A couple weeks ago I took SuperBaby to get fit for her first pair of legitimate walking shoes. Granted, she isn’t walking yet, but it’s inevitable right? I guess she takes after me in that she likes to sit around and one day, will probably just get up and start running. I am not much of a walker myself, so this would make sense. Anyway, she got a pair of Stride Rite soft-soled shoes to add to her collection of useless, sparkly, hard-soled shoes that are completely inappropriate for new walkers. I too have a large collection of useless, hard-soled shoes, most of which come with 4-inch heels and make my feet hurt. My running shoes, on the other hand, have soft soles and are flexible, like SuperBaby’s new shoes. This makes sense, because it’s important to have cushioning but also to feel the ground. Recently, I started running in a different type of shoe, and I think it has made all the difference in the world.
I used to wear the Mizuno Wave Precision running shoes. They are light weight, and are made for someone with a neutral stride. This means my running form is basically perfect. Not really, but it does mean that I don’t overpronate or underpronate (roll my foot out or in after I strike the ground). As such, I don’t require a lot of support or motion control. I was happy with my Wave Precisions for many years, but noticed that as I increased mileage, even in a very conservative manner, my knees and hips would really suffer. When I was pregnant, it was so bad that I had to switch to a (wide) New Balance shoe with extra cushioning. But after I had SuperBaby and started running seriously again, I had that light-bulb moment: maybe there actually is something wrong with my stride! I had my stride analyzed at Run for Your Life and learned that I was a very heavy heel striker. I would land very hard on the heel of my foot then roll forward onto the ball of my foot. This is bad for the joints. It puts a ton of pressure on the knees and hips. A number of different shoes were recommended, all of which were way more expensive than I wanted to pay, so I bought a pair of socks and left thinking about how I would remedy the situation. I came upon a number of articles about barefoot running and how the way you run barefoot is the way nature intended, so when you put on a pair of shoes you run differently, which is not good for your body. Or something like that. I am not a scientist, and I really didn’t read any of the books about barefoot running/minimalist running or much research. I just decided that I liked the concept of trying to get back to a more natural/minimalist style of running- that is, striking with the forefoot or midfoot first. Since I have been such a heavy heel striker, I decided to try out a pair of shoes that basically forces you to strike with your forefoot.
The first pair of shoes that really revolutionized my running was the Newton Distance U. It’s pricey, but it was worth it. The people at Newton are either really smart, really good at marketing, or both. The videos they did demonstrating the difference in running the “Newton way” and running the way most people do – heel first – truly sold me on the product. It just made common sense. I was running against gravity pretty much, and my knees and hips felt the effects. I started out running in my Newtons as recommended, just a few miles at a time. Running naturally, the “Newton way,” forefoot striking, etc., places a lot of stress on your feet and calves. We are not used to running in the barefoot style, which requires quite a lot of foot and calf strength. I figured this out quickly, but I also quickly noticed my hips and knees did not hurt at all. I only wore that one pair of Newton’s, which lasts about 500 miles, or 200 miles more than most running shoes, then transitioned to a very very light shoe that enables me to continue my attempt at minimalist running. The Saucony ProGrid Kinvara is about 7 oz. It comes in a zillion colors. It’s fairly wide in the forefoot but snug everywhere else, which is perfect for my foot. And the best part is that it is specifically designed to enable you to run in a minimalist style while providing protection from the elements and some cushioning. The best part is that I can get the shoes for about $60 (although they do tend to wear down a bit faster than heavier shoes).
So I was wearing my Kinvaras, as always, for my run tonight. I was feeling pretty good after my day off yesterday, aside from the ongoing gristle/rock ball in my right trapezius (now working it’s way up my neck and down into my back). My workout was a 1/2 mile warmup, 6 x 1 mile at half marathon pace with 2 minute jog recoveries between, and a 1/2 mile cool down. By the end, I was heel striking like crazy. That’s how I know my legs are dead. I start gradually landing with my heel instead of my forefoot or midfoot. Nonetheless, my perceived level of exertion was extremely low, such that I felt really good at the end from an endurance perspective, just physically tired in my legs. I finished all six of the mile repeats in under 7:25. Not a bad effort to start the week.
While I was running, I noticed a hulking man struggling around the track wearing the Vibram Five Finger shoes, and a Speedo tank top, and weird long soccer shorts and one calf sleeve. Yikes. These Vibrams are no joke. They are hardcore. This is as close to barefoot running as you can get without being Kenyan. The thing is, all the people I have ever seen wear Vibrams or run barefoot were rail-thin and looked like they were born to run. Now, I know that not everyone is built like a sterotypical skinny, willowy runner. I certainly am not. I look like a shotputter. But I am pretty sure that barefoot or even minimalist running is much more effective (read: less painful on the calves and feet) if you are not carrying a 6’4, 270 lbs frame. The poor guy finished his run then hobbled off the track looking like he’d just completed an Ironman wearing sweatpants on the swim. I really wanted to suggest to him that he try a minimalist shoe but not a Vibram. He looked like he was in so much pain. This further validated my decision not to wear the Vibrams. I just think that we have gotten so conditioned to using shoes that we need to take baby steps towards adopting a completely different way of running.
All in all, I think minimalist running is not for everyone. But what is for everyone is finding out if there is anything you are doing with your stride that could be changed to improve efficiency and lessen pain. Do yourself a favor and have your gait analyzed at a local running store. You could truly change your running for the better. Just think, if I’d let Buddha continue wearing those useless glitter shoes, she wouldn’t be walking now. Oh wait, she still isn’t walking. But she seems a lot more comfortable now!