Running Shoes – Lessons I Have Learned

Per the suggestion of a couple of readers, I have turned this post into a page to keep it up where new readers can read it.

Over the past few years, I have bought far too many pairs of running shoes – dreaming and hoping that if I can only find the “right” shoe that I will magically become the runner that I have always wanted to be.

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Guess what, it is bullshit.

I have deceived myself – have you?

Bullshit Factor

There has been so much marketing hype, bullshit, hugh, cry, bluster, hell believe it or not maybe even a few facts — in the news, magazine, ezines, blogs, forums and yes even on Twitter or Facebook about running shoes lately.

All those marketing brochures, magazine articles, blog posts, videos etc., on the virtues and/or flaws of minimal vs maximal vs traditional vs whatever the hell the writer or speaker can dream up to talk about the purported benefits or ineffectiveness of running shoes and how they can make you and I a better runner.

Then we get into buzzwords and stats like: drop, stack height, motion control devices, rockers, plates, athleisure, etc. Whether the listed stats and claims are even close to being accurate or if it is all just marketing drivel, driven by brands, retailers and the running establishment who are attempting to sell something.

The bottom-line is that the shoe that is perfect for one runner, is not the perfect shoe for another runner. Usually the hardest thing is to find the style of running shoe that works best for the way that you run and not have the brands change it on you, once you do find it.

To quote the classic line – “We are all experiments of one.”

What have I learned

Over the years, I have learned that there is no magical running shoe for me and that the best ways for me to improve as a runner is to:

  1. run consistently – the more uninjured miles the better, in other words training smarter is more important to being a better runner than what running shoes I am wearing.
  2. lose weight – getting rid of the extra 5-10-15 or more extra pounds of  fat around my waist and looking at what I eat, are far more important to running better, than the ounce or two that different shoes weigh.
  3. have an open mind – do not become or stay dogmatic in my approaches to running or running gear. We need to read, research, think for ourselves and be willing to go beyond our usual authors, friends, coaches, websites or brands for information related to running.
  4. that all the major brands have running shoe styles that I can or could run in – but it is true that I run better in certain styles of running shoes and I tend to stay with the brands that have those styles.
  5. BE COMFORTABLE – this is the most important thing, find a shoe that you run comfortably in – one that you put on and forget about. It can be tough to get beyond brand marketing, the salesperson’s prejudices or preconceptions, the running store’s limited selection and find the pair of running shoes that feel comfortable to you when you are running. No, this is not easy, yes you will try on many running shoes and spend lots of money, before you find the style of running shoes that allow you to run comfortably. Notice that I say style, not brand.

What do I look for in a running shoe now?

However, there are certain shoe styles that I have found work better for me:

  1. Different shoes for different uses – Yes, I do believe using a specific running shoe for a specific purpose works better than a single shoe for everything. Race day shoes are lighter and give me the psychological boost that I am supposed to run fast in them. One or two pair of daily trainers that eat up the miles, but are still light and comfortable are necessary. Trail shoes should be comfortable, but with enough protection and grip to keep me upright under most conditions. In other words have a rotation of 3-4 pair of running shoes.
  2. shoe upper design – I was diagnosed with a tailor’s bunionette on the outside of my right foot and know why I felt pain in that foot over the years. It was not just my over-active imagination. I now look for a wide toe-box, narrow heel cup, lower ankle wells and an upper with minimal overlays, a little stretchability and definitely no “straps” over my bunionette. In other words keep the upper as simple as possible.
  3. drop and stack height – a few millimeters of drop and stack height do make a difference for many runners, but probably not as much or maybe more than some runners believe or don’t believe. Personally, I have a range of drop (6-10m) and stack heights (heel 25-30 and forefoot 20-25), that seem to best fit my unique running style and feel more comfortable to me for daily trainers or trail shoes.
  4. Weight – the weight to cushion/protection ratio for me is important. I prefer a lighter, yet cushioned shoe and have pretty much stopped looking at running shoes that weigh more than 10 oz. I just do not enjoy running in heavy running shoes.
  5. shoe bottom design – I am a heel-striker and don’t see that changing any time soon. I prefer a shoe with a bevel in the heel and a forefoot that has a bit of a rocker, which in turn makes for a quieter ride and a smoother heel-to-toe transition. I just feel more efficient in this style of running shoe and I don’t feel like I am dragging my heel then slapping down with my fore foot, like I do with many traditional flat sole shoes.
  6. cushioned – I like firmly, cushioned running shoes, if that makes any sense – Boost midsole material is probably the best for me, although it gets heavy quickly. Ground feel is not all that important to me, protection is, but at the same time there is a line where the cushioning becomes too much and I know it when I feel it.

When I start looking for a new running shoe, I start by looking for a style that has these features or stats and go from there.

It does not mean that I will end up with a pair of running shoes that meet all of my criteria. However, it will probably be fairly close, when I walk out of the store or get the package in the mail, but this is where I start.

Although I gotta admit that sometimes, I get caught up in the marketing hype, reviews and recommendations that I read online or see a helluva deal on a pair of running shoes that I wanted try out and get them. I am human and the marketing and sales pitches are well done and I find myself being led down the garden path to a new pair of running shoes.

Which unfortunately, are not always the most comfortable shoes 50-100 miles later.

Which is why I have so many damn pair of running shoes lying around the house.

The reality is that

All runners are different, have different likes, needs and wants from their running shoes.

The primary purpose of  running shoes in my opinion, is to protect my feet from the ground, tar, concrete or whatever the hell I am running on, which in turn allows me to run more safely or comfortably than without them.

No I do not believe in running barefoot, other than in specific instances or a particular purpose, in today’s world – barefoot running doesn’t work for me.

While I believe that proper running shoe can make a difference (good or bad) for a runner, at the same time I strongly believe that I (and other runners) put too much emphasis on the importance of their running shoes and how much they actually make a difference.

I know that is heresy for an avowed running shoe geek to say publicly, but sometimes with all the emphasis, discussion and hype about the different running shoes and what they do, along with the brand’s claims, models, stats and styles, we forget that shoes really do not mean rat’s ass compared to what the runner is actually doing to improve as a runner.

This doesn’t mean that I and most other runners should not or will not experiment with running shoes that are different from what we presently are running in or those new ones the leading/cutting edge (we will). Who knows once in a while a pair of running shoes, might make some positive difference?

However, for me it means going forward that I am going to more selective about the running shoes I do buy and when I find those that work for me, be more willing to keep running in them until they do not or the brand screws up the “update”.

After all I am ever hopeful that someday, I will find that mythical Unicorn running shoe that works for me and then when the brand does its usual update, that they continue to work for me.

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