For all you mayflies of the blogosphere: be warned – this post is about the tedious and boring subject of running shoes, gait, biomechanical efficiency and injury. If you stick with it ’till the end you’ll get some sort of moral (I hope).
When it comes to running and the fetishistic subject of running shoes you end up encountering a staggering array of opinions on what’s right and what’s verboten. But, after a few years of confusion you start to realise that opinions are like assholes – everyone’s got one (I was going to say dicks there but that didn’t work – unless only men read this blog).
Barefoot shoes, structured support shoes, custom-made insoles, €19.99 jobs from Lidl, €200 jobs from Hoka. Everybody you meet is some sort of evangelist for one choice or another; your general lack of enthusiasm for the subject makes you wonder whether you’re really committed to this new religion or not.
If you think about running as a new form of religion ( and God knows it has enough nutters involved to qualify as one) then your choice of shoes is your holy book: your Torah; your Bible; your Quoran; your Avesta; your Book of Shadows (I looked all of these up; they’re all real.) The distance you run or race is akin to your form of worship: 5k – 10 mile is Catholic – often and fast – while marathons are Protestant – long, boring and painful – and ultra marathons are Buddhism – transcendental.
Not having a firm opinion about your choice of running shoe is tantamount to heresy.
In order to circumvent this theological laxism I’ve spent most of the last 7 years running in a pair of shoes from new Balance that used to be called the 1060 series (1060 – 1064) and are now known as the 1080 series (v1 – v4). It wasn’t just the one pair; I’ve eaten up at least 15 pairs. New Balance suite me more that other shoes because they don’t take the skin off the inner arch of my feet like Asics, Addidas and Saucony have done in the past (i.e. I’ve got wide feet – a broad church if you’re still trying to connect this to religious themes).
These shoes represent the little island in the middle of the Venn diagram where you can get on with your mediocre ambitions.
The problem with using these shoes for so long is that I’ve never stopped, taken a step back and asked myself had I changed in any way over the 7 or so years I’ve been using them.
Apart from getting older and slower I had never asked myself a critical question like has the way you run changed in any way? Put another way I’ve never considered whether at least 10,000 miles of running had changed me biomechanically in any way.
A strange combination of curiosity, on-line reviews, some speed creeping into my running, my old shoes approaching the banjaxed mark and heavy discounting on-line saw me click “buy” a few weeks ago on a pair of road-safety neon yellow New Balance 1400s.
A few days later and the internet pixies had delivered them to my front door.
My first impressions of the shoes were that there wasn’t that much of them there. I was starting to wonder what I had paid all that money for when they weren’t really much more than a sheet of foam with a minimal upper.
I laced them up and headed out the door for my 10 mile run.
Then it became clear.
With so little shoe surrounding my foot I had to radically change the stride pattern from midfoot/heel to a midfoot/forefoot landing pattern. This in turn made running much more efficient which meant that for the same effort I was about 30 seconds a mile faster. 7:40/mile versus 8:15/mile and for slow work 8:05/mile versus 8:45/mile.
A way of conceptualizing these shoes is to think of someone (preferably a woman) who’d been wearing nun-knickers and a monster bra for 7 years and was now out and about in a spangly G-string and no bra. You have to suck in and hold yourself differently. But how long can you suck it in for? Do you really need the nun-knickers and is the G-string just a once-in-a-while thing or were you ready to go semi-commando all the time?
Whether I was ready to burn my bra or not comes down to something that is at the core of the whole running industry: What works for you and how do you know it works for you? Let’s assume you don’t have infinite funds when we try to answer this question.
Runners (the people, not the shoes) invariably exist in one of two physical conditions: Injured or recovering from an injury.
The reason for this is simple and has to do with not the body but the mind. Runners have generally got a deficit in one of the three areas required to continue to run and to enjoy it: The transmission, the engine and the control system (legs, heart and lungs and the mind).
Most people who become physically injured (as opposed to chest complaints or losing motivation) do so because the positive mental feedback loop that running produces encourages them to push their bodies into the area where they pick up injuries. They push themselves because they want to expand the boundaries of their own abilities (to test their limits) and this is all tied up with the spiritual and religious parallels that running attracts.
Running shoes are one of the ways that help you to stay afloat in the shark infested waters of the sea of injury. You’ll stay above water but eventually the sharks will get you.
With a poor control system your running is like a kid with his mum’s Toyota Starlet. You think it’s F1 while everyone else knows it’s more like an out of control shopping trolley.
So, controlling your mind so that your legs and core can build enough strength and having patience is the key to running injury free – and inherent talent but I’m assuming that most of us don’t have that.
But controlling your mind is oh-so difficult when you’re bombarded with messages promising you a svelte body and the ability to run to the moon on a sip of water and two brazil nuts. I’ve tried most fads except the vibram 5 fingers (mainly because I have an Emperor’s New Clothes problem with paying more and more money for less and less shoe) and in the end all I’ve felt is a creeping suspicion that I’ve been duped.
How do you resolve this? How do you know when to change? How quickly do you adopt? Why does my washing machine eat one of every pair of socks I own?
I can’t or won’t profess to know the answer to these or any other questions.For me what seems to have happened is that by focusing on ultra marathons for a few years I’ve been able to see beyond the puppy-like urge to run until I get injured. I’ve been able to see that patience really does pay off and less can be more.
This ability to control my will seem to have allowed me to deconstruct my running so that I can work on strength and then move onto speed (or distance – never both – I just don’t have the talent or the drive)
So, I’m able to run in my bright yellow G-string – My New Balance 1400’s – and not feel sore.
I don’t think I could do an ultra marathon in them but they have allowed me to have some confidence in my inherent strength to be able to test out some other simpler shoes (Hokas – I’m looking at you)
Would it work for you? I don’t know but if you recognise any of the patterns I’ve described in this post amongst the muddle of metaphors and analogies then you might be able to pinpoint where you are.