Sunday, August 16, 2009

It's All About the Shoes!

Lake Mileage: 5+k
MP3 Player: Torchwood: Golden Age (BBC)
Currently Reading: Strides (Benjamin Cheever)

Maybe the Wicked Witch of the West, Glinda the Good Witch, and Dorothy were right all along: you just can't get anywhere without the right shoes. A few years ago, my running was going well; I was putting in 4-6 miles/day, which made it a lot easier to control my weight and gave me much more energy. Then I let myself get talked into buying a different running shoe: the Brooks Beast, which is marketed to "heavier runners." Since I definitely fit that category, even when I was fitter, I thought using shoes designed for endomorphs might be a good precaution in my early 40's. For the first year or so, they were comfortable enough, but then in June 2007 I had a huge flare-up of my old enemy, Plantar Fasciitis - and somehow I managed to blame this on my own "over-training", without even considering the fact that I'd just started wearing the newest 2007 model of the Beast. Since then I've sporadically tried to get running again, but I could never build up any distance without the PF causing progressively more pain, so I always had to give up and settle for the elliptical or something far less satsifying.

This spring and summer have been no different. As you know if you've looked at previous entries in this blog, I've been trying to get back to running at the nearby lake with its 5k running loop, partly with the help of the Podrunner intervals. At first those were great because they didn't put any strain on me, but as they shifted the proportion of running (okay, jogging, shuffling, pick your word!) to walking, my lower legs and arches were starting to complain. Anything much past 3k of steady running/jogging would leave me sore, sometimes limping, and not sore in the good way of having sore muscles after a real workout, either. This was a bad kind of sore, the kind that's warning you about being headed for serious problems. I was happy that I could at least cover the whole distance, but I still wished I could run/jog all of it, and I could foresee that soon I wasn't going to be able to keep up with the Podrunner's pace. I was doing this, of course, wearing this year's version of the Brooks Beast (I never bought the 2008), which I'd bought - ironically - for maximum protection, in an effort to cure the PF.

Then a couple weeks ago, I happened to be glancing through an old issue of Runner's World. An article about shoe selection said something about how the Beast was one of the good shoes for the runners built like me (they like to call us "Clydesdales"), because heavy runners nearly always over-pronate - that is, we roll the foot inward when we stride, putting lots of weight on the arch of the foot. The Beast compensates for that by being what's called a "motion-control shoe." This kind of running shoe is rigid and engineered to correct that inward roll, shifting the runner's weight outward away from the arches. Readers could confirm that they're over-pronators, the article continued, by looking at the wear pattern on the inner soles of their own broken-in shoes.

Well, guess what happened when I felt curious enough to check out my shoes? On every single pair I looked at, all the wear was on the outer edge of the shoe; on the running shoes, it was absolutely obvious that I push off at every stride with the outside of the foot, digging in with the last couple toes rather than the big toe. My foot doesn't roll inward at all when I stride.

This was when I began to wonder if the Beast was helping me or hurting me. If I already tend to supinate, wearing a shoe that effectively causes extra supination (to correct pronation) is going to exaggerate the imbalance rather than neutralizing it. Maybe this was why I couldn't seem to run even 5k without the various pains starting? Maybe the arch supports were stretching and hurting my arches instead of supporting them? Maybe the 2007 Beast was even the reason for the sudden return of my PF?

So I did more research, and decided to try a different shoe: a "neutral" shoe that's not engineered to correct a runner's motion, and one with enough cushioning to take my weight. I found a sale with a great price on the Nike Air Pegagus, now 25 years old, which was one of the first expensive running shoes I ever bought in college! (I seem to recall a pair of Saucony Jazz in there, too, but the Pegasus was definitely my favorite then.) The Pegasus is a straightforward neutral cushioned running shoe, I remembered liking it back when Reagan was president, and the price was definitely right. More important, I had the gut feeling I was onto something.

Well, guess what?! On my first run at the lake wearing the Pegasus, I intended to run the first 2k, walk the third (and middle) kilometer, and then run the last 2k. When I got to the 2k mark, though, I felt so pain-free for a change that I decided I'd keep on running, wait to walk at the 3k mark instead, and then run the last kilometer. That seemed like a fair plan, but I still felt fine at the 3k mark, so I decided I'd run the first 4 kilometers and just walk the last one for a cool-down. But again there was no trace of pain at the 4k mark - which meant that I ran the entire lake loop for the first time in over 2 years!

A few more runs confirmed this: the pain I was having whenever I ran wearing the Beast just didn't happen when I wore the Nikes instead. Once I knew that, I decided to trade up beyond the Pegasus, to the Nike Vomero, which is their top-of-the-line neutral cushioned shoe. So far they feel great!

Maybe it really is all about the shoes.

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