Choosing the right running shoes are an important part of any runner’s day-to-day, no matter what level you are at. Shoes are one of the most important decisions you can make, and have a large impact on your training and your racing.
I know from first hand experience, the negative side of running in the wrong shoes for years. At the age of 14, I was diagnosed by a podiatrist, with Calcaneal bursitis, or a bursa between the achilles tendon and the heal. This injury resulted from a massive growth spurt that saw my bones grow quicker than my tendons, leading me to being over stretched, placing quite a bit of stress on ligaments and tendons.
After this diagnosis, I was placed in the most supportive shoes around, arch support, motion control etc etc. These things weighed like 2 pounds each. I ran in similar models throughout high school. In high school, the races are shorter, so running up to a 5k in spikes or flats left my calves very sore, but not completely destroyed. However, as soon as I moved up to the college level, and race length grew to 8k up to 10k for championship races, my calves and arches would be wrecked. After some races, I would have to take 1-2 days in the pool, or on the bike to let my calves recover, not ideal.
I was plagued by this for years, leading to achilles tendonitis my junior year. It was only after 4 months not competing, that I came to the conclusion that I needed to make a drastic change in something, shoes, lower leg exercises etc. I slowly eased myself out of support shoes, into neutral shoes, that allowed my arch to finally flex more naturally. I kept a pair of mild support shoes around for longer days, but slowly weaned myself off of those completely as well.
I no longer battle calf pain. Switching to lighter weight, neutral shoes, allowed me to strike my foot naturally, and strengthened the arch, calves, tendons to support any type of training whether it be distance, or speed. The lesson here is, those support shoes (which tend to cost more), often times are so restricting that they prevent your foot from naturally flexing in the way it was designed to. Then, when you move into lighter weight, no support racing shoes, you’re completely shocking your feet and lower legs, and the result is over stressing this area.
I recommend rotating through several pairs of shoes depending on the day and type of training. I know neutral shoes aren’t for everyone, but I do believe that motion control shoes are almost never necessary (worse still, motion control + orthotics) Even for people who overpronate, a mild arch support should be sufficient from preventing a collapsed arch. If you underpronate, a neutral shoe may even correct this, especially if combined with speed work and strengthening exercises.
Here’s my shoe rotation:
- Days 1, 3, 5 – Neutral shoe with moderate cushion
- Days 2, 4, 7 – Lightweight neutral shoes minimal cushion
- Days 6 (Race Day) – Road racing flats with little to no cushion < 5 ounces
Finding the best fit for you in terms running shoes may take some practice, and it’s always important to wean yourself off of support shoes if you’re already running in them. Never just switch mid training to a different type of shoe support structure. Don’t be afraid to tryout various shoes, RoadRunnerSports.com has a 90 day test run, where you can return your shoes for a full refund within 90 days.
In addition, I would recommend strengthening your lower leg with various exercises, such as rubber band ankle strengthening, calf raises, heel walks, one legged hops.
On Barefoot running
I think the barefoot running fad has sort of come and gone. The human body, though designed to run barefoot, was never intended to do so on man made surfaces, such as asphalt, concrete etc. Shoes offer a protective barrier between your feet and these surfaces which is completely necessary, running barefoot, or in Vibram* on these surfaces is asking for an injury. These shoes are great for running on grass, or dirt, but harder surfaces like roads, require a little more cushion.
With that being said, I am a fan of barefoot running as a way to further strengthen these muscles in your foot and lower leg. I think short jogs, or post run strides, barefoot, across a football field or similar surface is a great way to get a little added benefit out of your day, and this may very well prevent injuries further down the road.
*Vibram offers various models that may have adequate cushioning for hard surface training. However, I have never test run in these, so I cannot comment on them. If anyone reading this post has run in the newer Vibram’s please post your comment and I will be happy to update the content of this post
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one online. I am simply writing from my experience both personally and observing those of my teammates throughout high school and college. If you are battling injuries, I recommend seeking the advice of a health professional prior to making changes to your footwear, or orthotics.