Saturday, January 14, 2012

Shoes Make the Woman

When I started running I started reading every book I could find about running. I did the same thing when I quit drinking. For me, there's something about research that grounds my beliefs and proves my goals are attainable. There are several things I learned that have contributed to my success and I wanted to share them with anyone who wants to start running:
  1. The shoe debate: most shoes on the market have incredible cushioning and motion control built into them. Most books make shoe recommendations based on gait and foot structure. Research has shown that this technology has done nothing to reduce the rate of injury in runners. The latest research suggests that one should buy the most comfortable shoe. I inadvertently bought a shoe with minimal support, minimal cushioning, and no stability control and my knee problems disappeared (this is a long standing problem for me). When I replaced those shoes based on the recommendations at the running store (the shoe I'd been wearing wasn't made any longer) I had near-instant knee pain. Trust your instincts here - blame the shoe first. Most shoe stores will allow you to exchange your shoes if there are no signs of wear - I took five different pairs for a run, cleaned them, and returned them. Yes - it was embarrassing to go back to the store for the fourth time. On the plus side, I found shoes I really love. One other thing: don't tie your shoes too tightly - pain in your arches signifies that the shoe is too tight. And lastly, buy non-cotton running socks.
  2. Running form: here too, I found multiple conflicting perspectives. Some advise aiming for a heel strike and a wide stride to reduce injury, while others argue for a mid-strike. Bio-mechanics indicate that a heel strike (hitting the ground with your heel first) increases the overall stress on your body, suggesting that the mid-foot people are right. For me, heel strike feels unnatural and increases my knee pain. Keep in mind that a shoe with alot of cushion will force the heel strike. Go with what feels natural.
  3. MP3 or No? When I started running I believed music made it easier to run. When I tried without it, I found it much easier. I can't explain why, but it seems like the music overwhelmed my ability to concentrate on what I was doing. My brain was screaming instructions (like: "WTF?" "Stop running before you pass out") at the same time the beat was blasting away in my ears. Now I do use music on longer runs because I get bored, but I find it easier to stay focused and relax when there's no music. 
  4. Start Now: You don't have to change or improve yourself before you start running. Whether you're still drinking or still smoking or whatever, you can still take this one step.
  5. Winter training: I started running while it was still warm out and was really worried about the snow and cold weather. Now, I really love it. (Of course, winter has been mild so far.) One fun fact about running outside in winter: you burn significantly more calories in the cold. There are a few keys to success:
  • Don't overdress: I overdress every single time I go out, because I'm a complete baby about being cold. The key is to wear layers that will hold body heat that keeps you warm - you are actually supposed to be cold for the first ten minutes - after that, you'll be warm as toast. I always end up running with two layers tied around my waist because I get so hot.
  • Wear performance clothing: When I started, I wore cotton. This is not a great idea in general, but in winter you'll freeze to death. Sporting stores seem to charge a lot for clothing, so I go to REI/MEC or Marshalls/Winners/TJMax.
  • Wear a hat and gloves: It makes an obvious, but huge difference.
  • Buy crampons: I usually just wear my runners and stick to areas where I know people keep their walks clean, but on icy days with a lot of snow, I attach crampons to my runners. Make sure you buy tight fitting ones with small spikes.
For all the runners out there - what did I miss?


  1. Wow. Very useful and timely post for me. The shoe debate is really interesting to me. I had tendonitis in the ankle and had orthotics made for me and they really didn't help at all. I'm going to heavily consider the comfort factor...thanks.

    1. That's fantastic! I really find the shoes make a huge difference. Orthotics did not help me at all (although they weren't custom).

  2. I jogged a little bit over the weekend and just added the (free) couch to 5k app to my phone. Later I'll test it out on the treadmill at the gym, but only because it's supposed to rain. Your thoughts on music while running are interesting. I can hardly walk and talk at the same time, so I'll keep this in mind. Thanks for the helpful post!


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