Footwear and running style.

I’ve already confessed my obsession with gear as a way to manage any potential problems. But footwear deserves a lot of attention because bad footwear can really ruin the whole project.  In my case, I have a long list of legitimate and illegitimate worries and footwear needs to get fixed first.

I’m searching for the magic footwear – the shoes that will lift each foot and land it again with renewed energy and without concussion, shoes that will allow my legs and lungs to work without the relentless hit of foot to pavement.

My last post noted three pairs of running shoes.  That’s probably two more than anyone needs for this kind of training, but I bought each of them with purpose.   I *was* running in Asics Nimbus – fairly traditional – some good squish in the sole, plenty of heel cushion, medium stability.  These shoes were very comfortable for the way I ran, heel-to-toe.  Evidently, heel-to-toe, the way in which your body naturally swings your foot forward with momentum, landing on the heel and rolling off the toe, is not right.  Of course, it’s natural. It’s the way bipeds have moved since the beginning of time. Yet, according to the latest opinions from those that know, it’s bad.  Bad, as in “it will hurt you.”  Or, in my case, it did hurt me. My IT band was out of control.

So, what options are there if not putting your feet out in front of you the way they want to go? The only option is to have to actually think about each step and, effectively (the way my mind processes this,) run “backwards.”  Yes, that’s right.  Move forward while putting the front of your foot down first and bring it down toward your heel, and then push off.   Let me explain again.   The running motion, going forward, involves front-to-back movement with your feet.  I was already so focused on my socks, and my shorts, and who knows what else, that having to think about where to put my feet was a real brain bender. Oh, and then, for this to all work and keep pace, you have to take more steps per minute.    For the first couple of runs, I had a headache just due to the concentration and frustration as I bopped along, lifting my knees and landing on my toes. I looked ridiculous (still do.)  I have figured it out enough to land on more of a flat-ish foot rather than always on the ball of my foot, but it’s still strange.  Janet recently told me I looked “dainty” running. Bummer. I’m planning to run a marathon. I want to look like a badass athlete. Dainty is a bit of a let down.

Here is a photo of me running with the new method:             running cartoon

I digress.

This “new” method of running is called “mid-foot strike” (versus “heel strike”) and is at the center of the minimalist running effort – barefoot running, minimalist shoes, the works.  (See informative links below if you are interested.)  But I’m not here to educate you on all that it means. I’m here to show my shoes!

For the mid-strike movement to work, you need flat shoes – no big heel cushion in the way. Flat.  So, when I began this new running technique in January, I bought the Altra Zero Drop. These are as flat as pancakes. Basically barefoot with a sole to protect you from the pavement but no real cushion. Definitely no heel cushion. So, no chance of landing heel first (or at least not more than once!)

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In May, the arches of my feet were so tired from all of their new effort that I went back to running store, complained of my foot cramps, fatigue, and general frustration with trying so hard to master the mid-strike method.  I came back with Newtons. Evidently, Newton’s are the hot new thing. They’re not *quite* as flat as the Altra’s, but are still pretty flat, acceptable in the minimalist world and… (get this)  – have a special foot pad under the ball of your foot which is supposed to capture energy and give it back to you on each step! GIVE IT BACK!  Sold. I whipped out the credit card and bought those puppies, waiting for the miracle.  I can’t say that I felt the energy return, but my calves seized up and I got a small muscle tear in my left calf.   It’s not really the shoes’ fault though, because I was so excited about my next run with “energy return” that I neglected to read the instructions that suggested easing into mileage with the new shoes to avoid transition issues.  My bad.

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July 14. Old Port Half Marathon. 1,000 degrees with humidity drenching the air, and I had to pick shoes to get me through. I picked the Altras. Definitely didn’t need to aggravate my calf with the Newtons on a long, arduous run.  But at mile 9, along with the lack of water and building heat exhaustion, my feet gave in and my arches went on fire.  Major case of tendonitis lit up in miles 9 through 13.  A week later, after 2 physical therapy sessions, tape, and ice, and the marathon training in jeopardy, I sulked back into the running store and begged for help. “Please, please, please,” I whined, “look at my feet!  They hurt so much. I can’t stop training but I have to feel better. Help me.”   In a running store, these words are loosely translated into “Please fleece me. I’ll give you all my money.”  So,  after I rejected several models that just didn’t feel right, the sales guy said,  “I think you need the Hokas.”    The Who Whats??!!  The HOKAS.  He disappeared and came back with Muppet sneaks, or at best, Stride Rites for adults. Honestly, they are just too much.  Too much money, too much to look at.  But, as you can see, there they are on my kitchen counter. I did it. I own them. And I have actually run on public roads for about 15 miles so far and… they feel pretty good!  On the upside, they add about 3 inches to my overall height, so I feel powerful.

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I’m pretty sure the Hoka’s get me out of the dainty category, but I doubt they’ve transported me to the badass category.

I’m headed out for 9 miler on Sat morning. I’m going to try it in the HOKAS. 🙂

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