trainers, tend to have more cushioning and should last you 300-500 miles (according to runningfit.com). Of course that will vary depending on the size of the runner and the conditions to which you run in. Here’s a nugget of knowledge, even in the closet your shoes break down. No, the running gnomes don’t come in your house in the middle of the night and race in your kicks, but humidity and climate can break down the foam cushioning in the soles leaving you with weaker shoes.
Saucony Ride 5 - Woman's Netutral Trainers. My wife says they're just the right amount of cushion (just like me)

Adidas Tempo - My go-to trainers. A little high off the ground, but good for big mile runs when it's hot

Mizuno Wave Rider 15s - Great for when my legs are tired. The wave design in the heel absorbs a lot of concrete

Which brings me to my next point, running in old shoes. Stop it right now. Stop it! While you may think you can get an extra 10 miles out of your PR wonders, most likely they are already dead. Listen to me I know this! I had a pair of red Adidas Adios that I must have put on 800 miles because I kept rocking races in them. My hubris overlooked the clear signs of worn out shoes and I paid the price with a stress fracture in my heel. When looking to see if shoes are worn out, one or more of the following may be present.

1. Pain, soreness or fatigue in shins & heels may mean the cushioning is kaput.

2. Try twisting your shoes laterally from the toe to the heel. If they twist easily, your midsole has broken down.

3. Excessive wear on the outsole of your shoe (also a good barometer of how your feet strike the ground).

4. When in doubt, go see your local running store guru and ask.

Back to trainers, they come in a lot of different shapes and have many different features, such as extra support on the heel or supports for pronation concerns. Want to know more about pronation, please go here Pronation Explained - Runners World as again, I’m not an expert on the matter.

Racers are another matter. They are for more advanced runners, tend to have a lot less cushioning so runners can feel the road, and typically last no more than a couple of hundred miles. My day-to-day trainers are Adidas Tempo, but on race day, I gear up with the Adidas Adios (you may have heard me gush on about my custom Goofy Adios). 

Adidas Adios - My race day monsters (I also have a pair of green "meanies")
I won’t get into minimalist shoes like Vibram Five Fingers or Adidas adipure Gazelle since I have never tried them. But, I do know going from traditional running shoes to these should not be a clear switch, you need to ease into them so your legs and feet have enough time to get acclimated to reduce potential injury.

One could write a whole book on running shoes, I’m sure there are a hundred out there, but I’ll leave you with a couple of tips that have helped me.

1. See someone who knows about these things. They will help you find the right shoes so you can enjoy running and worry less about the injuries from the wrong shoes

2. Be honest about how they feel. In some cases, stores will have a return policy so you can give them a real world test and then see if they are the right shoes for you

3. Don’t worry about color. No one cares what your shoes look like.

4. Rotate shoes. If you find a pair you like, buy a few based on your running frequency and swap out shoes to maximize their lifetime

5. Make a shoe calendar to help you gauge the life of your shoes, and mark the mileage and shoe each time you run (There are some apps out there that will help with this, but so will a notebook and a pencil)

6. Replace worn out shoes. Know when to say when.  You don’t have to throw them out (maybe they should go on your fireplace mantle for posterity, but retire them from the road).

7. Continue to evaluate your running and experience to see if you’re ready for different shoes. Maybe, it’s time to try out some flats, Speed Racer?
8. Find shoes that work for you. Don't worry about color or model (really, we runners don't care). Runners and running shoes are a personal bond, don't let others influence that because they look different. 

Most importantly, enjoy the run – with the right shoes, your run will be that much sweeter.



Do you have a favorite pair of shoes?  Let me hear about it!