Remember in middle school when buying gym shoes was so easy?
Step 1) Walk in to the sporting goods store
Step 2) Find the coolest/best looking/whatever floats-your-13-year-old-boat shoes
Step 3) Whine until your parents break down and buy them in your size
Yeah, I wish it was still that easy.
There is so much conflicting information out there about what kind of shoe you should be in or avoid. Some people swear that all pronation should be controlled, while other say only extreme pronation should be controlled. There are lots of well-meaning articles out there touting the dogma of pronation control, and this has been the accepted practice for a long time now. New(er) research says that you should just buy the shoe that’s the most comfortable to you, regardless of what it’s specs are. Then there’s the minimalism vs. maximalism debate (not to mention the myriad options on the spectrum in between). Then there’s the colors. I know “they” say color shouldn’t matter, but I’m sorry, it does. Clashing is lame, no matter how fast your mile. #sorrynotsorry
And that’s not even taking into consideration the people who argue that people shouldn’t even run in shoes!
Geeze, that’s exhausting…
Admittedly, I have long been of the mindset that even though your feet may over-/under-pronate, most people don’t “fix” that in their daily lives. Your body adapts to whatever your quirky gait may be by adjusting accordingly throughout your life. If I don’t “fix” it in my daily shoes, what impact will “fixing” it have on my natural mechanics and what might the unintended consequences be? Basically – if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Of course, as soon as persistent injury – or even a single injury that can’t be assigned to a particular, acute event – enters the picture, it’s time to re-evaluate.
For the last three years, I’ve been running in the Brooks PureCadence line – a 4mm drop shoe with moderate cushioning and a smidge of stability. I ran in the 1st gen and 3rd gen. I have loved these shoes since day one. Truly. They served me well through so many races and were wonderful through the half marathon distance.
However, when I decided to take on the marathon, I considered switching it up for two reasons: a) more cushioning for the greater distances, and b) a higher drop to help my persistently achey achilles.
Given my past experience with finding new shoes, I was pretty nervous to go through the
ordeal process again.
Several weeks ago I met with a physical therapist (who is now my new PT), who recommended trying out an 8mm or 12mm drop to help my achilles, when I came hobbling in to her eval clinic. I first tried the Saucony Guide. They didn’t feel awful, but they didn’t feel great. And they irritated old shin splints which had been behaving for the last year.
So I took them back and exchanged them for the Mizuno Wave Inspires. (They clearly didn’t leave much of an impression on me – I had to go look back at my receipts to remember which pair came second!) They were nice shoes, but the rise on the shoe was really high and irritated my ankle bone.
Sooooo I exchanged them for the Asics Gel Kayano. This is a well-known powerhouse shoe that tons of people have had success with. It must be good – it’s in its 21st iteration. Third time’s the charm, right?? It’s a 13mm drop and super, super cushy. Honestly, they felt like slippers when I tried them on. I took them out for a hilly long run, but had to switch out of them halfway through – although they made my achilles feel amazing, they were causing some serious pain in my left forefoot on the uphills and flats. The pain got so bad that I switched back into my PureCadences halfway through the run, willingly sacrificing my achilles’ comfort for my forefoot’s comfort.
After this experience, I think I figured out what the problem was – too high of a heel-to-toe drop, along with too-cushy of a shoe, seems to cause the excruciating forefoot pain. So back to the (oh-so-amazing and accommodating) running store I went, for option #4. Brooks Ravenna. Cushioned but not squishy. Slightly lower 10mm drop. Supportive with a noticeable arch. I took them out for a spin on the track and they felt okay, so I decided to run my 18 miler in them. The arch support was higher than I’m used to, though, and that caused foot and leg discomfort for the first several miles, and then around mile 7 the forefoot pain came back and didn’t go away for the remainder of the 18 miles. Hoping that that was just because we were running on such a hard surface, I ran one more track workout in them, but no dice. Plus, they absolutely destroyed my feet! The 4th time was not the charm, either… *sad face*
I spoke to one of my coaches, who is also the manager of our running store, about all of the issues I’ve been experiencing and all of the shoes I have been through and she recommended the Saucony Zealot. It’s a lot like the PureCadence – lightweight with a minimal drop – but it has a cushier (but more adaptable) ride. It’s technically a neutral shoe, but has a flat, solid sole that doesn’t allow for a whole lot of motion. I took them out tonight and so far they feel good (*fingers crossed, knocking on wood*), but I’m not getting my hopes up just yet. Having been in the higher drop shoes for the last several weeks, my achilles is feeling better than it’s felt in a year (yay!!) and I’m nervous about returning to a lower-drop shoe. Plus, they are kind of squishy, which makes me nervous.
So next time you’re due for new shoes and plan to go in to your LRS for a proper fitting (something which, despite all of my opinions, I still totally support), be an educated consumer. The fitter may be an expert on shoes, but you’re an expert on you. Only you know what works and what doesn’t work for you. Only you know what feels comfortable and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to question them or speak up if something just doesn’t feel right. And don’t be afraid to take full advantage of their return/exchange policy. Trying out shoes is part of the game – don’t feel guilty about putting mileage on shoes and then returning them. Running shoes are no small investment and can totally make or break the running experience. It’s so important to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth – and getting the best experience for your feet. You can’t #findyourstrong or #runhappy if your feet hurt. 🙂