Thursday, January 19, 2012

If the Shoe Fits...

Everybody has been talking about running shoes recently, it seems.  Upon a quick review, it appears the latest discussion began about the time the book Born to Run was published and started the most recent barefoot running fad.  A lot of people are experimenting, shoe manufacturers and runners alike.  If you've been running any length of time you're probably familiar with a lot of what has been published on the topic, so I won't repeat it here.  I'll just share my experience as a case study for your consideration.

When I began running regularly about 12 years ago, I think I just ran in whatever sport shoes I happened to have at the time.  I was heavier then, around 225 pounds, and had a lot of shin pain and ended up in a pair of Brooks Beasts after doing a lot of research on the 'net.  I also tried some custom foot orthotics during this time:  initially a pair of diabetic-style orthotics (They were free!) then a pair of semi-rigid orthotics fitted by a sports medicine doc.  I still had shin pain so severe that I was concerned about stress fractures.  I later changed jobs to another PT clinic where a fellow therapist did a little work on my feet and ankles.  Afterward, I removed the orthotics and never used them again.  I also changed shoes, switching to a New Balance stability shoe that felt like a hand going into a glove the first time I put them on.  It was like Harry Potter being chosen by his wand.  I ran in that same series of New Balance through last year with minimal problems and much success.

Prior to 2010-2011, I always changed running shoes when I started to get consistent pain or discomfort during or after running.  However, I changed my running pattern during the previous couple of years to more of a Chi or natural running pattern depending on your point of view.  After nearly a year in the same running shoe--and lots of miles--I still didn't have any pain.  So, I kept running in them.  This led me to think maybe a stability shoe is unnecessary, because the stability components of this particular pair have to be broken down providing little to no control of my foot.  The latest incarnation of the barefoot fad had begun about which I had read a lot and I was intrigued.  After running another 6 months or so in the same shoes, I took the plunge and bought a pair of Vibram FiveFingers.  I figured if I didn't like them for running, I could always use them for indoor rowing (I do, and they're perfect for it.)

There was certainly a break-in period with the VFFs--not for the shoes, for me.  I thought I had to land on my forefoot with them and did so.  This overworked my calf muscles, but they got stronger as I gradually increased my mileage.  My feet and ankles were a bit sore too in many of the small joints within them.  I overcame these challenges with time and realizing that I could safely land on my midfoot.  I gradually worked up to running 8 miles on the road in them.  Since then, I have also purchased a pair of New Balance Minimus 20s for cross training and a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves for running off road.  I may use them both on the road at times too.  At this point, I still descend slowly with the VFFs because I generally do so with a heel strike--ow-eee.  So, I think I might like one of the other shoes for hilly road runs.

Based on my experience, my personal advice is to go slowly with any minimalist shoe.  It might actually be better to work on your gait pattern first, then switch shoes.

My professional advice is to first ask yourself why you might want to run in a minimalist shoe.  If you decide it's a good idea, see above.

FYI: the research doesn't necessarily support our standard running shoe advice of pairing a running shoe with the runner's foot type.  This is the advice you'll get most of the time at a typical running store or from the manufacturer.  However, it's probably an acceptable place to start.  Then, you go with what works.  If you're bucking the standard shoe advice and you have no pain, your performance is good, and the shoes are comfortable, stick with them.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

No comments:

Post a Comment