A View from the Top
Some Not Too Random Thoughts About Running Shoes And Injuries
When I started running in high school (’64-’67), we had these light rubber and canvas shoes. No support, no nothing, zero heel drop (the term didn’t even exist back then, I imagine). The JVs got black ones, the varsity got red ones. We were all always injured. I attribute this to running hard all the time, and not to the shoes. We didn’t know any better, besides, the XC coach was a cigarette smoking basketball coach in real life, and he didn’t know squat about running.
When I ran in college (’67-’71), we had Adidas and Onitsuka Tigers. Much more of a substantial shoe. Not zero drop but the heels were not that built up either. We even had a real coach. We were still injured all of the time. I attribute that to 85-115 mpw, most of it hard. And most on the roads and sidewalks of Boston.
After college was the Bowerman Era and Nike and waffle trainers. Those were cool shoes, some great new ideas, I recall how the heel flared more and more as new models were marketed, and even some shoes were literally too wide to really run well in (LDV’s, LD 1000’s). You would kick yourself in the back of the opposite calf as you tried to stride through. One year, I had these nasty, bloody calves after one 20K race out on the sandy trails of the National Forest off of Silver Lake Road. Later, New Balance entered the market, Adidas still had the lion’s share in Europe, then there was Saucony and Brooks and who knows who else? Heels gradually became built up and grew higher. We were still injured all of the time because we ran hard. I don’t blame the shoes.
I eventually went to lighter and lighter shoes from heavier motion control shoes to deal with my supination (that’s bowlegs, baby). That’s what the podiatrist had ordered (the motion control shoes), but I refused the orthotics. Everyone had orthotics, hard ones, then later, softer, more flexible ones. We were still injured all of the time because we ran hard. Most of us really didn’t need all of those orthotics, but the podiatrists marketed the heck out of them. They probably caused more harm than good for many runners.
Once, when I was visiting my daughter in Hampton, Virginia, I went to a running store, looking for these specific motion control shoes. The salesman, who was an experienced runner, said that motion control shoes were ill advised for me, and what I needed was just the opposite, to let my ankles and feet, legs and knees do what they naturally wanted to do. He was correct, and that was the best advice ever, and I haven’t looked back since then.
Over time I went to lighter and lighter shoes (just like back in ’64-’67!), even to minimalist NBs and even to Luna sandals. Inov8 came out with a line of really nice trail shoes (IMO) but the heels are a bit too narrow for me and I tend to roll my ankle when I run in them, so I do not run in them. I ran the roads in Spiras for a while and I sincerely believe the wave springs made my legs feel much better and recovery faster after long road runs. But they were expensive. I was injured less because I ran less than hard more of the time. I don’t actually believe it was the shoes, per se. I trained smarter. It only took 40 years to figure it out. (alternate theory: I became a wussy).
Anyway…I have come around about 180 degrees on the minimalist shoes, I personally need something more, not less. I think that if I had started earlier in the minimalist area, that minimalist or barefoot would work, but it has been too many years otherwise. Now I am running in Puma Faas 550s, and love them. I didn’t want heavily cushioned shoes. Those remind me of the first Nike Pegasus model, which felt lousy because it was a mush box. And the heel drop is relatively small in the Pumas. Perfect for me.
Anyway…I found a store selling Hokas, last week, in Asheville. I bought a pair. What the heck, except for the price. Hey, my legs really feel good in these, although I am using them for the roads and golf courses, I am a bit reticent to go out on the trails. They look clunky and heavy, in fact they are light but not exactly nimble. Not a fad, I think these folks are on to something. We’ll see how they hold up. Watch out for the knock offs soon to appear.
IMO, unless you have an extreme physical issue, it isn’t the shoes so much as it is that you stay injured to some degree if you run hard enough, long enough. It goes with the territory. But some shoes will definitely feel better to you than some others. Experiment around, but if you find something you like, stick with it. I always like to run in 2-3 different pairs of shoes each week, I think it lessens the particular stress caused by a specific model of shoe, from day to day.
Besides, if you find something you really like to run in, you can make book on the fact that the shoe company will change out the model next year and mess you up. So buy several pair if you can afford to.