Category Archives: Shoes

My running shoe collection

I want to show you the sizable collection of shoes I own and use.

I used to be a guy who’d buy one pair of shoes, and then wear them everyday until holes in the seams forced me to buy a new pair. It turns out you’re not supposed to wear shoes that often, but I had no idea.

My running shoes were an old pair of Avias that I kept for about a decade and had definitely long passed their expiration date once I got seriously into running. Parts of the sole had actually detached and fallen off, but I kept running in them whenever I needed running or athletic shoes.

After buying my first serious pair of running shoes (Saucony Ride 9’s), and learning a little bit about different types of training, I decided to buy a small variety of shoes to better suit that training: Some speed shoes, some trail shoes, some regular running shoes and a pair of racing flats.

I used them all liberally, and as they piled up miles and I increased my training volume I went looking for more upgrades, as well as needed different shoes for a wider variety of purposes. Over time I’ve assembled a sizable collection of running shoes. I became a veritable Imelda Marcos when it comes to running shoes.

Let me show them all to you, in the order that I acquired them:

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Shoes I prefer, and why

I never got into running thinking I would become a devoted New Balance wearer (or really loyal to any one brand), but suddenly New Balance became my shoe of choice.

Much like a path worn through the grass, preferring New Balance was a product of practicality and function.

  • I have a 2E wide foot, and many shoe brands don’t make a wide version of any sizes. New Balance sells a 2E size for most of their varieties, giving me a much better selection to choose from.
  • New Balance shoes tend to be lighter in weight than other shoes, which usually weigh around 10-13 oz. Many NB’s tend to weigh around 8-9 oz. Lighter shoes tend to have less cushion and support, but also weigh your feet down less and you do run a bit freer and more quickly with a lighter shoe.
  • Speaking of cushion, I like to have more solid contact with the ground, and most models have a lot more cushion and material between my foot and the ground than I’d like. I’m not interested in barefoot-style shoes like Vibrams: I do want to have a solid sole between my foot and the ground. But I want my foot to contour naturally, which it can’t do over a thick layer of cushioning.
  • Other shoes also tend to have a sizable drop of over 8mm. You do notice the difference walking on flat feet vs walking in most shoes… when you wear a shoe with a zero drop or a lower drop than 8mm. New Balances tend to have a medium drop of about 8mm, whereas most other models exceed 10-12mm.

And on that note, I come to Topo Athletic. Topos are not that popular in the United States, but I was turned onto them by British ultramarathon runner Steve Speirs, who swears by them in both his extensive training and his arduous ultramarathons. I finally gave Topos a try over the last few months, and I am hooked.

I still like my NB’s and fully intend to continue buying and wearing those, but Topos have a ton of unique advantages.

  • Topos are very durable for running shoes. I’ve logged over 300 miles on my Hydroventures and have noticed no dropoff in quality or appearance. Speirs and Topo reps themselves have vouched that such durability is typical, and most pairs last well over 500 miles of heavy-duty use before warranting replacement.
  • Topos are closer to zero drop, giving you more of a feel for contacting the ground similar to how you do in bare feet… without the lack of sole protection that comes with barefoot running. This more natural contact with the ground leads to a more natural stride. Yes, it does feel a bit weird and cumbersome at first when you’re used to more conventional higher-drop shoes. But as you get used to it the effect on your stride and running is a bit surprising.
  • The toe box of a Topo is naturally wide. Topo only sells their standard size models, and I was advised when I first shopped them I wouldn’t need to worry about having wider feet due to their spacious toebox. They were right! I find the standard Topos very roomy in the toe box, and they fit very well in a conventional size.
  • Topos are constructed very well as they tend to be used on longer trail runs and ultra-distance races. Only the lightest models tend to noticeably wear out after a while. Speirs himself often replaces most pairs once his toes finally begin to show through the front of the shoe, and that only tends to happen with the tempo-friendly lighter weight models after 500+ miles.

So there you have it. As I got serious about running I also got serious about what brands of shoes I prefer, and why. At some point down the road I’ll share my shoe collection and the role each shoe plays in my training.

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On foot pronation, and why I (mostly) don’t worry about foot support

When I decided to get serious about running a couple years ago, I went to a Roadrunner Sports store to get a good pair of shoes. I didn’t know nearly as much as I do now, but I knew the cheap worn out Avias I had run in for years were due for replacement.

I decided I would blow a good chunk of change on a legit pair of shoes. Knowing I didn’t know much I decided to get upsold: Sometimes I’ll let a salesperson take control of the transaction and sell me, knowing that if at any point I smell a rat I can quickly extract myself and leave.

And Roadrunner definitely tries to sell (it’s actually a key reason I avoid going to one these days; it’s like the Best Buy of running shoe stores). They have a stride test they do in part to upsell you some pricey insoles, and I went ahead and did it. They discovered that, while my left foot landed just fine, my right foot had a tendency to pronate (collapse inward) quite a bit.

I didn’t tell them this, but I knew that was in part to a bad right ankle injury I suffered in 2008. I’m fairly sure I didn’t break it because I was able to walk on it (albeit with great difficulty after it happened), but there had been lingering pain for years afterward, and I imagine that the excess pronation was compensation I had built it while recovering from it.

They offered to make me a set of $70 insoles that would address the issue, and knowing little at the time I took them up on it.

They brought out a trio of standard issue shoes and I settled on what felt the most comfortable to run in: The Saucony Ride 9’s. I still have those shoes and while they’ve piled up over 300 miles I do run in them from time to time.

The insoles felt better to run in at first. But when I developed come-and-go knee issues a few months later, I arbitrarily ditched them and tried running with just my shoes’ standard insoles. That ended up feeling better, and I’ve never worn insoles since.

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Over time I improved my running form, often in response to my recurring pain and injury issues. I suspect that played a role in why that pair of insoles, which helped me feel better when I originally used to, became a source of discomfort over time. They were designed to address a problem that I gradually shed over time.

That said, virtually everyone’s feet pronates in some way, and my right foot does still pronate to some degree. Since fixing my form I have had no problems regardless of what footwear I’ve used… with two notable exceptions. And they led me to retire two pairs of shoes I bought. Both were New Balance Fresh Foam model shoes.

A few months after that Roadrunner visit, I mail-ordered several pairs of New Balance shoes to suit varying running needs. Most of them I still run in today, but one of those pairs were a set of Fresh Foam Zantes. I not only noticed discomfort running in the Zantes that I didn’t experience in other shoes, insoles or not (I hadn’t yet ditched the insoles), but eventually I saw that my right foot naturally collapsed inward while walking or running in them. The shoes provided no side support, to the point where they formed around your stepping pattern.

I quickly retired the Zantes after less than 100 miles, and experienced no problems with the other shoes going forward.

Somewhat more recently, I purchased an inexpensive pair of New Balance Fresh Foam Cruzs after having read some good reviews, and seeing how stylishly the all-black shoes fit with work attire. They felt soft and okay to run in at first, but after a few runs I felt my right foot rolling inward more often than any of my other shoes. Soon after I began to notice the shoe’s form giving in the direction my foot was rolling, just like the Zantes.

Even though I still have the Cruzs, they’ve essentially been de-commissioned: I don’t do any serious running in them anymore. They may get used for an easy run here or there, or be worn with the right clothes in a non-running setting.

Basically, the New Balance Fresh Foam model clearly exacerbates any issues with my right foot, and could pose a great risk for injury. So it’s best for me to not wear them on runs.

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A lot of runners, shoe salespeople, doctors, etc., fixate on pronation and how to fix it, even though everyone walks and runs with some sort of natural pronation. It’s a natural flexibility built into our feet, and it’s similar to common illnesses like colds: While in some cases it may become a problem to where you need to treat it… most of the time it doesn’t require treatment, and many actually tend to overtreat it.

The body moves as a system, and any issues one may think a product of pronation may be a collective product of other fundamental issues: Running stride, lack of core mobility, overreliance on leg muscles like the hamstrings and quads, a lacking usage of the glutes, a lack of upper body and overall balance, etc., not to mention dynamic issues like overstriding, pushing harder than is necessary on runs, etc.

My pronation issue was, unbeknownst to me, a byproduct of other fundamental issues up the chain, with my stride, my muscle usage, my overall balance and so on. Fixing those helped fix any problems that contributed to any pronation problems… even if my right foot still tends to naturally give inward.

I don’t concern myself with foot support in shoes, because I realize the important thing is to improve how your body moves. The way you move can contribute to problems up and down your body, and supports are little more than a bandage or a pain medication for a greater problem. Insoles and supportive shoes would not eliminate the problem leading to my excessive pronation or ankle/knee pain. Improving my stride, however, would fix the problem while eliminating the need for the bells and whistles.

The last couple years in fact are the first time since my 2008 injury that I’ve felt no random or occasional pain in that right ankle. I imagine that lingering pain was in part due to form problems that once I ran seriously I worked on fixing. By fixing the stride issues, it eliminated the key contributing factor to that recurring problem… much like figuring out the source of an insect problem in your home and eliminating the source.

Now that I compared human kinesthetics to pest control, I will break this post off and move along.

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