Running shoes, or, the holy grail that promise to make you run better, but probably will give you blisters, or plantar fascitis.
When I started running “properly” again after many years of not running at all, I dug out an old pair of Reebok trainers that I think I had worn at school. They were fine for what I was doing, which was basically attempting to run a maximum of around 5 miles, and simply get a bit more fit. After a few months, on discovering that I really enjoyed running, I went out and bought another pair of Reeboks off the shelf from Decathlon. I loved those shoes! I had no idea what they did, whether they were “stability” or “motion control” or “neutral” or whatever. They were comfortable and I ran in them.
After about a year I realised I probably needed new shoes. I was running consistently at this point, and had entered a few races. I went to a “proper running store”, had my “gait assessed” and was sold a pair of Asics, which, promptly gave me awful blisters on the inside of my feet. I never got on with those Asics, but persevered with them for another year. I even ran my first half marathon in them.
Next, I went to a well known specialist running shoe shop, got put on a treadmill, and was sold a pair of Saucony stability trainers to correct my so-called “over-pronation”. The first time I ran in them, my feet went numb. Within a few weeks I had terrible shin splints and calf pain. But I had been told that I did this awful thing called pronation, and that I really needed shoes to correct this awful thing, and without those shoes, well, my feet would surely fall off or something like that. I actually did my first marathon in those shoes, but I knew that they were not right for me.
At this point I had started getting more interested in the bio-mechanics of running, and had started to read up on theories behind running performance and shoe design. I became interested in the barefoot running trend that was extremely popular at the time. On a whim, I bought a pair of Vibram fivefingers at a marathon expo. Having been warned that you had to transition into them carefully, and that they could cause problems if you didn’t give them time, I, being me, took them out for a 5k run. I loved them straight away. They were like a revelation. No one had ever stopped to point out to me that I was a natural midfoot/forefoot runner, and that being in heavy, padded, raised heel trainers was forcing me into a running pattern that did not suit me at all, and was probably causing all my shin pain. The Vibrams felt free and natural, I flew along in them and never had any issue with the transition. I had spent a lot of time barefoot as a child, and as a youth we had raced barefoot on the track; perhaps that had been enough to condition my feet and allow me to wear a barefoot shoe without any problems. My only problem with the Vibrams was that I like to run off road and they simply didn’t protect my feet and I was getting stone bruises. But I was completely convinced that a minimalist shoe was the way forward for me.
Doing some research, I next bought a pair of Merrell Pacegloves, which are a very minimalist shoe, no cushioning, zero drop and very wide in the toe box, but with a tougher sole for more protection than the Vibrams. I ran my second marathon in these, and didn’t have any problems, but I became aware that if I wanted to get faster at the marathon (and I most certainly did), the increased mileage that would be required, would put a lot of pressure on my feet in completely uncushioned shoes.
What I wanted was something that would give me the feel of a minimalist shoe, being quite firm, limited heel to toe drop, but with a bit of extra protection for my feet. I gravitated towards the Adidas range of racing flats aimed at marathon runners, the Adizero Adios. I’ve had three pairs of these now, one without their “Boost” midsole, two with. However, my all time favorite shoe is the Adidas Takumi Ren Boost, which is a super light racing shoe, with a bit of boost foam only under the forefoot, and a firm ride. It is a fantastic shoe, which I use for all racing from 5k to marathon on the roads. Most of my training is done in the Adios Boost, which has a bit more give and cushion than the Takumi, but is still quite a firm light shoe.
Off road, I wear a very old fashioned Walsh PB Elite fell running shoe. What I love about this shoe is that it is firm, and not cushioned, very flat, but with a fantastic studded sole for grip and traction. It is heavier than a road shoe, but very comfortable. Walsh made shoes for the British athletes who took part in the Olympics right up to Los Angeles, and their shoes are still typical of the type of running shoe worn back then: flat, uncushioned, no nonsense shoes. They are fantastic.
I am extremely wary of adding too much softness between the foot and the road, as it completely changes the function of the foot and the way the forces transfer up the leg. I think that over cushioning can lead to tendon and ligament problems. However, lack of cushioning (such as the Merrells that I did my second marathon in) can cause bone problems, or even stress fractures. There is definitely a happy medium, and of course what suits one person may not suit another. But I am hugely wary of “stability” shoes, and think that treadmill gait analysis done in running shops can cause a whole host of problems. Pronation is a normal function of the human foot, and unless it is actually causing problems for a runner, correcting it can trigger a so many potential issues, as it is completely changing the bio-mechanics of the foot and lower leg. Running shops and shoe companies want to sell shoes, but a great number of these shoes are causing runners to be injured, and many of these runners simply give up as a result.