Tuesday, August 8, 2017

If The Shoe Fits

Finding the right running shoe can be a daunting task. Take myself for example. My favorite Hoka, "Huaka" was discontinued. I was at a loss. Several of the other Hoka models just didn't seem to work for my feet. I had previously run in the Altra Paradigm, so I tried that again. But, Altra did something to the sizing and my orthodic no longer worked in the Paradigm. So for about a year, I struggled to find a new long run shoe. Finally, I discovered that the Altra Bondi 5 worked for me. I'm now on my second pair and love them.
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All that struggle and I know my feet and the type of shoe I need. I have great empathy for new runners who know very little about their feet or what type of shoe they need. So, I've worked up 6 tips to help you find the right running shoe for you.

Tip #1: Know the Different Types of Foot Strikes. A runner can be a heel-striker, midfoot (flat foot) lander, or forefoot landing runner.

  • A heel-striker lands with his/her foot ahead of his/her center of mass landing on the heel first and can be neutral, over-pronate, or supinate (under-pronate). A neutral heel striker lands on the heel then the forefoot lands with an even follow-through as the runner pushes off with his/her toes. A heel-striker that pronates, tends to land on the outer heel first, then as the fore foot begins to land, the ankle drops inward and the runner tends to follow through more on the big toe rather than all of the fore foot. And a heel-striker that is a supinator or under-pronator, lands on the outer heel and tends to remain on the outer/lateral portion of the foot toeing off the outside of the fore foot. A neutral runner will typically do well with a neutral shoe with cushion. An over-pronator will typically need a stability shoe that has some type of arch support to restrict the amount of inward roll. There are various levels of stability from mild to strong. Just because you pronate doesn't mean you need a strong stability shoe. A supinator typically uses a neutral shoe with cushion too. A supinator does not need additional arch support which would only push his/her foot outward even more.
  • A midfoot or flat foot runner lands with his/her foot  underneath or closer to his/her center of mass. Because of this, a midfoot lander lands on all of the foot at once. This is why midfoot is sometimes referred to as "flat foot." Flat foot often has a negative connotation, but in running it's a good thing. Landing on more of the foot and not on the heel, often lessens the amount of pronation or gets rid of it altogether. It also lets the runner have more of a fluid push-off instead of a pull-then-push which a heel striker does. This more immediate push creates less impact and lets the body work like a shock absorber. A midfoot lander typically doesn't need a lot of extra support in a shoe because of the fact that they are landing on more of the foot all at one time decreasing or completely eliminating that heel-to-toe movement and chance of inward roll. Now sometimes a midfoot lander can still have ankle issues and may need some stability, but usually not as much as a heel-striker.
  • A forefoot lander is very similar to a midfoot lander in that the foot lands underneath the body or very close to the runner's center of mass, however instead of landing on all of the foot, this runner lands on the forefoot or metatarsals of the foot. Like the midfoot landing, the forefoot landing also lessens the amount of pronation or gets rid of it altogether. It also lets the runner have more of a fluid push-off instead of a pull-then-push which a heel striker does. This more immediate push creates less impact and lets the body work more like a shock absorber. A forefoot lander typically doesn't need a lot of extra support in a shoe because of the fact that they are landing on just the front of the foot. A forefoot lander typically needs a flexible shoe. Some may need some cushioning in the forefoot area.

Tip #2: Know the Deal About Drop and Stack: Drop and Stack are current buzz words in the running shoe industry. What are they and how are they different? Well, allow me to back up a little. The barefoot craze that began in 2009-2010 started researches and runners alike thinking about a more natural way of running. Since bare feet is not such a great concept for running shoe companies, they soon began to play around with minimalist shoes. Soon you saw everything on the market from shoes with toes to running sandals. Nothing wrong with these shoes and they are still around today, but they didn't seem to work for the masses. A traditional running shoe has a heel-to-toe drop of about 12 mm. This higher heel tends to promote a heel-strike. Midfoot or forefoot landing fosters more of a natural running form. Kind of painful just thinking about running barefoot and landing on your heel. So, since the minimalist shoe market wasn't meeting the needs of the majority of runners, shoe companies began playing around with still providing cushion and support, but with a lower heel-to-toe drop. Several shoe companies such as Saucony lowered many of their mainline shoes from a 12mm drop to an 8mm drop. This seemed to go over well and soon other shoes with even a lower heel-to-toe drop of 5mm or less began to appear. Altra is company whose shoes have a zero drop. They are completely flat, but unlike minimalist shoes with no support, the Altra still provides various levels of cushion and support. So what is stack? Stack refers to the thickness of the shoe's outsole. Often the term maximalist pops up when talking about stack. Hoka is a running shoe company that produces maximalist running shoes. These shoes have a thick stack meaning the bottom sole of the shoe is very thick providing maximal cushioning. But, this stack has a low profile meaning the heel-to-toe drop is very minimal (around 2-5mm). It's a fairly flat shoe with a tick sole.
If you are a runner who is wearing a traditional shoe with a 12mm heel-to-toe drop, and you're thinking about going to a lower drop shoe or a shoe with a lower drop and thicker stack, keep in mind that you need to transition into these shoes. These shoes are great, but you'll be using muscles in different ways when wearing these shoes and you need to allow time for your body to acclimate to the differences. Start with short easy runs of a couple miles then over the course of a couple weeks, gradually add a half-mile to a mile to runs building up to your regular running distance.

Tip #3: Visit Your Local Running Store. Go to your local running store to get fitted for a pair of shoes. but be a discerning shopper. You really can't tell what type of shoe a runner needs by having him/her walk. Walking is completely different from running. 99% of walkers are going to heel-strike (land on the heel first then follow through and toe-off.). Around 80% of runners are heel-strikers of some sort, so the chances of the clerk determining you are a heel striker are good, but what if  you are in that 20% who are not heel strikers? What if you are a midfoot or forefoot landing runner? Also the severity of pronation or supination can be very different between walking and running. So, if you're buying loafers, have them watch you walk. If you're buying running shoes have them watch you run. Running shoes are a big investment for most runners, particularly new runners who are not used to shelling out $100-$150 for a pair of shoes. So don't be timid. Ask questions. Also a good running store is going to allow you to try on as many shoes as needed to find the one that fits best and feels good to you. Notice I said "to you." If you feel you're being pushed into a particular shoe. Walk away. Recommendations are great, but the decision should be yours. Now keep in mind, if you're buying a pair of shoes because they're "cute," then you are all on your own. LOL! Make your purchase based on need and comfort, not style. I learned a long time ago that sometimes the shoe I need may be butt-ugly. But, butt-ugly and pain-free sure beats a tortuous, but cute run.

Tip #4: Let Your Feet Do the Shopping. Have an open mind. Best not to go into running shoe shopping thinking, "I want this brand or that brand." Let your foot pick the brand. There are some brands of running shoes, I think look really cool, but they just do not work with my feet.

Tip #5: Give Your New Shoes a Chance. New shoes are just that...new. It will take a few runs to break them in. If there is an obvious defect in the shoe causing discomfort, head back to the store, but otherwise, give them a few runs. Most stores have a good 60 or 90 day return policy even if you've run in them. Usually if you're returning shoes you've run in, they'll give you store credit.  Be sure to check out their policy before leaving the store.

Tip #6: Wear Your Running Shoes for Running. Typically running shoes are good for 300 to 500 miles. Whether you get 300 or 500 miles out of shoe really depends on the shoe and how quickly you break them down. Many running apps such as Strava allow you to keep track of shoe mileage and will email you a reminder when you reach a certain mileage. As mentioned earlier, walking is very different than running and will breakdown your running shoes differently than when you run in them. This can shorten the life of the shoe and can compromise the effectiveness of your shoes on the run. So, purchase a different pair of sneakers for knocking-around in and keep your running shoes for running.

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