Saturday, October 29, 2011

A few comments on running shoes

In short, I have gradually embraced the minimalist movement but do not see myself going any further down that road than I already have. Please take this with a grain of salt for I am in no way endorsing any brand or model as the one that everyone should be wearing. On the contrary, I believe that everyone must be pragmatic because the perfect shoe for one person could be a disaster for another.

Here's a brief history:
In the early 2000s when I was relegated to recreational running, I had custom made orthotics designed to manage tarsal tunnel syndrome that could only fit one type of shoe. At that time, it was the New Balance 991. This shoe is still around but the number may be slightly different now. It's a rather heavy shoe but offers plenty of support. Thankfully, my tarsal tunnel syndrome went away shortly after quitting Synthroid, which I was wrongly prescribed in the first place. I now wear OTC orthotics which are cheaper, just as durable and can fit almost any running shoe.
I buy all my shoes at the local running store, the Trak Shak and I recommend that all serious runners do the same because the workers are actually knowledgeable about the shoe that will work for you and seem to care much more so than department store employees. The Trak Shak sells shoes in 4 different categories:

Performance: racing flats, super lightweight but not very durable.
Neutral: lighter weight every day trainers for those with normal arches.
Stability: less flexible but provide more support for mild over pronation or supination
Control: heavy and stiff shoes, mostly tailored to heavy runners, heel strikers and severe over pronators.
In a department store, it is difficult to tell which shoe belongs in which category and you may realize after 2 or 3 runs that you spent $100 on a shoe that will not work for you.
As for me, I am a natural forefoot striker with a rather narrow foot and a high arch that easily collapses upon impact but do not over pronate or supinate . Something in between neutral and stability is the best fit for me and since I wear arch supports, I can get away with neutral more often than not. Control would be a disaster for a forefoot striker. I can use a minimalist/performance for a tempo or speed workout a couple of times a week as well as in a race but if I wear them everyday, I will eventually develop the dreaded plantar fasciitis. Still, my taste in shoes has steadily evolved toward lighter weight, more flexible options in recent years.
Here's a partial list of some of my training shoes:
Asics Gel Kayano- good support shoe but not very flexible.
Pearl Izumi Synchro Fuel- I like their slogan "Run Like an Animal." Lightweight with good support, cool design but not very durable.
Brooks Ravenna- pleased with just about everything here except the durability.
I'm wary of injury so I tend to replace my shoes perhaps more frequently than necessary. I tend to show a lot of wear in the forefoot area but the treads on the heel appear almost brand new even towards the end of their life. As I've moved towards a minimalist direction, I've tried some others in the Neutral/Performance line as follows:
Nike Lunar Elite: I didn't like these at first and almost returned them but they've grown on me since then. For some reason, I can't use the orthotics in these shoes or I'll get blisters. I still use them for walking and easy runs. Lightweight but not much forefoot support.
Nike Zoom XC- super lightweight and I thought they might be good interval and 5K shoes but they will not work for me. They provide too little support, zero cushioning and are not very flexible either. I'll probably end up giving them away.
Nike Lunar Racer- Good shoe for intervals, tempos and races. Decent durability, lightweight and flexible but not quite supportive enough. Still, I may buy another pair of these down the road.
Saucony Kinvara- Perfect for tempos, long races and okay for long intervals. Surprisingly durable and supportive given how lightweight they are. Not recommended for short intervals because the design is more for midfoot landings. Too much toe running in these is hell on the metatarsals.
Brooks Pure Cadence- Most supportive of the new Brooks minimalist line. This is my current long run shoe and thus far, I am very pleased.
One brand that I would like to try in the future is Newton. The shoes are lightweight, flexible, seem to provide decent support and are designed for a forefoot landing. The big negative is the price tag of $175. I hesitate to spend that much unless I know it's perfect for me.
My current rotation is as follows:
Easy: Nike Lunar Elite
Tempo: Saucony Kinvara
Long: Brooks Pure Cadence
Interval: Don't have one right now, Kinvara will do for 600s and above. May go back to Lunar Racers or Newton MS2 in the future.
I've seen some runners in the Vibram 5 fingers (basically a glove for feet) or even barefoot. To each his/her own but I know that would never work for me. That's a guarantee for PF and probably knee issues as well.

Edit:  The perfect shoe for me right now is on the neutral line, it may be curved slightly and must promote a midfoot or forefoot strike. Also, it should be lightweight and flexible. I don't need much heel cushioning but do need some in the forefoot.  It should have a fairly low heel-toe drop but I'm not ready for zero just yet.  I no longer need any type of orthotics as of now.
Yes, I did try the Newtons and I am a believer but like to maintain a rotation.  I still like the Lunar Racers for intervals and short tempos.  I don't like the updates on the Kinvara and have bought a pair of Karhu Fluids for long tempos.  Newtons are used for easy and long runs.

1 comment:

L.A. Runner said...

Our running group down here includes a running shop manager. We recently had a Newton rep come run with us and let us test the shoes. Newtons work VERY well for some people, but they do suggest that you get fitted by an actual Newton rep or expert, as opposed to just going and buying a pair or ordering online.

I'm also shocked that you didn't find the Ravennas to be durable. I have wonder, what are you doing to these shoes, Justin? Hahaha, kidding you.