First you have your traditional Gas Guzzlers – solid, traditional construction and design – from all the big names: Nike, Adidas, Asics, Brooks, Mizuno, Saucony, and New Balance. If you’re looking for something a little more modern in terms of design, technology and efficiency you’ve got your alternative fuel/clean diesel edition with the Newtons. Then there are those that have gotten so fed up with the shoe market and all the choices that are out there that they won’t even waste their money shoes! These proud purists have gone back to their hunter gatherer roots and are running barefoot like our centuries old ancestors! Don’t worry though, if you’re not quite ready to give up your gas guzzlers and let your bare skin meet the icky road or trail, but are intrigued by the current barefoot movement there is an intermediary step that can be taken with a hybrid model … the Vibram FiveFingers.
Now that being said, I have nothing against any of these shoe manufacturers or their products. Each of us is built completely differently and as such there are merits and shortcomings that exist with any shoe, or lack thereof, that we choose to run in.
But what is one to do when you walk into your local running store and see all the choices that exist? This is not something that solely strikes the newbie, but one that even experienced runners are facing with greater frequency, because, just as with computers, the technology is advancing at an uncanny rate and the number of new brands and products that are hitting the market is remarkable. So, here we stand gazing at the wall, the questions are endless, the options ever expanding, and our confusion exponentially increasing. The quest to find the best running shoe for you now rivals that of the Holy Grail … the Last Crusade!
For the sheer awesomeness of it, I’ll be drawing a parallel to the last REAL Indiana Jones movie … you know, the one with Sean Connery! Anyway, at the end of the film Indy enters the cave of the knight and is surrounded by countless cups, goblets and chalices ranging from gaudily ornate to the most basic receptacle, and a choice has to be made. The strongest and bravest of the knights that had set across the desert to protect the grail reminds Indy to “Choose. But choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.” And, like Indy, we are left with the same difficult choice as we stare inquisitively at the brands, models, styles and colors so seductively displayed before us at our local running store. We must choose, but choose wisely, for the true shoe will keep us healthy, happy and strong and a false one will strip it from us.
So how DO we know? Can we know with any sort of certainty whilst in the store? The honest answer is, No. But, there are ways to reduce the variables and make things a little easier during the selection process.
1. Location, Location, Location: Go to a store that is dedicated to the sport, rather than to a sporting goods store. You want to go somewhere where the staff is experienced, knowledgeable and, this is a big plus, can do a gait analysis on the spot so they have a clear picture of how you run. Another good thing to clue you into a good store is if they have their own running team or organize their own training runs and clinics.
2. Be Prepared: This sounds a little silly and ridiculous, but this is something that helps me with my runners, bring your current/last pair of running shoes with you to the store. Why? In addition to giving salesperson the make and model of what you have been wearing, which people can tend to forget, they can also examine the compression and wear pattern on the soles to see how you run and how old/how many miles you are putting on them. This is particularly helpful in cases where stores do not do on-site gait analysis.
3. Function Before Fabulous: If you are like me at all, and I know that there are a ton of us out there, color is a HUGE attractor in running shoes. Over the years I have gotten more and more jaded due to the fact that the models I wear traditional have come in a base white with red or blue accents, which have alternated each model season. Boring!! I’ve tried other prettier shoes that have more fun color schemes and have had horrible results, because they simply are NOT the correct shoes for me to be wearing. Shoe manufacturers are becoming more aware of this and are making strides; so just hang on if your shoe hasn’t quite caught up with the color schemes yet.
4. Learn to Crawl Before You Run: Before I say anything on this topic, I just want to be clear that I have nothing against either Newton or Vibram FiveFingers at all. In fact, I have enjoyed seeing the amazing results that people have achieved in their footwear and have nothing bad to say about either of them. When it comes to some of these newer brands and technologies, such as Newton and Vibram FiveFingers, understand that these are not shoes to just slip on and run in everyday right away. Both types of shoes require you to integrate them into your running regiment slowly, alternating them with a traditional pair of shoes until your muscles are ready, then you get to incrementally add on the miles.
All of that being said, I have one final point to make regarding all of this and it is quite simply this: FORM TRUMPS ALL. When I started training, like really training, my running form was fair at best. I went through every brand of shoe trying to find one that could handle the miles and didn’t kill my feet and legs, but basically just winged it from the get go. Then working with my coach I focused less on what I was wearing on my feet and more on improving my form, shifting my foot strike, and finding my true stride. As I worked on my form more and more I needed less and less shoe, starting with near corrective footwear in the Brooks Beast, working into the Asics Kayano, the Under Armour Revenant, Asics DS Trainers, and now onto the Brooks Ravenna.
Is Form the be-all end-all answer to the question? No, it isn’t, because there are certainly situations where people have issues with their feet and need very specific shoes and/or insoles. Furthermore, I don't claim to be the foremost authority on the subject, but from my experience and extensive observation of all of my own runners this is where the most gains are made. Really focusing on form and technique before every run (via plyometric drills as a warm-up) and during your maintenance/recovery runs you will start to see and feel improvement. As you gain greater efficiency you’ll feel lighter on your feet, be able to go farther without feeling as worn, and your pace will naturally become quicker. This is something that is pretty easy to implement and maintain once you start doing it and the second the results come it’s even easier!
So runners, next time you go to your local running store be prepared and choose wisely! The roads and trails are out there waiting for you!