What’s in a Shoe?

Overwhelmed by the shoe choices at your local running store? Well, you’re not alone and if you shop online there are even more options. A common occurrence in the running community is that whenever we have a new ache or pain we blame our shoes. And yes, shoes can contribute to aches and pains, but we like to blame shoes because it’s an easy fix and it means it’s not us.

We don’t like to think it’s our training load, lack of strength, a muscle imbalance or some other thing that will take months to change. We want it to be something easy, so we can get back to running as much as we want as soon as we want.

This desire for shoes to fix our problems and make us the best runner possible has lead me to my next series of posts.  There will be a post on the following shoe features stability, heel to toe drop, and cushion. In each post I’ll cover things like will it reduce the risk of injury? Is it best for a certain type of foot arch, pronation, wide feet, foot strike? Is it best for a specific surface? Is it best for a beginning runner/experienced runner? And will they make me faster?

First, I want to cover some general shoe information. You should replace your shoes every 300-500 miles. The range can change depending on the durability of the shoe itself and on you as a runner, such has how hard you land with each stride. Running on the road will wear your shoes out faster than running on a trail, but the way you run has more of an impact than where you run. As you become a more experienced runner, you’ll know when your shoes are worn out. If you’re new to running, write down when you bought your shoes on the tongue of the shoe or on your training calendar and then after 200 miles go to the running store and run on their treadmill in a new pair of the same shoe you’re running in.

Owning more than one pair of running shoes and alternating between them is a good idea, but the upfront costs sucks. You can buy two pairs of the same shoe and get benefits because it takes about 24 hours for a shoe to fully recover from a run. So, if you run two a days, or you run with less than 24 hours between workouts you’ll have fresh shoes. It’s even better if they are different brands with different features.

If you are a runner you also have to think about what you have on your feet when you’re not running. You may be increasing your risk of injury by wearing unsupportive casual or dress shoes all day long. Replacing your everyday shoes regularly is important too. You can’t be walking/standing around all day in crappy shoes and then expect to stress your feet during a long run and be just fine.

Lacing your shoe up properly also ensures that the shoe is able to function like the manufacture intends. If they are too loose or too tight, they are not doing what you need them to do and they’re not going to work for your feet. If you can slip your foot in and out easily, it’s too loose. If you can pry your shoe off easily with the other foot, it’s too loose. If you feel tingling in your foot, it’s too tight. If the top of your foot gets sore, it could also be too tight.

Buying the right size of running shoe is obviously important for comfort and for functionality. Running shoes should be ½ to one size too big because your feet tend to swell during long runs. Many people have one foot that is longer than the other or a toe on one foot that stretches out further than on the other foot. Make sure you’re getting shoes that fit your longest foot, including its toes. They also need to be wide enough for your toes to splay (spread out) when you land and push off the ground.

If you wear orthotics in your shoes, make sure and take them with you to the running store because it will change they type of shoe you will likely buy. Orthotics or over-the-counter insoles provide support to your arch, a running store may recommend a shoe with more support if they don’t know you put in an orthotic or how much support the orthotic provides.

Happy running. Next up is Stability.

Feet and Running

Similar to our ankles, we don’t think much about strengthening our feet. It’s crazy that we spend so much of our life on our feet and they rarely get an aware thought, unless they are hurting and then we complain about them to no end. When was the last time you thought, “Good job feet! you worked hard today. You’re going to get some extra attention tonight.” Ummm never.
Runners have all kinds of problems with their feet: pronation, supination, flat feet, high arches, plantar faciitis,  blisters, black toe nails. We spend $12.00 or more for one  pair of socks because we love our feet so much and don’t even talk about how much our shoes cost. And yet, we don’t train our feet. Many don’t even actually wash their feet…
You can have incredibly strong legs, core and upper body, but it wont make up for weak feet. Over pronation or supination will misalign your entire leg and hip. If your arch collapses your knee comes in and your quad tries to compensate by pulling it out. This will lead to many different injuries and a very inefficient running form, aka wasted energy. Complete three sets with 10-15 repetitions of each of these, unless it gives a time and then do three sets of that time. If you aren’t able to do the full set that’s fine just back off to where you are and move forward again.
  1. Monopoly game.
  2. Chair on toes 20-60 seconds.
  3. Toe tug.
How to do it:
  1. Monopoly Game: put ten small objects on the floor like marbles, legos, or monopoly pieces.  Put a small cup near by. Use your toes to pick up each piece one at a time and place them in the cup.
  2. Chair on your toes: Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Hold your arms out straight in front of you. Rise up on your toes as high as you can and bend at the knees lowering yourself like you’re in a chair. Try to stay up as high as you can on your toes.
  3. Toe tug:  Toe Tug: wrap a exercise band around a heavy object and then around your toes while you’re sitting on the floor facing the object.  The band should be anchored straight in front of you.
As your feet become stronger, you may want to get re-fitted for running shoes. When I first began running, I wore a motion control shoe, but now I wear a neutral shoe. Why? because my feet are much stronger. Having strong feet can also change the size of shoe you wear. We talk about having a strong base or foundation when we are increasing our miles during training and a strong foundation begins with our feet.

The perfect shoe?

brooks pure

Flat feet, high arches, over pronation, supination, and heel striking, as runners we hear many recommendations on what type of shoe we need based upon our foot type, but what does the research say?

Thirty-five to fifty-six percent of runners are injured each year. The type of shoe you run in, has little impact on the frequency of injuries. That’s right my fellow runners, how often you are injured doesn’t have much if anything to do with the type of shoes you run in.

A research study done in North Carolina with 700 runners, all of which had been running for more than ten years, and who ran approximately 20 miles a week showed no difference in injury rate regardless of wearing stability shoes, motion control shoes, or cushion shoes, Gross (2011). There was also no difference in injury rate based upon heel, mid-foot, and forefoot strikers.

Everyone thinks that running injuries are caused by impact forces and pronation issues.  Pronation is looked at as being a problem because the extra rotation of the foot causes more rotation in the ankle, muscles and tendons. There have been a few studies, which show that there is no difference in injury rate for marathon runners who over pronate Wen et al. (1997), Wen et al. (1998), and Nigg et al. (2000).

There have been studies on whether or not motion control shoes actually stop pronation as well. The resounding answer is No they do not change the way the foot and lower leg muscles and tendons move Stacoff (2001), Bulter (2007), and Dixon (2007).

All right so pronation isn’t the culprit we thought it was, what about impact forces? The running community has long believed that the greater the force when you hit the ground the more likely you are to suffer from injuries because of the increased stress to the foot and leg.

Studies on whether or not cushioned shoes actually reduce internal and external impact forces show that there is little to no reduction in the forces, Nigg (2000).

Another study, Nigg (1997), showed that there is not a difference in chronic injuries rate between high impact runners and low impact runners. Nor does the type of surface you run on make a difference in injury rate. To make this even more confounding, impact forces increase bone density!

Why doesn’t  impact forces have an impact on frequency of injury? Because your body adapts to the surface it is coming into contact with Nigg (2000) and O’Flynn (1996). The idea is that when you impact the ground, your foot sends a signal to your brain saying how hard the surface is and your body adjusts using your leg joints (which act like a spring: hip, knee, and ankle).  There is also research showing that choosing your shoes based upon your arch height does not reduce injuries either Knapik (2009)

When  you have a cushioned shoe, your body just takes the extra cushion into account and remains more stiff through your leg. Regardless of the amount of cushion under your foot, you impact the ground with the same force because of the sensory feedback from foot to brain.

IF shoes don’t help prevent injuries, what does? Training properly by increasing miles slowly, no more than 10% a week. Misalignment of joints, think about seeing a chiropractor. Tight soft tissues, use your foam roller.

Okay, so which shoes should I buy? The ones that feel the most comfortable. Try on different types of shoes and go for a run around the block or on the treadmill for a quarter mile. If they feel good, buy them.