One of the many things that occupy the minds of marathon runners, especially new marathon runners, is “What shoes should I buy?”
There is more theory, science, pseudoscience, and frankly, rubbish, written about running shoes than there is about almost any other facet of distance running.
When you visit a running store, you will hear lots of running shoe buzzwords – overpronation, supination, neutrality, etc. etc. Buying a running shoe has become more like a diagnosis than a decision in the past few years. While all these conditions undoubtedly exist, I feel that they may be overstressed when it comes to “prescribing” the correct shoe. By all means get a gait analysis done, but if you find the shoe you have been sold is uncomfortable, then I wouldn’t hesitate to try a different type.
Experienced runners tend to fall into very definite camps when it comes to running shoes, and can get quite animated about their particular beliefs – Barefoot Runners look at Hoka wearer’s as some kind of blasphemers, Hoka wearer’s sneer at the Nike-clad, zero-drop believers try to steer the cushioned to the path of righteousness.
I try to make it simpler – wear whatever works for YOU.
If you feel most comfortable tottering about in the high-heel monstrosities that are Hokas – do it and be proud. If wincing in pain every time you step on a pebble in your Vibrams is your thing, then off you go.
Me, I just want to be comfortable – as far as I’m concerned, there is enough pain involved in running long distances without getting precious about a shoe brand.
I have experimented with various brands – Mizuno, Asics, Saucony, Karrimor, Vibram, etc. and I have found that, so far, Mizunos seem to work best for me, and the type of surface I usually run on.
I run most of my training, and my races, on good old Irish tarmac – this isn’t your glass-smooth, pavement tarmac found in most places, it is a rough, pebble-dash surface, designed to withstand Atlantic gales, monsoon-level rains, blazing sunshine, and -10 degree cold. Sometimes all in the one day. It is tough on shoes, and tough on legs. For this reason I need a relatively tough shoe, and one that provides some degree of cushioning, however, I don’t like a shoe that gives the feeling of too much cushioning – I prefer to have good contact with the road, and have a degree of feel and feedback from my running.
I have used minimalist shoes (Vibram) in the past when I had achilles problems, and I found them useful for building up my lower legs and calves, and keep them for this purpose. You need to be very careful switching to minimalist shoes, and do it very gradually, over a period of months rather than weeks, to allow your feet and legs to grow accustomed.
One of the issues I have with the current (in my opinion) over complicated process of choosing a shoe is that a lot is often read into a gait analysis, carried out on a treadmill in the shoe store. I don’t know about you, but several things spring to mind for me about this process:
- My gait and running form has changed considerably over time – yet I am still comfortable using the same type of shoe I used when I started running – not sure what this says about gait analysis.
- My gait, when starting a run, is different to my gait when I’m warmed up, and into my stride – and I’m unlikely to get warmed up in 3 or 4 minutes on a slow-moving treadmill.
- I’m not sure, but I would guess that I run differently on a treadmill than I do on the road, and certainly than I do on a trail.
This makes me dubious about the effectiveness of gait analysis – add in that it is often carried out by a somewhat disinterested shop assistant, who may or may not know anything at all about running, and I would question it’s value.
My suggestion would be to try a few lower-cost shoe brands first, get an idea of the type and style of runner that suits you on shorter runs, and then move on to one of the more “prestigious” (i.e. expensive) brands as you increase your mileage. Incidentally, there is increasing evidence that more expensive brands of runners are no better than cheap brands. My experience, having experimented lately with some cheaper brands, is that the main difference is that the more expensive runners seem to take high mileage better, and the sole material seems to “rebound” better after a long run.
Mileage is another issue of some controversy – “experts” recommend you change your runners after anywhere from 250 to 500 miles of running. I’ve even seen people on running forums claim that they throw away runners after as little as 200 miles! This, to me, is madness – I would consider a good pair of runners just about run in after 200 miles, and would expect my Mizunos to last at least 800 miles – I ran a marathon recently in a pair that have clocked up over 1,000 miles. I throw away my runners (or at least relegate them to gardening duty) when I start to get knee or ankle pain when using them – this seems to happen after much less mileage in cheaper runners than it does with more expensive brands.
I have lost count of the number of times I have spoken to runners who are running in a shoe (often a very expensive one) that they find uncomfortable, but stick with because the “expert” in the shoe store told them it was the right shoe for their running style. Experiment – despite the fears of many, I’ve never heard of anyone getting injured because they didn’t buy the shoe they were advised to buy – try different brands and types, and find the one that works for you, and makes you happy – the guy who sold you the €250 pair of the latest must-have brand won’t be there to carry you at mile 25 if you get blisters because they don’t give your toes room!
One of the important points is that you should rotate your shoes – have more than one pair, and don’t wear the same pair day after day – this is important for the health of your feet, and for the longevity of your shoes. This allows the shoes to dry out, and for the sole material to rebound after the pounding it takes on the road. The longer the mileage you do, the more pairs of shoes you should rotate.
*UPDATE* Interesting article from the New York Times on choosing the right running shoe, which claims that most of our beliefs about running injuries and shoes are, in fact, myths (A theory I happen to agree with!).