What Shoes Should I Buy?
I often get asked about shoes: which shoes to buy, which shoes are the best, which shoes would work under this or that or the other circumstance. My favorite answer used to be: just get shoes that are comfortable. I personally pick out shoes that are colorful and comfortable and see no reason to sacrifice one or the other. However, now I have more of an opinion for the now two decade old question, “What shoes should I buy?”
Born To Run
It all started when I read Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall It had come highly recommended from a number of sources, and when I get more than one person recommending the same thing I know I probably better read it. Here’s the essential summary of the book (and I highly recommend it as it is well-written, a good story, and super interesting to boot): it is all about the beginning of the barefoot running phenomenon here in America. There is quite a cast of characters, mixed in with an indigenous Indian tribe in Mexico, mixed in with the author trying to track down this tribe, mixed in with a few other assorted circumstances and happenings. Additionally, the author throws in the anthropology of humans and running, and makes a very good case for why humans really are meant to run and not just short distances, but long distances.
More Cushion is Worse
How does that apply to shoes? Well, it turns out this indigenous Indian tribe wears nothing but a piece of leather essentially lashed to their foot with another piece of leather shoelace. None of their villages are very close together, so often times a tribal member is traveling between 40 and 70 miles a day. “How is that possible without developing lower compartment syndrome, shinsplints, or planter fascitis?” you ask. Here was where I thought the most interesting paragraph in the whole story was presented. Turns out that the major shoe companies have known for decades that the more cushion the shoe has, the less the muscles in the lower leg actually end up working. That means you’re actually making your feet and shins worse by giving them more cushion. Worse!
Minimum Sole Shoes
I have a client Marie who has been plagued by heel pain for as long as I have known her, which is going on twelve years. We have gotten it to abate with getting her hamstrings and glutes to take pressure off her calves, but nothing really seemed to make a difference long term. Finally, I suggested less shoe. In her fabulous enthusiastic way, she jumped in wholeheartedly. Long story short, her heel pain is gone and she purchased minimum sole shoes for entire family, immediately. As a mother, I was aghast at the Converse and Vans my children insist upon wearing, because I thought the soles were ruining their feet. Happily, that is just one less battle we now have to fight.
In addition to deconditioned lower leg muscles, I find that clients with traditional running shoes have a difficult time driving through their heels to activate their glutes when we are working out. Often I will illustrate this point by having them slip their shoes off, or slide my shoes on, to demonstrate the difference. It is remarkable!
Here is a photo of Nike’s latest Nike Air Max 2014 with flyknit uppers that I was given for my birthday. Look at the monster soles on those stompers! They were billed as the best shoes for long-distance runners, and long-distance runners are my people (even though I don’t run marathons anymore). However, my heart sank. How could I keep them? I knew they would be a cushy disaster.
Here are the shoes that I actually love running in every morning: Nike Women’s Free 5.0+. They are super dirty from a recent trail run and smell worse. I actually bought them pre-loved in a thrift store on the way to a cyclocross race in the rain two years ago. I didn’t have bike shoes and I didn’t want my running shoes to get muddy, so I stopped and bought these things just needing a pair for that race. (By the way, don’t ever believe anyone when they tell you you don’t need bike shoes for cyclocross race, but that’s a story for another blog!)
Here’s another pair of shoes I like really well. Not only are they colorful, but their soles are super flexible. The only downside is these are Adidas Womens ClimaCool Modulation 2 Running Shoes and those black spots are actual vented air holes that also let in water. Also known as rain here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
I even went running in these guys below, and their sole is absolutely minimal. These Adidas Renewal Womens Size 10.5 White Sneakers Shoes9 UK 9 are extremely similar.
Ease Into Minimal Sole Shoes
So, am I telling you to strap a piece of leather to your foot and hit the road? No way! When this phenomenon hit, that was exactly what a lot of people did, and their lower leg muscles complained mightily. No need to give yourself horrible shin splints or plantar fascitis.
You must ease into this, should you choose to give it a try, very slowly. Very slowly! If you normally walk or jog or run 2-3 miles every other day, try half of one walk/run/ in a lesser soled shoe. Give that lower leg some love afterward, with a roller, a little massage, ice, or all three. This is a new workout for these muscles, and you can’t overtax them all at once.
By the way, my sweet brother exchanged my birthday gift and got me these Women’s Nike Free Hyperfeel Run, 11. Black, White, Atomic Pink
instead. I was elated! I was even more elated when I hit the road the next morning. You are kidding me, I told him, these shoes are like running in slippers.
Therefore, just think less sole. However, this is a new training regimen for your lower leg, so go slowly. Ease into it! Truly, the only time I go barefoot running is when I am at the beach. Who needs sand in their shoes?