running shoes

Random thoughts on running

I like running.

In fact I'm planning to train for a marathon this year - though I haven't broken the news to my knees yet. 

In fact, (for emphasis here), I just came back from a delightful three mile jaunt around Kennebunk. 

Running is a reason to by many pairs of shoes. Many. 

Running is a reason to by many pairs of shoes. Many. 

I started running seriously as a sophomore in college, having taken the year off from lacrosse to find myself (which is a separate blog post entirely). I ran laps around the suspended track at the gym, listening to Pat Benetar* on my Sony Walkman while watching the intramural basketball games below.

Yes I had the foam headphones to go with the Walkman.

Remember when the batteries were dying while the cassette tape was playing? Remember needing batteries for music?

I digress.  

Anyway, I chose to run because it was:

A. Simple
B. Affordable
C. I didn't know what else to do. 

Running has a low barrier to entry and burns calories like a furnace, which is why many people choose it when they decide to exercise. 

But is running really the best method if you are trying to lose 50 pounds or more? (To clarify here, I mean running 15-20 miles per week. Not signing up for the yearly alumni race that you run, hungover, with your friends. Oh wait...)

Regardless of your reasons, here are a few random points to consider before you tie up your laces and hit the trails:

(And I want to emphasize, again, that I'm not against running - I just think there are things to consider before you take it up full time.)  

1. What shape are your knees in?

The impact of running is the equivalent of at least two times your body weight on impact. That means that if you're 200lbs, for each step you take running you're putting 400 pounds of stress on your knees, hips, feet and joints. Over time, the impact is going to catch up with you. 

The number one frustration I see for clients is injury. Developing a new workout routine takes time, effort, and patience. When you finally hit your stride, the last thing you need is an injury to derail the process.  

If you've already got some knee issues going on, running 15 or more miles per week might not do you any favors.

2. It might take longer to build up to that 5K than you think

The best quote I read in doing a little research for this post was that cardiovascular adaptation comes along much quicker than our cartilage and joints. Which means that even though we're no longer huffing and puffing to get through two miles, our knees and hips might not feel as awesome as we think they do. Overuse injuries can happen very quickly with running, so in the beginning, if you've never run before, you may have to pace yourself even more than that Couch to 5K app suggests.

There are other ways to get a burn on and get your heart rate up while sparing your joints. Which is why...

3. Cross training and rest are important

When I was 26 I started training for a marathon. Periodically, I was plagued by knee pain that turned out to be IT band syndrome - something that many runners are all too familiar with. I tried a chote strap, and various stretches - but what I refused to try was cross training or rest. I was a runner - that's what I liked, that's what I did, and if anyone tried to talk me out of it, I ignored them.

In my case, that 26 year old wisdom eventually brought me to surgery to help relieve the pain, and I have yet to run that elusive marathon. 

We have a number of avid runners that work out at Spurling, and they are all smarter than I ever was. They include strength training to help with form, bone density, and many of them come back saying that strength training has only improved their running game. 

4. Don't forget about technique

Running technique always brings to mind the clip of Phoebe from Friends - but there's so much more to running than just trying not to flail your arms from side to side while moving. Do you run on your toes or your heels? (Generally, on your toes, but the first time you really focus on this you'll find that your calves are incredibly tight the next day). How long is your stride? How deep is your love?**

A cursory google search brought up several articles of suggested drills for improving speed and form - but the most important piece is to pay attention to that form. And warm up.

Warm. Up.

5. Pay attention to your shoes

Not all sneakers are running shoes - these days the athletic shoe market is flooded with choices, and if you plan on doing a lot of running, you'll want to make sure you're in the right shoe for your feet, ankles, knees and back. I wrote this post awhile back about the different types of shoes out there, but if you're serious about running, visit the local running store and try on all of the shoes until you find the right fit. Spend the money on the right shoes. 

And happy Monday. It looks like spring finally made it to Maine. 

*If you don't know who Pat Benatar is then..just...I don't even know what to do with you. Google her. Yes it's a her. 
**I couldn't pass up the BeeGee's reference. 

 

Back pain? Knee pain? Take a look at your shoes

Did you look at your feet right there when I said what's on your feet? Did you? 

Made you look :)

But seriously, what are you wearing on your feet right now?  Are they sneakers? Are they tennis shoes?* Flip flops? High heels? 

 
These are all sneakers right? Yes and no. Not one of them is actually designed for performance. These are all retro throwback shoes that were once used as running and tennis shoes, but don't have the modern day technology that actual performance shoes have. And yes, I have a shoe problem. No, this isn't even close to all of them...

These are all sneakers right? Yes and no. Not one of them is actually designed for performance. These are all retro throwback shoes that were once used as running and tennis shoes, but don't have the modern day technology that actual performance shoes have. And yes, I have a shoe problem. No, this isn't even close to all of them...

 

If you are wearing sneakers, do you know what kind? 

If they are running shoes, do you know if they are stability shoes or minimalist shoes?

In today's saturated sneaker market it can be especially daunting to find the right type of shoe for your workouts. You might pull something off of the shelf because you like the color or the way they make your calves look in the mini-shoe mirror. But are they the best shoes for what your doing?

The right shoes matter for so many reasons. Do you have chronic back pain? Check your shoes. Knee pain? Check your shoes. Hip pain? Yes check your shoes. 

Also, just make sure they're tied. K?

Avoid sportswear and lifestyle shoes for training

So I have sort of a shoe problem, as you can tell from the photo above. More like...well...let's just say I would welcome a walk-in closet. :) I have a particular fondness, along with vinyl records, for vintage sneakers.

These vintage styles have made a big comeback in recent years, much to my delight, but even though they look like workout shoes, they're not meant for training. In fact, companies like New Balance, Puma, and Nike refer to these as lifestyle shoes. 

Double-check your workout shoes and make sure they are designed for performance. 

Running Shoes vs. Training shoes

Most clients I see walk in to the gym are wearing running shoes which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Most running shoes offer some lateral support and, depending on the style, cushioning. 

The biggest difference between runners and trainers is the tread. Running shoes typically have a more aggressive tread, while trainers have a flatter sole, more suitable to indoor surface. 

Are you primarily a runner who adds in two days of strength training? Choose a running shoe. Have you signed up for the local bootcamp, Zumba or crossfit class? Choose a trainer. The general rule is that trainers are safe for 3-5 miles of running, and runners are safe to do 1-2 days of training. 

 
It's tougher to see in this picture, but the shoe on the left is a running shoe, while the shoe on the right is a trainer. The tread on the left is much more aggressive and still fine for wearing in the gym, while the tread on the right is designed specifically for smooth surfaces. 

It's tougher to see in this picture, but the shoe on the left is a running shoe, while the shoe on the right is a trainer. The tread on the left is much more aggressive and still fine for wearing in the gym, while the tread on the right is designed specifically for smooth surfaces. 

 

How can you tell the difference?

If you're at at a box shoe store such as a DSW Warehouse it's nearly impossible. The sneaker collection is lumped together in one aisle and this is where it becomes more difficult to tell a running shoe from a fashion shoe. 

But if you visit your local sporting goods or running store, you'll find different sections for training and running and lifestyle.

Are you a pronator, supinator, terminator or neutral?

If you're the Terminator well...I don't think shoes are a big concern for you.

Do your ankles cave in? Do you have a low arch or flat arch? You're a pronator.

Do you walk more on the outside of your feet? Then you're a supinator. And if you don't do either, chances are you're neutral. 

That's a crude explanation of foot types, but if you go to a running store to find a good pair of shoes these are what the sales folks are looking at when they look at your feet. 

Minimalist shoes

A few years ago, the book "Born to Run" by Chris McDougall revolutionized the running world, and the shoe world in general. By the time the book was written, Nike was already experimenting with the Nike Free and Vibram had produced those weird alien looking five fingered shoes that you'll still see at races and in gyms. 

McDougall began the book because he was looking for an answer to foot pain. The book is an excellent read, but the conclusion for McDougall is that he was simply wearing too much of a shoe and it was dramatically affecting his gait. 

I mention this here because minimalist shoes, such as the Nike Free, the New Balance Minimus, Altra Zero Drops, and others are great shoes that have been mixed into the market, but:

1. They are not for everyone

2. You should be aware of what you're buying when you buy them. Again, these shoes will be mixed in with the great deals at DSW Warehouse and TJ Maxx, but if you head off to a bootcamp class with a pair of minimalist shoes with no lateral support, you might be setting yourself up for injury.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to running and training shoes. But the bottom line is, pay attention to what's on your feet. 

And if you see me, pay attention to what's on my feet too, 'cause I kind of obsess over my shoes. :) 

* For some reason, growing up in Western Pennsylvania, we always had tennis shoes even though none of us played tennis. I digress.