Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Daddy shoe, momma shoe and baby shoe

Lots has been written lately about how as runners, we have become too dependent on big thick, cushy heals on our shoes.  Our adapted stride causes the heal to strike first, which while cushy, still sends quite a jar up into your leg.

Humans didn't evolve to run like this.  How can you tell?  Just take off your shoes and run barefoot in the grass. You don't slam down with a heal strike.  You land much more gently on the middle or front of your foot.

This growing awareness, combined with all the foot, leg and knee issues runners have, has kicked off a wave of different flatter, softer and less supportive shoes.  I have been slowly moving in this direction, unsure of where along the line the changes make sense and where they become silly fad.

First, my older running shoes, a pair of Saucony ProGrid Omni 8's.  Fairly heavy.  Lots of support.  A huge thick heal.  I like them I knew their design would encourage me to pound away and I already have enough knee problems for several people.

A month or two ago I bought a new pair of shoes, INOV8 Road-X 255's. These shoes are more like racing flats. They're thinner, lighter, with less structural support and a much lower heal. I have been using these for all my running lately.

At first I was worried that these would pound my feet until I learned to run softer. Eventually I realized that I already ran fairly softly. The easiest way to tell is to run up behind someone. If they can hear your thud-thud-thud over their iPod while you are still 50 feet away, you need to change your stride. I frequently run up behind people and scare them (not intentionally) because they don't hear me until I am coming around them. I have been able to do my 10 mile run without any more issues than I would normally have (from lack of conditioning). No sore feet and the knees are hanging in there.

And finally we get to today's acquisition. These ugly little things are what happens when you buy a Vibram Five Fingers Bikila at a huge discount because the color is a crime against humanity. I'll mud and grass them up quickly though.  Yes, they actually have toes in the shoe, so you look a wee bit like a chimp with neon feet.

These shoes are supposed to be like running barefooted but you have something to protect you from rocks, glass, and such. Some people actually run marathons on pavement in these things, but I only plan to use them for my speed work days. I always run on nice, well-kept Park City soccer fields for this. My experiment is to see if these things deliver on their promise of improving your stride and the muscles in your calves and feet so that I have fewer knee problems.

There are lots of warnings about people trying to run too far, too fast in these shoes without adjusting.  People complain about everything from very sore, tired calves to broken bones in their feet.  I plan to be careful and avoid any such issues.

If you would like to learn more about why this idea seems to be catching on, try here.  It is a Harvard web site and covers it from a perspective not motivated by selling you shoes.  For an easier read, try this piece from Runner's World.

More as I find out what works and what doesn't.
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