Running Tuesdays: Shoes Matter

by Lorraine Kennimouth-Williams

Are running shoes an important component of running? Some say they are, some say they’re not, and others, well others say “run barefoot!”

First, let’s establish a few truths … to the masses. Shoes matter, and shoes should matter. There are in fact a handful of runners who prefer to run barefoot, but that space is very small. The masses realize that wearing a good running shoe is an essential part of the sport. I am with the masses – I believe “good running shoes” are a necessary evil. 

So, let’s break down the definition of “good running shoes.” I think it is safe to say a good place to start is to run in “running shoes.” I want to make that distinction up front since that is probably one of the first basic steps to take – do not attempt to run in shoes that are made for walking, aerobics, climbing, etc.; find a good running shoe. 

And….it doesn’t stop there; there are many types of running shoes. For instance, we don’t all run the same way. Some of us tend to run more from our heels, others from the inside of the heel, some from the outside of the heel, etc. Some of us are fortunate enough to run from the balls of our feet to our toe – neutral runners. Those who don’t necessary run primary using the ball of the foot – toe and are more prone to “heel striking” could probably benefit from a support shoe. A support shoe is designed to aid in rectifying a certain running style in an attempt to bring the runner back to the ideal form which is considered neutral running. Scientific research has shown that less injuries occur when a neutral running form is used therefore making shoes available to correct all other forms of running. Shoes have been designed for pronation (over-pronation and under-pronation) otherwise known as supination. These are all fancy terms that mean a “non-neutral gait” (please Google terms). 

And …it doesn’t stop there. Whether running neutral or not, running shoes come in different “heights” otherwise referred to in running parlance as “heel-to-toe drop.” This refers to the number of mm between the heel and the toe of a shoe essentially giving it a lift or not. Some shoes have 0 “heel-to-toe drop” suggesting an entirely flat shoe; even though the shoe may have a thick sole, it can still have a 0 drop. I throw the term out there because “heel-to-toe drop” is VERY important to me and the shoes I wear. I require a high “heel-to-toe drop”, the highest being 13mm. I need this because I suffered with strained Achilles for many years and after discovering this “heel-to-toe drop” trait and then switching to a shoe with a large drop, it help me considerably! 

It could take a while before you find the right shoe that works perfectly for you, but with patience and tenacity (which are traits required in running) you will! And when you do, oh wow! You now have an essential element to your running sport. They will be your new best friends.  

There are several other elements to a running shoe that we have not talked about in this article, but one more that I would like to mention before finishing is “custom orthotics.” I personally use custom orthotics. They were prescribed for me many years ago by my podiatrist, and although they have helped, I am now totally dependent upon them. SO… it is my recommendation that unless absolutely required, I would say to stay away from them (my subjective opinion only). Why? Simply because of the level of dependency – if you can help it at all, you’re better off not being a slave to anything that is not available over the counter. It becomes a huge (and expensive) inconvenience. Again, if you need them and they’re doctor recommended, do it; but if you can get away with over-the-counter orthotics or none at all, you have just acquired more freedom.

In summary, are running shoes an important component of running? Absolutely! Take the time to find what works for you. Start with a professional such as a good running store. They have the tools to watch and discern your gait and prescribe [hopefully] the right shoe for you. Once you find the “right shoe,” you will know when you’re in the wrong shoe – your body will react. Your legs will hurt, your knees will ache, your legs might feel like lead; and then, you put “your shoes” back on and it’s as if you’re running on air. Good luck on your search.

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