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?