Monday, March 5, 2012

Finding Your Soul Shoes

Edited to add: My opinions here are pretty strong, but as we went on our run today, K reminded me of two important details I left out. 1) Your running buddies may not be experts, but if they've been running for a long time and have tried multiple brands, their suggestions or opinions may give you a good starting point. 2) Experts at running stores are salespeople, and some of them are aiming to sell certain brands for the kickback. Remember that if you try on a shoe and think it's the wrong fit, go with your gut and try something else. Their say-so isn't the bottom line; your comfort is.

Before I get into the real meat of this post, I need to give a little background on what is finally getting this topic going. This week, K and I upped our distance from 2 miles to 3. We're running the Komen race this Saturday, and it was time to begin training. The run was solid, but the day after my right knee was absolutely killing me.

So much so, in fact, that I wore my knee brace to work on Thursday. I've never done that before. I then took the rest of the week off to rest it.

Of course, K and I got to talking, and so here is where this post comes in. Most new runners ask their running aficionado friends for shoe recommendations when they're starting out. As this conversation usually takes place on facebook, I usually have the opportunity to see the replies.

Is it just me, or are runners positively rabid when it comes to defending their shoe choice? Perhaps mildly defensive is a better way to put it. No matter if it's Nike or New Balance, Asics or Saucony, you're going to find people tearing apart one brand and screaming the praises of another. We're all guilty of this. I think. It can't just be me and everyone I'm friends with on facebook.

So what is the best shoe? How do you really find it? Here's what I think: stop asking runners. We all have different strides, hip widths, foot sizes, issues with our pronation, etc. My favorite shoes are probably not going to be your favorite shoes.

Take my personal story as an example. My first pair of running shoes were New Balances that I used for volleyball and hardly ran a mile in. I decided, when I actually started running, that NB were lame and for fake runners (because...hello!...I had been fake-running in them for years!) My first running running shoes were a pair of Sauconys fitted to me for over-pronating, and I used them for two months before switching to Nikes, because my Nike+ chip fit into their special sole. Plus, I loved how light the Nikes felt! After my half and the knee injury, I switched back to the Sauconys, which felt heavy and awkward but helped my knee. And now I'm dealing with knee pain again, and am probably going to go back to a neutral shoe (my original Nikes) before buying a new pair.

Let's face it: running shoes are expensive, and you have to replace them pretty frequently. There are a million opinions out there on what shoes to try, and opinions are only going to get you so far. I cannot stress enough how important it is to go to a knowledgeable running store where you can actually 1) run around a track, or at least on a treadmill, 2) have an expert watch your stride (and even record it for slow-motion play-back), and 3) find a huge selection of shoes.

Your friends are probably great for dating advice, hair advice, fashion advice...but running shoes aren't just a pair of hot red heels you'd be willing to wear and wince through the pain for five hours to look cute. Running shoes are expensive and designed to support, correct, and sometimes even change your running style.

I have narrow feet. A narrow toe-box and lighter shoes are great for me. But anyone with bigger toes won't really love the shoes I love. It's that simple.

Being able to hear someone say, "See how you land on your foot - right there? That's over-pronating. Let's get you in X shoe," makes you feel confident in your running. That's a huge plus. On top of that, you're actually wearing a shoe that's good for you, not just a latest trend.

Where I stand now, I know that I got my first pair of running shoes when I was a brand spanking new runner. I needed some correction. Now, my strides are totally different, and so is my pace. It's probably time to get back into a store that can check my stride and see if a neutral shoe is right for me.

So please remember that while facebook and running friends are wonderful cheerleaders - and heck, they may give great stretching, icing, and injury advice! - they're not going to be able to recommend the right shoe for YOU...only the right shoe for THEM.


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