Fitness Friday :: Shoes, Glorious Shoes!

When I started running about three years ago, I was just wearing whatever sneakers I had in my closet. Not being an athlete of any sort, I’d never paid much attention to the quality of my sneakers.

By the time I got up to running 2 to 3 miles at a time, my feet began to protest. This is about the time that I wrote my post, I Am A Runner.

I decided to reward myself for becoming a “real” runner by going to a “real” running store and getting myself some “real” running shoes.

That is when my knee problems began. I’ll never know if it was the shoes or just running for the first time on a consistent basis, but I was frustrated. I kept taking time off to recover and felt like I was losing my momentum. At the time, I didn’t have a trainer or even a knowledgeable friend to advise me so I kept plugging along, but my progress was becoming significantly impeded by my knee complaints. I even went to a doctor who told me to find a new sport, but I wasn’t willing to do that so I started looking elsewhere for advice.

That’s when I read Born To Run and decided to try barefoot running.

As many of you know, my knee problems almost immediately started to dissipate when I began running in Vibram Five Fingers. I did a lot of online research to figure out how to run in them properly, and they totally changed my form. They took some getting used to. They cause you to use muscles and joints that you aren’t accustomed to using when you run, and you can get injured if you do too much too soon. I was careful and slowly built up to them, and I was sold hook, line and sinker. Soon I was running 3 miles 2-4 times a week without pain, and I felt great. I even have two pairs now.

I started working out with a trainer at the gym last fall, and coincidentally, she is a marathon runner. While our workouts are strength training sessions, she has given me lots of advice over the past few months about my running habits.

She (and a couple others along the way) have suggested to me that the Vibrams may inhibit me from increasing my speed and distance. And I have noticed that as I’ve been upping both my mileage and the frequency of my runs, I’ve developed some annoying new aches and pains — nothing to prohibit me from running, but enough to cause me to heed the advice to try a more protective sneaker.

I was advised not to give up my Vibrams, but rather to alternate running in those and in a more traditional running sneaker.

I actually tried running in my old running shoes one day, but focused on running with the new form I developed while running in Vibrams for the past year or so. They were supremely uncomfortable, so back to the Running Store I went.

I explained my situation, and the guy at the store brought out a few neutral running shoes to try — they have more cushion and support than the Vibrams but aren’t so jacked up as a typical modern running shoe.

Incidentally, back in the day when running for sport came into vogue in America in the 70s, running shoes were quite minimalist. I often wonder if we were better off that way.

The shoes I ended up buying are the new Nike Free Run +3.

I tried both the new model and last years model, and the newer one was noticeably more flexible and comfortable. (Go figure, right? The old model was on sale. Oh well!)

They come in about 8 different colors but the only ones in stock at the store that day were bright neon green. I swear, the cars on the road probably see me coming from two miles away.

So the result????

I am pleased. They are flat enough and flexible enough to allow me to comfortably run on the ball of the foot, rather than the heel-to-toe, and they definitely have more padding than I’m used to, which feels nice. The challenge, I find, is keeping is a light step. Because of the cushion, I find myself running too hard and not stepping lightly, which I’m sure is not good for my joints. This is where 2 years of running in Vibrams keeps me honest. I can feel the difference in my form and try to keep myself accountable to running properly. I can see how it would be hard to learn to run lightly in such padded shoes.

I am not running in the new Nike Frees exclusively. My trainer advised me to alternate them with the Vibrams so that is what I’ve been doing.

I still prefer the Vibrams, and I can’t see myself giving them up anytime soon, but I like having the option as I am running farther and more often than ever before.

How about you? Do you run? What shoes do you like to run in?

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39 Responses

  1. I am interested in running shoes… thanks for sharing your thoughts. I want to try Vibrams, or some of the more minimalistic Nikes (love them!) when it is time for new ones. What is your opinion on the idea that some people (Mark Sisson included) have shared, saying that if barefoot/Vibrams are not enough support, then you are running too much and too far for how your body was created? I’m not sure what I think, but it has been something that has been on my mind for a bit.

    1. Yeah, I dunno about that. There are people in other times and cultures who run hundreds of miles, chase down prey for dinner, whatever. I am not into long distance running, and I don’t think I ever will be, but I do enjoy the 3 to 5 mile range that I’m doing right now. It makes me happy, gives me confidence, and keeps my moods more level. Maybe the strength training would do that too, but I really enjoy the running so I figure, as long as I’m enjoying it, I’ll keep doing it.

      Again with the Vibrams, I disagree to a point. I think it is more natural, but I also admit that we as a culture don’t walk around barefoot so it may be unrealistic b/c we aren’t built up to that. This is why I gave in and decided to start alternating with regular sneakers to give my joints a bit of a break. I still prefer running in the Vibrams tho.

      1. I agree to just do what you enjoy and makes you feel good when it comes to working out! And cushioned shoes might be a necessity since many of us “have” to run on asphalt or concrete, not through grassy trails in the woods 🙂 Maybe I am just contemplating the idea of less running now since I was a long distance runner off and on (sometimes very intensely and consistently) for 12+ years… and my body doesn’t seem to hold up to it so well anymore – I think variety is better for me now and gives me better results. But I will always consider myself a runner… I love it! 🙂

      2. I’m not advocating one way or another but I think you’ll find the more “Paleo” blogs and books you read, the more you’ll hear arguments against long distance running. (More like the half-marathon/marathon-type running consistently over a long period of time.) They argue that our ancestors tended to sprint more when chasing food or running away. They say it was more of a sprint/recover, sprint/recover workout–much like interval training. It’s interesting to think about and there are plenty of valid studies out there to support how your heart is actually strengthened by this type of training and that many times avid marthoners actually have a weaker heart. (Remember that the first man who ran the 26.2 miles without stopping from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory of the Persians dropped dead after he shouted “Nike” which means Victory. 🙂 ) That’s really neither here nor there but I’ve always thought that to be ironic.

        1. yeah, I’ve heard those theories too. I am more of the “do what you enjoy” philosophy. I don’t think everyone’s cut out for running, but many seem to do it with no problem. I do enjoy interval training too, and I think I should do more of that.

  2. I’ve never been a runner, even in high school when we were supposed to run a mile for gym class my teacher finally decided it was ok if I walked instead because I could walk a mile more quickly than I could run it. If I ran I became too out of breath and slowed down so much it was faster to just walk the whole thing quickly. Hearing you talk about how much running has helped stabilize your mood makes me wonder about trying it, because I could sure use some help with that. For now I’m just trying to walk more, but that may change over time.

    I enjoy hearing what you have to say about your shoes especially because I work in a shoe store. I’m never entirely sure what to say to runner’s who come in wanting advice since I don’t run. I’ve always loved walking barefoot so if I decide to start running I’ll probably consider some Vibrams. We don’t sell them at my store, where have you been buying yours?

    1. I got my first ones at a local running/outdoorsy store. I got my second ones at an outdoorsy store in Maine last summer. 🙂

      I would think any exercise would help stave off the depression? But I don’t know. I was ready to go on meds right before I started running. Within a couple of months, the depression was gone. I still get moody when I’m hormonal but nothing like I was back then.

      1. I’m thinking the walking may be just as good as the running as far as balancing my moods. I think getting outside is part of what’s helpful. Thank God for a neighborhood with sidewalks and safe streets! If I can just be more consistent I’ll be good 🙂

  3. Thanks for the info! I was all about if I liked the color as opposed to how it would work for me. I am going to use your advice when I next get sneakers.

  4. I currently run in Brooks but own a pair of minimilist shoes (Merrils) but have not been brave enough to try and run in them. I would love to transition to lighter shoes but just dont want to hurt myself. I actually was told that the Nike Frees would be a good transition shoe. Do you think I would still run with heel-toe form in these since they are still padded? Would you recommend I just try the minimilist and not a transition shoe?

    1. I don’t think these will change your form. It’s hard to know what to recommend, as I think everyone is so different. Are you having trouble with your current shoes?

      1. I was having issues with my shoes for awhile, but right now they seem to be working fine which is why I really have switched. What attacks me to the minimilist shoe at this moment is how light they are because I hate how heavy my brooks are. I guess I will continue with what I am doing (dont break what isnt broken!) and see how it goes as I increase my distance in the next few months. Thanks!

  5. Ok, don’t get be wrong, I admire you for being a runner, but I’m not running unless somebody is chasing me!
    However, I will admit I’m very intrigued with the way it has helped with your mood swings. I certainly could use help with that as I get ever nearer to 50! How did you notice the difference? Was it consistent only with serious running or in effect even during more modest periods? I’m interested to find out if you’ve noticed better moods during the days or time periods when you don’t run.
    Thanks! Sheri

    1. It was even in the more modest periods. I only notice “the funk” – what I call my depressive episodes – now if I go more than a week without doing any exercise.

  6. I have a pair of Vivo “barefoot” shoes and Newbalance trail running shoes. I was actually starting to collect information on minimalist shoes as I want something with a little cushion and not as much as my trail shoes. I run 2-3 times a week about 2-3miles. I also ride my bike and do strength training circuits. I know that regular exercise (almost everyday) has helped me tremendously. On days that I can’t get a workout in or can’t workout until later in the day I feel anxious.

  7. I’ve always wanted to look into barefoot running shoes more, thanks for the informational post! When you did your own personal research, what did you learn about support with the Vibrams (well, any barefoot shoes for that matter)? I’ve heard that they lack arch support, but again, just have neglected to follow up. Thanks for your expertise! And Happy Sunday 🙂

    1. No, there is no support. That is the point. 🙂 They are supposed to mimic barefoot running. The point is, our bodies are capable of supporting us if we give them the chance. But these days, we are all so accustomed to cushioning our feet with shoes, we haven’t developed those muscles and joints, blah blah blah. 🙂 I do think they can be dangerous for people that tend to push themselves too hard. Me, I’m a wimp. LOL. So I took it slow and built up to them. If nothing else, they’re good for helping you get a good form. Even my marathon runner trainer says that she takes her shoes off and runs barefoot in the grass after a workout just to stretch her feet and b/c it feels good.

  8. I am not a runner–at least not a long distance one. I thought about getting one of those stickers for my car that says, “0.25”. 🙂 I am, however, an avid exerciser. I discovered Nike free cross trainers last year. Someone recommended them after a bout with plantar fasciitis. They are great, even for plyometrics and other high intensity workouts. I haven’t had any foot, toe or heel problems since I started wearing them. Great discovery!

  9. I run in saucony I found the right shoes made a huge difference no more shin splints and allowed me to go further. I am so glad you are uping your running.

  10. Ah ha! Well that explains alot! So interesting what our bodies are naturally capable of, amazing stuff. Thanks for the insights!

  11. Ok- I need your help Jo-Lynne. 1) I desparately need new shoes 2) I have bad knees (anything with impact on my knees causes it) and 3) I’ve never reallly tried running before (see knee problems) but I really would like to try. If I’m going to start, I’d like to start “right” and learn the best form and have the right shoes. So where should I start? I’m so lost!

    I tried running a little bit last night while walking the dog and mostly felt like an idiot (another reasons I’ve never done it in the past). I can do over a minute jogging and about 30 seconds in a full out run at a time. So I’ve got a ways to go. I’m a champion walker though- I could walk for hours with no complaint. 😉

    1. I’m obviously not Jo-Lynne, but I’m answering anyway. You can go to YouTube and find videos of running form. Also, check out Barefoot Ted–famous barefoot runner with lots of helpful information. There is absolutely nothing wrong with starting slow and walking more than you jog. No matter what you do, you’re going to have some soreness to start. But if you can mimic the barefoot form you should reduce the knee pain because you are not jarring the joint the way you would running heel-toe. My heels barely strike the ground when I run–it feels so good! You’re more likely to have tenderness on the balls of your feet with a barefoot style stride. No one is really going to look at your form and think anything of it, so don’t worry about how you look! Doing something you thought you wouldn’t be able to do is such a powerful feeling that it will be worth any feelings of silliness. Good luck!

    2. Hey Emily. First of all, there is no shame in walking! Running isn’t for everyone, and it may not be best for you if you have knee issues already.

      That said, I started out walk/running. I just ran as much as I wanted, then walked till I got bored, and then ran, then walked. I just wanted to ENJOY it and not feel pressured. Soon I was running more of it, and found that it was fun to see how much further I could go each time. I would just run one more mailbox each day. So that is my advice. Start slow. Do what you want, whether it is run or walk, whichever feels good to you at that moment in time. There is no rule that you have to do one or the other. 🙂

      As far as the shoes, it varies SO much person to person, it is really hard to give someone else advice. Personally I do not like the feeling of the real jacked up running shoes. So maybe a minimalist, but cushioned sneaker (like the Nike Free) would be a good place for you to start? You really have to go to a store and try them on and see what feels good. Good luck!

  12. I am definitely more of an interval training type runner. Never liked the continuous long runs even when I was on the track team in HS.
    I used to run in Asics until I bought the Nike Free Runs last year. LOVE THEM! I feel more natural running in them than anything I have had before.
    Now I am looking at some of the other Nike Free styles for other uses (I’d like something for tennis, or for walking around places when I need a comfortable shoe)

  13. I run in some minimalist Brooks. I just can’t get over the ugliness of the Vibrams. 😉 Sorry! I adjusted my stride before I got my minimalist shoes, as my brother-in-law had been running barefoot for a while and raved about the benefits. I’m vain and didn’t want to get ugly, dirty feet so going barefoot was never an option. When I sometimes run in my regular Brooks they feel clunky and heavy! But I find that I need more support for my non-running workouts, so I wear regular running shoes for those classes.

    I really want some new running shoes, just because the colors are so fun. And I’ve had my minimalist for a year now, so I know they are due to be replaced. I’ll be going to the running store soon.

    It is really about stride as much as footwear, in my experience. A person can run more on the front/middle part of their feet without changing shoes, but the minimalist shoes seem to make it easier. Oh, and my BIL has had to go to trail shoes and has had a few minor tweaks to work through since going barefoot, so nothing is a guarantee, of course.

  14. I bought a pair of Merrell barefoot runners for a trip to Disneyland on recommendation from friends and they were great there. However I wore them for a walk this morning (my first in a long time) and OMG my calves ached so much in the first ten minutes. I wondered if it had to do with the shoes rather than my time between exercising since I can’t recall my calves hurting in “normal” athletic shoes. Not that I mind since I’d love to have nicer calves but I wasn’t expecting it from the barefoot runners.

    1. Yes, they absolutely WILL strain your calves. My calves hurt for months when I started running in them – not like a pulled muscle or any injury, just like they were being stretched in a way they haven’t before. Now they are very strong and muscular (esp for me – I never had much muscle tone in my calves) and I love it. If I go a week without running and run again, they hurt again for a day or two. It stands to reason. You are stretching them further than when your shoes have your heel jacked up, ya know?

  15. I tried Vibram FiveFingers several years ago, but I definitely prefer a little more cushion/protection than those kind of “shoes” provide. 😉

    As it is right now, I alternate between New Balance and Mizuno running shoes.

    How many times per week do you meet with your trainer?

    1. The goal is 2x a week but life gets in the way sometimes. We will be missing the next 3 weeks due to my vacation schedule and hers, so she’s giving me exercises to do on my own. We’ll see how that goes….

  16. Hey Jo Lynne:)

    Just bought my first pair of running shoes evah! Ended up going with Nike Pegasus. I tried on a bunch at the store but when I made it to them in the stack they just felt so different than the others, like an “oh, that’s niiiiice.”

    I am very much a beginner though and am on week two of a couch to 5k program, which is nice and slow and good for me. The app goes back and forth between running and walking, and as you move up each week the increments change until you can run for 30 solid minutes. And I like having someone tell me when I have just 30 seconds to go, etc. I think I need that in order to not just curl up under a tree;)

  17. I just read about a study that said the best running shoes for you are the ones you find most comfortable – not necessarily the most high-tech ones. Did your trainer mention anything about that? if not, it’s something to consider.

  18. Hi Jo-Lynne,
    I have been looking for some new running shoes. I am currently doing a training schedule for my first half marathon-YAY! I have a bit of time to transition into a minimalist shoe. I have been having trouble with my hips on and off and just recently started to focus on striking with my mid-foot, as opposed to a flat foot strike that I think may have been causing the problems. Boy, the calves are a bit “touchy” here lately, but no hip pain thankfully. My Asics are probably a 11mm drop. I think the Nikes you got are a 6mm heel drop correct? How are you liking them? I was also thinking of changing to Saucony Kinvara’s which are a 4 mm drop, but wondered if that might be too much a change?

    1. I love my Nikes but I’m not sure about heel drop. Running on the mid-foot will definitely be taxing on your calves. It took me months to get used to running that way. It wasn’t debilitating pain, just obviously was working my calves in a way that I wasn’t used to. As a result, my calves are more shapely now than they’ve ever been!! 🙂

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