On how the body uses energy during a race, why runners hit the wall in a marathon, and what can be done about it

A key fundamental issue with the marathon is that the distance is farther than the human body can capably race in one go without consuming fuel during the race.

Long story short, aka I’m about to paraphrase a ton of science without citing any sources:

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Ideas on how to improve US health care coverage

Right now millions of Americans are paying an exorbitant money for health insurance they barely use. They go to the doctor about as much as I do (and I am grateful for how little I need the doctor). They take care of their health with a good diet and lifestyle, and therefore never need to see a doctor for anything other than necessary procedures or serious problems.

We all certainly want to have health insurance if something awful happens to us and need to go to the hospital… albeit for many this comes at the expense of a $6000+ deductible. So even if you do use your insurance, the threshold for it to activate is so high that you may as well not even have it most of the time. Of course, the (however well meaning but) ill-advised Affordable Care Act has mandated that Americans buy this pricey, mostly useless insurance.

In large part this is because (aside from cancer care, a predatory-posing-as-compassionate industry whose modus operandi is a whole other can of worms I’m not getting to) we’re financing the legal drug addiction and hypochondria of millions of Americans, as well as fueling a US medical industry that has leverage to overcharge all of us.

What would be more useful is something akin to a fixed indemnity plan, where:

  • If you need to go to the hospital, basically everything is covered from the first dollar by your policy.
  • Since you don’t use much of anything beyond that, it doesn’t cover any basic health care.
  • If you can contibute to an HSA that can cover those occasional non-emergency doctor visits, then that can cover your basic health care bases.
  • Flat-Fee Health Care: You have the option to pay something additional like $20 a month for a membership providing affordable access to a quick care medical facility or network that can cover basic care and added procedures for additional nominal fees. This would offer easy, affordable access for people who need regular health care more than others.
  • Health Insurance should be like auto insurance: The less you use it, the less risk you present of using it, the lower your premiums should be for any amount of coverage. When you use it more than others, your premiums can be subject to increase.
  • I realize this sucks for the chronically ill, but this gets into topics beyond the scope of this post such as the future of medical tourism, medically induced emigration, and likely new niche business or angel-invested models for chronically ill health care coverage. Basically, the current US health care coverage model is unsustainable, and we’re moving towards various new models for healthcare anyway.

I’m not holding my breath for such a solution. But I think if the ACA is salvagable and could use a fix, it would be a shift to something like this.

As I get older, I will probably look to emigrate to a country with universal government-funded health care, or safe and very affordable health care. Paying the exorbitant premiums for health insurance in this country, especially for what little you get in return, isn’t acceptable.

I don’t see the US finding a good health care coverage solution for the working class anytime soon, and no: I don’t believe single-paying or universal health care is a realistic possibility here.

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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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Harassment, and why I avoid the Lakefront Trail

I’d like to share a personal fun fact that is not fun: I get directly, personally harassed in Chicago multiple times per day, every single day. And not in the celebrity “I like you” sense but in the “I hate you and people like you” sense. Since I’m a man with long hair, among other distinct features, I become a friendlier target to harassment in Chicago than many others.

It’s usually basic harassment like this:

  • People in cars intentionally try to run me over when I cross streets, going as far as to sit idle as I approach and time it so that they make the attempt to hit me as I cross a crosswalk or intersection.
  • People approaching on the sidewalk, even though I always stay to the side and leave room to pass, try to drift into my path and attempt to bump or otherwise obstruct me.
  • Men suddenly powerwalk to approach behind me on an empty sidewalk, whether because a) due to my long hair they think I’m a woman and they’re predisposed to harassing women, or b) they know I’m a man, and just want to intimidate/harass me because they think it’s wrong I exist the way I do.

I offer the necessary caveat:

  • Outside I keep to myself, mostly stay to the right side on sidewalks/paths, and avoid unduly obstructing any pathways. I give way for others when useful.
  • I avoid areas prone to bad behavior, like River North or key parts of Wrigleyville on a Saturday night.
  • I’m not going out of my way to engage anybody unless engaged. All of this behavior is unsolicited and initiated by others.
  • And these are not vagrants or clear mental-illness cases. These are normal people, typically men, and of various races/backgrounds/ages.
  • This has happened pretty much daily (I’m kind of surprised when a day ends and it hasn’t happened at all) since the day I arrived in Chicago at the end of 2014.

All of this kind of misleads how much I worry about it: At this point I’m used to it and it’s just a regular, occasionally annoying part of life. I abhor bringing it up at all: It amounts to little more than complaining, and it’s something I have no real control over. It’s a city-wide phenomenon (one I don’t ever experience to this degree anywhere else, not even NYC or LA), it happens to a lot of people, the Chicago police do not address harassment unless someone has been directly assaulted or threatened (and even then they won’t bother doing anything half the time, or will make it a huge hassle for you to take any action).

Basically, there is nothing of use anyone will do about it. All I can do, and do, is exercise awareness when outside, know when/how to take evasive action when it’s approaching, and avoid it.


I bring it up because it also happens when I run, and it turns out harassment on the Lakefront Trail is a huge problem, an elephant in the room no one has ever shown any serious interest in directly addressing. This definitely affects many runners in Chicago, and probably a lot of people in general across the board.

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On marathon cheaters, the Boston Marathon, and the importance of Derek Murphy’s Marathon Investigation

Every year, following applications, the famous Boston Marathon (which requires non-charity-runners to run a tough qualifying time to automatically qualify for their race) amends their quaifying time after the fact as a cutoff. They simply cannot accept every submission that Boston-Qualified (BQ’d).

This year the Boston Marathon’s amended cutoff for the 2019 race was close to 5 minutes faster than their posted 2018 standard at 4:52, a full 91 seconds higher than last year’s cutoff.

5 minutes may not seem like much to an observer: “Just run a bit faster next time”.

  • There’s nothing you can do about your application this year. You can only try to qualify for next year’s race, whose benchmark has yet to be set (and will likely be even more difficult)
  • When you run a 26.2 mile race as fast as you can, finding a way to run that whole race just a minute faster, let alone 5+ minutes faster, is for many impossibly difficult.
  • Preparing for and running a 26.2 mile race is extremely tough. It’s not like a 5K where you bounce back in a couple days and could run one again right away. Most runners require 2-4 weeks or more to recover from the physical damage of running a marathon, which the human body was not designed to do. (In fact, in the historical origin story of the race the guy who ran the distance to warn generals of an impending battle… dropped dead at the end)
  • Anyone who has run anything close to a marathon, let alone the actual race, would understand how insane the idea of lopping 5 minutes off a well-executed PR can be.

Okay, that sucks, you say. A lot of people want to run Boston, and the Boston Marathon has got to cap who gets in. That’s tough, but fair.

There’s one big problem: Many of the people who got in this year… cheated to get in. And every year, countless runners who BQ in another marathon did not do so legitimately. That wouldn’t be a big deal… if by illegitmately getting in they did not deprive another runner who legitimately BQ’d.

How do people cheat?

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Some thoughts on why I believe it’s perfectly acceptable to do nothing but short runs during a 14 day marathon taper

According to the Hanson Brothers, it takes approximately 10 days to see adaptive results from a hard training session. So any challenging training within 10 days of a marathon will not produce any new benefit by race day.

Because non-injury muscle damage from harder workouts can take up to 14 days to heal, working out hard or long enough to cause that damage within 14 days of a marathon only hurts your performance since the damage may not heal in time.

Therefore you want to avoid any challenging workouts within 1.5 weeks of a marathon, and want to avoid any lengthy, damaging workouts within 2 weeks of said marathon. Basically, no long runs or max intensity speedwork within 14 days, and no speedwork within 10 days.


The big mistake most make with a taper is to take more days off than before and to reduce intensity along with reducing volume. They go too far with tapering by tapering everything about their training, instead of just the volume.

By various accounts, most who actively taper get to the line practically rusty from sudden, extreme undertraining or lack of training. You still want to train as regularly as before, just without all of the volume or any high intensity.

Of course, you don’t want the shorter runs to be TOO intense, or else you’ll do damage that won’t be repaired by race day. So the key is to do less volume, but at a greater (albeit minimally damaging) intensity than before.

Ideally, your easy running has been at a truly easy pace. If you do your regular runs at too hard of an intensity, it’s harder to to taper at a higher intensity without entering a danger zone. But then again, if your regular runs were indeed too intense, you probably have gotten injured or burned out, or been forced to take many days off, between week 1 and the taper.

The ideal intensity middle ground? Marathon pace! The Daniels’ theory is that during a single workout you can handle M-pace at up to 20% of your weekly training load. It should be a challenging but easily sustainable pace, what some would call medium or moderate intensity, and during a shorter taper run there’s no way you should get anywhere near the Daniels’ recommended 20% volume max.

If you’ve done marathon tempo runs during your training, none of your shorter M-pace taper runs should be any longer than the shortest sustained tempo run. Otherwise, a good imposed limit for any M-pace taper runs is 30 minutes.

If I have a planned mileage for a day that would take longer than 30 minutes at M-pace, I just do most of that run at an easy pace and then do 5-15 minutes of M-pace running at the end.

Jonathan Savage goes as far as to recommend that during a taper all running should be at marathon pace. That can work, though I find that approach a bit restrictive. For this taper I started by running easy with a little bit of M-pace running early in the taper as volume was still close to my typical training. Then I increased M-pace running as the race draws closer and my volume tapers to its lowest.

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My current three-phase taper workout

I assure you that at some point I’ll go into my complex taper schedule methodology, which is way beyond the scope of what I’m going to share here instead.


Basically, for my marathon taper I’ve fallen into a daily workout schedule that follows three distinct phases, all of which are pretty easy for me.

  1. Leave work and immediately start an easy run towards the gym. This can be brief and allow for a train ride or a walk if desired, but this week I have run the entire way to the gym. From where I’m at this is about 2.5-3.0 miles depending on the route I take.
  2. After arriving at the gym and walking inside, I get on the treadmill, set it to my desired marathon pace and run for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on what mileage I’m planning to run that day. This is a straight tempo run: No intervals, no phases, just that tempo until I’m done.
  3. Get off the treadmill and go lift weights following a reduced version of my weightlifting plan: Each day I focus on a different muscle group, and do a full workout when I get to that particular muscle group. But for every other group I just do one simple set of 6 reps at a minimally challenging weight (just heavy enough to actually seem like a workout). With the focused section, the whole workout might take 10 minutes but usually takes more like 7 or 8.

After that’s done, I walk out of the gym and either go to the store for food, or go home. Simple as that.

I have felt quite refreshed by the end of the workout the last three days. I haven’t run more than 4 miles each day, though a good chunk of those miles have been at manageable-but-demanding M-pace.

I’ve also still been walking a considerable amount, before during and after work. In fact, instead of catching the bus I’ve just walked the 1.5 miles home most days this week. This is a relaxing coda to the workout, and provides some extra calorie burn ahead of cooking dinner once I return home.


Regardless of how you desire to structure your taper or easy weeks, this might be an approach worth considering. Despite lifting weights every weekday, I don’t feel sore in my upper body, since most of the lifting is low-pressure. And the faster running on the treadmill, while demanding during the run, hasn’t worn me out overall.

Some running experts could argue I’m cutting mileage TOO much if I’m doing nothing but 2-4 mile runs. But, to be honest… having tapered for previous races in a fuller conventional schedule, and having taken extended light-training stretches during prior training… I find a fortnight of light volume doesn’t wipe out my stamina at all.

In my previous experience, in fact, I’ve taken long runs after 3 weeks of short runs and days off and found I had tons of energy throughout the long run. The only reason I haven’t taken days off this time around is because I find I lose some sharpness when I do take days off, but I can maintain energy and sharpness even without days off if I just reduce the volume. A steady diet of short runs has done me good.

Now this weekend, in lieu of a long run, I’m going to skip straight to the treadmill and give it 20-25 good minutes at M-pace, both days this weekend. I’m starting to feel more comfortable with the pace, and by next weekend I’ll be looking forward to running that pace, outdoors, for a lot more than just 3 miles.

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Bake and Run: A quick run while dinner bakes

I’ll preface this by saying the timing’s a bit weird because this isn’t really a thing I’m doing at this time, though I did it quite a bit during training: I’m in the middle of a pretty specifically outlined marathon taper plan that’s going quite well so far, for reasons I’ll get into soon (provided, of course, that things keep going well).

So, let’s say you haven’t been able to run on a given day, or you ran earlier in the day and could be up for a recovery run or to work in some extra miles.

You’re home and you’re baking dinner. Once everything is prepped and your main dish is safely in the oven, you’ve got about 20-30 minutes to kill.

Often I’ve found this is the perfect time to throw on running shorts and some shoes and sneak out for a quick run. I can get in a quick couple miles around the neighborhood and get back in the apartment before it’s time to pull dinner (or stir or turn over dinner, whatever comes next).

Even when I wasn’t on my current run streak, I found going out for a quick run while dinner baked was a great way to sneak in a run, even if I didn’t necessarily plan to run that day.

Perhaps I had an easy day, and more energy than expected. And I didn’t want to risk not being able to get to sleep because I wasn’t particularly active.

Or maybe I did plan to work out, and for various reasons the day got away from me. Or the weather didn’t cooperate and I couldn’t get a planned run in. Or so on.

Either way, the run also provides an added benefit: Having just exercised, my body is in that primed within-30-minutes window to take in carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients, adding value to the dinner I was cooking.

There’s a variety of reasons why I could use a quick, easy 2 mile run in the evening. And often when cooking dinner, I have time to kill while dinner bakes.

So why not go outside and get a quick run in?

P.S. “But what about showering?” So the run actually led to breaking a sweat and you need a shower? Just shower after dinner and clearing the table. Easy.

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An Idiot’s Guide To Safe, Effective Running Form

One of my keys to reducing, even (fingers crossed, knock on wood, ban all black cats) eliminating injuries, has been ongoing work on my running form.

In March 2017 I had to pull up and back out of a speed workout before it began due to knee pain when I ran, a recurring issue. Having plenty of subsequent time to think about it (since I was obviously not running much while it healed up), I read various sources on running form and took a good long look at the details of my own running form.

Gradually I adjusted the way I ran in workouts until I was able to run regularly, pain or not, without aggravating the condition.

In fact, not only did my recurring knee issues pretty much disappear over the following months, but residual discomfort from a 2008 ankle injury (which remained a come-and-go issue during my recent time running) disappeared and never came back either.

Over the past year I’ve built up my running volume from 20-30 miles per week to around 35-50 miles a week during focused training, without any injury problems or nagging pain. And I train harder and longer in key workouts, more often, than I ever have before.

Anyone who knows me can see I’m no Adonis with magnificent body structure. I have at best an ordinary-looking physique for a guy in reasonable shape. I’m not avoiding injury by being physically gifted. In fact, once again, I dealt with nagging injuries until I fixed my form.

Regardless of what shape a runner is in, even the best and hardest training athletes seem to get injured a lot, even with far more resources available to them for recovery and training.

Meanwhile, I’m an idiot who runs home in his work clothes. What exactly am I doing that works? Do I think I have an idea?

You bet I do.

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My running workout principles

Here’s how I approach a run in general, my tactics and mindset before I head out on any run, how I plan a run and subsequently carry it out, etc.

Since this encompasses just about every facet of a variety of running workouts, this is going to go a bit across the board.

When possible, multi-task a run

Most of my runs are destination runs rather than round trips, meaning it starts in one location and ends at a different location I wanted to go to for unassociated reasons. For example, most days I run home from work. This is a destination run intended to commute me home from work, and the commute isn’t necessarily the primary purpose for the run.

I’ll warm up for speed workouts by taking an easy run to the workout site from home, and then I’ll cool down by running back home from the workout.

I have season tickets to Loyola Chicago basketball. I’ll often run to the campus for games, then possibly run home after the games.

None of this is breakthrough science. A lot of people do this sort of thing, I’m sure. But I make a practice of it, rather than do it incidentally.

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My cooking principles

This past weekend I experimented with an old childhood staple: Hamburger Helper. I cooked the Cheeseburger Macaroni blend, using a pound of ground beef and whole milk. I housed the whole thing and eating it felt equal parts good and disgusting. It was a great way to get a bunch of beef in me quickly, but I don’t think I’m going out of my way to do that again.

Part of that is I don’t eat as much processed food as I used to, let alone not nearly as much as most people. So my system doesn’t agree with a lot of it as much as the next gut.

On average I eat clean from food that’s whole and/or prepared at home at least 80% of the time. While I’m not opposed to delicious processed food like pizza, hamburgers, donuts, chips, etc, I mostly cook whole food from scratch, or eat food that’s lightly processed… like a can of sardines in oil or frozen meat in a bag (i.e. the food had to be cut and then processed into the can, but it’s basically in its native form rather than blended with 75 chemicals).

I have cleaned up my diet gradually over the last few years. Even now I can say there’s room for improvement, and if I want to move into that room I’ll give it a shot. I have a set of rules that I settled into following over the last few years: Whether or not I set out to follow them on day one, I found over time that they suited me well as habits, and so they became rules to live by.

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Why could I not get to sleep last night?

Not a super evergreen topic this evening, but last night I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep. I had that wired feeling where you almost can feel your muscles churning in place.

I did eventually get to sleep sometime after midnight following some water and an old stand-by: My ice pack. I wasn’t hurting or anything, but being a bit warm I felt that adding in some quite-cold stimulus would normalize me a bit quicker. It did, and I was out soon after introducing it.

I didn’t have more than a cup of coffee in the morning or any other sort of stimulant. I had eaten well, so I don’t think I was hungry. And I wasn’t drowning myself in blue light like others do.

But I can see in hindsight a few other factors that led to a restless night.

Yesterday was an active one:

  • I walked several miles on an errand excursion to Bucktown and back home through Lincoln Park.
  • Later towards sunset I went on a planned 45 minute circuit run that ended with a hard 8K-effort finish. It felt great at the time, but revving the motor that hard around 6:30pm might have left me too wired to drift off comfortably at 10-11 pm.

So basically it wasn’t exactly taper madness. In fact, I probably was a lot more active than I ought to have been, after having run over 12 miles the day before. Physically I felt okay, a tad sore but definitely up for all that effort. Even today (now well into more of a taper-like workload, after a day of sitting at a desk) I don’t feel too bad.

Soon after dinner I will probably sleep more soundly, but sometimes despite your best efforts you can’t quite get to sleep.

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Marathon Emergency Power, aka The Galloway Method

Even when first training seriously and comparing different marathon training books, I never gave Jeff Galloway’s Marathon book a second look. And even now I haven’t really given his method much more than a cursory glance.

So personally I can’t necessarily recommend it, even though his approach is probably a great one for a lot of new marathon runners.

Basically, Galloway advocates run/walking the entire marathon. You find a running pace you can maintain for 2-5 minutes at a time, and for all of your training as well as the entire race you run for 2-5 minutes, then stop for a 1-2 minute walking break, then repeat until after a few eternities you finally finish.

His approach clearly works, because to some extent thousands of novice marathoners end up using his approach… whether they want to or not. Once many runners hit the wall around miles 13-20, they have no choice but to run/walk the rest of the way.


But, even if you’re a more serious runner who takes pride in running out all your training runs and races… what if in a marathon you could use his approach consciously, in advance of a worst case scenario of hitting the wall hard, as a back-pocket emergency approach?

For example: Instead of hitting the wall in mile 18 and being forced to drag yourself over the final 8.2 miles… you initially feel yourself struggling badly in mile 16. You decide right then and there to run 3 minutes and walk 1, then repeat… from that 16 mile point forward, feeling like you have a little bit in the tank.

You take food and drink from every available aid station, and only if you feel you’ve found a 2nd wind do you resume a normal uninterrupted run as normal. And while it’s possible you end up run/walking the whole rest of the race, you at least are able to handle those last 10 miles with some sense of dignity and not feeling like death. Perhaps you could even run out that last whole 1.2 miles as your “kick”.


I now realize that, when I stepped to the line in Vancouver this May feeling ill and overheated… I possibly could have finished the race, had I committed to running the entire race easy and using something like Galloway’s method. It would have taken 5 fairly grueling hours, but instead of feeling unwell at mile 3, I could have slowly navigated the race mile by mile, at an easy pace, possibly felt good enough to high five all the old men and women shuffling alongside me, and gradually made my way to the finish line.

Of course, at the time I had no idea I could use an approach like I described above. And for all I know my ego would not have allowed it anyway after having trained as hard as I had to run the whole race. This is little more than 20/20 hindsight, and the humbling experience of a DNF was probably necessary for me to even entertain the notion today.

Galloway’s book has runners going as far as 25-30 miles in training using his simpler run/walk method. And, to some extent, some of my experienced (faster) runner friends have knocked out 30+ miles in a day through a similar approach… running 5-7 miles at a time, stopping to rest for a while or eat, and then continuing.

So say what you want about stopping or walking: For finishing a marathon, it absolutely works.

In fact, this is how a lot of ultramarathon running is done. Since many of these races require 12-24 hours to complete, even the winners are expected to stop and rest for extended periods.


I practiced a variation of this after work on Friday, running at a threshold-level pace for 2-4 minutes, then walking for a minute, with the clock running the entire time. And it was doubly useful since I wasn’t feeling well at the time. I managed to polish off a couple miles at about a minute faster per mile than usual.

I would have gone the rest of the way home. But again, I wasn’t feeling well, and though I could have finished I decided to cut the run short.

Still, along with the rest of my race-day gear, I will have an emergency plan in my back pocket, thanks to the wise words of a man whose book I haven’t really read. “You can do it!”, indeed.

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Feeling tired? It’s probably one of these things

I can’t tell you how many years in Seattle I battled lethargy despite a busy schedule full of theatre commitments I was very into. I definitely became one of those guys who pounded coffee and energy drinks in the afternoon or evening, to try and keep the motor going for that night’s action.

Needless to say, I’ve since figured out how terri-bad that approach was for my health. I still indulge in the occasional afternoon cup of coffee (decaf if it’s around), or a caffeine-free vitamin/energy drink like FitAid (which they sell at Whole Foods in Chicago).

But generally the only stimulant you’ll see me take anymore is a morning cup of coffee.


Of course, the problem of lacking energy goes well beyond what stimulation you’re giving yourself. Pretty much everyone struggles with low energy and feeling tired, and I’m still to this day no exception.

The difference between the 2011 Me, who would pound a 5 Hour Energy before a show performance to keep from falling over, and the 2018 Me… is that 2018 Me knows the reason for feeling tired comes down to one of these four things:

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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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