Friday, August 26, 2011

Trial and Error

Getting the right running shoes was, for me, an exercise in painful trial and error.  Add to that the trial and error of finding the right socks - the right thickness, the right material, the right fit - and it can be an expensive and protracted process.

Back when I was a brand new runner, I went to a reputable running store here in Houston and let their staff help me select the right shoe.  I was clueless and totally overwhelmed by the bewildering number of brands, models, and styles.
He fitted me with a pair of shoes, a well-known brand.  The shoes were one of their best-selling models and were intended for over-pronators.  As it turned out, they were for the severe over-pronator and were what was considered, in those days, a "motion control" shoe.  Now, I never thought of myself as an overpronator.  My street shoes don't develop that characteristic "list" toward the inside that will happen when the wearer overpronates.  But, as I say, I was totally clueless and dependent on the store employee, a supposedly factory-trained fitter, to put me in the right shoe. 

I struggled with this brand and model shoe for three or four years.  And by struggle, I mean they beat my feet and toes up mercilessly in their effort to keep my feet on the "straight and narrow."  As soon as my mileage got up there, and the long runs into double digit miles, I started to experience blisters and calluses.  Nasty ones.  Blisters on the outside edges of my big toes and calluses and blisters on the sides of my feet just below the big toe joint.  I was also getting occasional blisters on the balls of my feet and on the undersides of my toes.  And then there were the black toe nails. 

I just assumed, since I'd heard others talking about their blisters and black toenails, that this was the price I paid for becoming a long distance runner; I thought that this was normal and to be expected.

Then, something wonderful happened.  Another of the well-known local running stores was having a special "shoe night" at their store, so I went with a friend to check it out.  They were well staffed in preparation for this event, and had two treadmills set up so that customers and fitters could assess a shoe's fit and function in real-life conditions.  Although I really didn't go there with the intention of changing to a new shoe, the set-up convinced me that it would be worth it to try.

The first thing the fitter did was put me on the treadmill in my current running shoes.  His immediate observation was that I was in the wrong shoe for my size, my foot, and for my gait.   "Why did you choose that shoe?" he wanted to know.  When I told him, he said that often other stores will put a new runner into this particular model shoe, for no other reason than that it's a safe bet for the beginner.  But it was all wrong for me; it was way too much shoe.  It was designed for a larger runner, for flat feet, for runners who have a strong heel strike when landing.  I'm none of these.

No wonder it was fighting my feet!  The fitter pointed out that I have a mid-foot strike, a high but very flexible arch, and a strong toe-off.  That motion-control shoe was preventing all of this very natural foot action from happening.   And being the 'lightweight' that I am, the shoe was much too stiff for me.  What I needed was a "neutral" shoe, one that would accomodate and flex with my foot as my high arch compressed through landing and toe-off.

He put me into a "neutral" shoe model (also referred to as a "cushioned" shoe) made by a different manufacturer.  It felt great in the store and on the treadmill.  It was noticeably lighter and much more flexible.  And out on the road??  It made a huge difference!  I stayed with this model shoe for the next few years.

Ultimately, this manufacturer came out with a line of shoes they categorized as "guidance" shoes.   There are other names for this category shoe, such as "structured cushioning" or "stability." While I was mostly happy with the "neutral" shoes, I didn't care for all of the cushioning.  I felt like my foot "rocked" too much inside the shoe.  So I moved over to one of the "guidance" models, one of the lightest shoes in their entire line.  When this model shoe was replaced with a new model a couple of years ago, I went with that replacement and love it even more.

Now my feet are very happy!   Why did I put up with those blisters and black toe nails for so long??

1 comment:

  1. I love reading about your running and the technical stuff, clothes, things that bother you. It is just like riding, which you did a post on as well, comparing LD running with LD riding.