Some thoughts on shoes.

If I could give my past self one piece of advice before I started running it would be this: Be your own data set.

Go out and run, note how you feel, how long you run for, how do your legs, joints and lungs feel after certain workouts. Don’t copy other people and expect the same results. Don’t buy shoes because other people swear by them. Use the data your body will constantly give you and learn from it, or suffer the consequences.

Never have I obsessed more about shoes than the last few years. Upon deciding to take running more seriously, I hurried to the nearest local sports shop, had my gait analysed and spent almost £100 on a pair that seemed like the business.

What followed was a week of agony in the arches of both feet, where a large plastic section of the shoe was tearing away at my skin. In the end I gave those shoes away and ran my first marathon in a pair of £35 Adidas Supernovas from Amazon, which lasted me a good year afterwards as well! Lesson learned.

I think the point I’m trying to make here is that shoes, as with so much in running, (possibly what I find so attractive) are a deeply personal affair. I am not denouncing the expertise of shop staff or the importance of gait analysis, far from it. I took valuable information about my level of pronation (rolling of the ankle on impact) that I still use to this day when buying shoes. But there is just so much going on in a running technique, that a 3 minute treadmill video is unlikely to uncover all your quirks.

Annoyingly, the only way to know whether a shoe is right for you is to run in it, extensively. This is a hard to swallow fact for many, given that once you run in the shoes, you can’t just take them back. My advice would be to undergo a gait analysis, then use that information to make a more informed decision about your choice of shoes. Don’t break the bank on them, this line is literally in here as a reminder for me.

I would never pay full price for running shoes anymore, however, in the spirit of honesty, I do have about five pairs on rotation (more on this later). The proliferation of models and versions is such that every year the market demands updates, so the previous year’s model plummets in price. Take advantage of this!

The running shoe market has exploded in recent years, with the advent of minimalist running off the back of Christopher McDougall’s book Born To Run (Read it!) and now the renaissance of the oversized aesthetic from brands like Hoka One One. Being a bit of a nerd, I’m fascinated by the theory behind how all these different types of shoe came about, and the plethora of science and research invested in the human foot strike.

A few years back, I was chatting to a rep at the Paris Marathon Expo, he was telling me how your feet are constantly adapting and changing depending on the stresses you put on them (seems to make sense, right). Meaning, that gait analysis you had done in 2015 might have changed completely by now. So don’t get too caught up in running in one shoe and one shoe only!

The Adidas shoes in the picture were my absolute favourites for a long time, they were falling to pieces and were of a fairly minimal cushion in the first place. During buildup to the Chicago Marathon in 2018, at peak mileage I started to get what felt like IT Band pain in my right knee. I went to the physio, rested and cross trained to no avail. Finally, I turned my attention to the only other variable…..the shoes. I had been so blinded by my love for them, I used to tell people that I wouldn’t retire them until I went sub 3, as I ‘owed’ it to them! I’m shaking my head now just writing that.

I now run in a range of shoes from Altras (zero drop) to Hokas (high cushion), and am convinced that the variety has helped keep me relatively injury free. My logic is this; if I’m going to consistently take upwards of 20,000 steps a day, wouldn’t it make sense to vary the foot strike somewhat?

I put the question mark there because I genuinely don’t know, I could be totally wrong and on the verge of a catastrophic career ending injury. All I can do is work with the information I have compiled. Don’t be blinded by brand loyalty, clever marketing or what others are wearing, least of all me!

Be your own data set, start easy and build from there.

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