Saturday, June 26, 2010

Running Shoes

As a woman who for many years loved to shop, when I found out that I had to buy good quality running shoes in order to protect myself from injury -- that I had to spend money to protect myself -- I was absolutely delighted!  My parents were very frugal when I was growing up, and frugal doctrines were programmed into me, but I had this streak of rebellion about frugality.  Yet I also always had guilt when I rebelled and spent money I shouldn't.  So, anytime I got permission to buy something expensive, I was very happy.

And what a wonderful thing to get to spend money on!  A wonderful pair of scientifically designed running shoes!  Not only was I required to buy these shoes for my health and protection, but -- o joy of joys -- they would wear out and I would get to do it again!  And again and again if I kept running.

Nope, the cheap shoes were bad, Mom.  I can't buy them at Kmart.  I have to go to a sports store or -- gasp of delight -- a special running store to buy them.

When I first walked into the store, the beautiful colors and sporty designs sparkled from the little individual shelves on the wall.  I wonder what wonderful pair will be mine?

Well, being a large sized foot, I find out that the cutest colors and styles don't always come in my size.  On top of that, the ones they do have in my size don't look as cute as the shoes on the little shelves when they come out of the box.  They are bigger, and in the uglier color.

But that's okay -- they are still specially designed and crafted specialty running shoes, and they are still expensive!  I still get to buy something expensive and luxurious for myself because I am required to.  If I don't, I will hurt myself.  My knees will feel shock waves from the ground.  My pronating feet will misalign my stride and cause repetitive stress injuries. I really need these shoes. I must have these shoes.

Well, then I find out I've got some other issues besides big feet.  It seems that I need a wide toe box and all the cuter women's running shoes taper at the toe.  In some styles I even have to put on a man's version of the shoe, which is in men's colors.  Ugh!

Yet, all is well when I put them on and walk around the store and my feet feel like they've gone to heaven with all that wonderful support and cushioning.  How wonderful it will feel to run in these!

Yes, this is the frame of mind I had about running shoes for many a year and many a pair.

But when I tried to get back to running in the past couple of years, I didn't run right to the store to buy the shoes.  No, I decided I had to earn them first.

No longer actively running, I had switched, over the years, to a practical white New Balance walking shoe.  I bought a new pair of these same shoes every year for over 10 years.  There was no reason to go shopping for running shoes because I was not running.

So, my plan to get back into running started with developing a walking base first.  I could just use the shoes I owned for this, but I got a second pair, one for walking workouts, and one for just hanging around in my life.

But once that walking base was built, and it was time to start running, it was time to go back to the running shoe store once again!

I felt self-conscious going in to the store this time because now I was only planning to become a runner, but was no longer an active runner.  I was overweight, and did not look like a runner or like any of the customers I knew must frequent this store.

However, the sales person was very helpful.  He looked at the bottom of my walking shoes ("yup, you're a pronator") and gave me a pair of shoes with special strong springy material right in the place where pronators do their thing, and special bolstering in the arch so the shoe would not wear down and keep me from pronating.

After that, the next time I needed new running shoes was while vacationing out of town. I was introduced to -- gasp -- a running shoe store on the Finish Line to the Boston Marathon.  I took touristy pictures.  I was so excited, and felt so justified by the special occasion, and even more justified by the fact that I was now actually running (I had brought my "gear" to Boston with me and had run along the Charles River even, right while I was on vacation and in a hotel and all -- "real" runners do that right?)  Surely I was justified in splurging and buying two pair.  I couldn't decide between a pair of Brooks and a pair of Saucony Lady Jazz (which was the first kind I had ever worn) that I just went ahead and got them both.  After all, I had read somewhere that it actually took 24 hours for running shoes to actually completely dry from all the sweat from our feet and that we should let them dry completely before we used them again.  AND, I just figured it was good to have a pair to alternate.  Maybe the slightly different fit of the different shoes would develop slightly different aspects of the muscles or something.  Who knows? Just seemed good somehow.

Well, the next time after the Boston time that I needed to get running shoes was after my latest attempt last year to get myself back running.  I had walked for 8 weeks in the alternating pair of the by-that-time worn-down Brooks and Sauconys.  I was using Chi Walking to teach myself a better walking form because I had previously been waylaid by a bout with two strained hips and I was hoping Chi Walking would help prevent that from happening again.  I had successfully completed a brisk-for-me 5K event (48 minutes) and felt I was now  ready to start a conservative run/walk program.  I also decided I was going to try to train to walk/run a half marathon at the end of the year.

So, to reward myself for building up the 8-week walking base, and to inaugurate my new run/walk training plan, I , of course, had to take a trip to the running shoe store to purchase a brand new pair of shoes to train in.

Only the problem was that the shoes I had were pressing on my toes and I was getting this weird toe pain and ingrown toenails.  So, maybe I needed a bigger size (10, instead of 9.5?)

But when I tried on the bigger size, my heel slipped out the back.  It just wasn't working.

So, the sales guy brought out a pair from the back room.  "Maybe these would work," he said, "but they are way more expensive."  $150 -- the most I would have, up to this point, ever paid for running shoes.  They gleamed as he held them before my eyes.  Silver mesh and navy blue.  They were light and wonderful.  There was plenty of room in the toe box.  He showed me an alternate way of tying them so the heel was snug.

Of course I got them.

And then IT happened.  IT is the horrible plantar fasciitis monster.

Why did it rear it's ugly head?  Plantar fasciitis?  I had been using such a good form with the chi walking that I felt like I was just flying down the sidewalk.  I had surely built enough of a base with that walking.  And I was being so conservative about incorporating some running into my routine.  So gradual.  I gave myself plenty of time to train and build a base.

Now I have often read in the barefooting blogs, forums and books that I have inspected, that there is some kind of finding out there in research that there are more injuries with more expensive running shoes, and that the more expensive the running shoes are, the more problems there are.



Could it be true?

After all those years of believing I had to have a really expensive, amazingly designed running shoes, could it be that it was my beautiful pair of silver and navy blues that did it?  That caused me to run in such a way as to put strain on my plantar fascia?

The more I experiment with barefoot running, and the more I read and discover, the more I am beginning to think that, yes, indeed, the new pair of $150 running shoes had a role to play in my developing one of the most painful conditions my feet had ever experienced.  I've been so worried that after my 6 months hiatus to get the plantar fasciitis healed it would just come back again when I started to try to train.

Because I could not ascertain the cause.

Was the cause my weight?

Did I do too much too soon?

Was it my running form?

Was it ... was it .... was it .... the $150 running shoes?

Well, I am running barefoot for a bit now, and I am running an entire mile -- not run/walking like I was last year -- and I am 25 pounds heavier than I was when I developed the plantar fasciitis.

The reason I am not run walking is because the first day I was out running in my Vibrams I had forgotten my watch to set for run a minute/walk a minute.  So, I just said to myself that I would just run until I was tired, then walk until recovered, etc... without timing it with a watch.  I would just listen to my body.

But I never got tired and I just kept running and running for a full mile.

And I was not wearing my $150 running shoes (although the Vibrams are expensive) and my feet felt really great.

And now I have run that mile two times completely in bare feet, and my feet (except for the sunburnt feeling, which is now completely gone) feel really great.

Could it be?  Was it really? ... the shoes?


debbiemc19 said...

I just found your blog, thought I would start at the beginning. I have to say I had the VERY same experience as you the other day. My first day running in Vibrams and I went from barely managing 4 minutes of running without needing a break, to 16 minutes, over a mile! Can it be the shoes???

Avocational Singer said...

Hi, Debbie! Welcome!
I have no answer to whether it was the shoes (or, if you read on in this blog, the absence of shoes) that helped me have better success with my attempts to get myself out there running again.

There are a lot of sources out there who think it's the fact that we run differently -- landing on our mid-foot instead of our heels -- and that our body lines up more efficiently making running a better experience.

A person still has to go through a process of conditioning, whether in running shoes or not, to be able to run. So, I don't think it's magic. But I do think we'll perform better when we use good form, which may be learned better while wearing more minimal footwear.