by Marilynn Preston
I saw a friend out running the other day. He was running; I was racewalking, hat pulled down to avoid the odd stare. He didn’t look happy, and his gait was off. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Shoes hurt,” he answered, pointing to a snazzy new pair in a neon color I can’t name. “Brand-new, and they’re killing me.” When I saw Dan a few days later, he was smiling. No pain, no limp, no new shoes. “I’m back to my old ones,” he said. “They feel great.”
I hate to be a scold, but sports medicine-wise, dear Dan is making a big mistake. Running in broken-down shoes is a major cause of aches and injuries because you’re not getting the cushioning and support you need. Your four-year-old ASICS may feel cozy in the short run, but over time can lead to doctors, medication, and downtime from your favorite sport.
Today’s take home? Prevention! Self-care is the best care. You can prevent many running injuries by replacing your shoes when needed.
WHEN TO REPLACE
Every shoe will wear differently, depending on many factors including your size, weight, biomechanics, running speed and surface. Some lucky light-footed runners might get 800 miles on a single pair. If you’re hard on shoes, then you might need new ones after half that distance. If you’re a casual runner doing 20 miles a week on a treadmill, you may need to replace the shoes after 6 months (or between 400-500 miles.) Mark the start date of your new pair under the tongue to keep track.
Here’s a simple way to tell if yours need replacing: Set them on a flat surface and look at them from behind. If the seam on the back of the heel is no longer vertical, or if the soles show more wear on one portion than others, or if the uppers are badly stretched, or if the midsoles are brittle, thank your shoes for carrying you as far as they have, and recycle them. One option is www.Soles4souls.org – “Give shoes. Give love.” – and Nike’s been turning donated worn out shoes into sustainable playing fields for years. “Shoes die. Soles live on.”
TALK TO EXPERTS
Beware the hype. The No. 1 rated shoe in the magazines may not be the best one for you. Talk to an experienced sales person. Tell him/her how much you run and on what kind of terrain, and bring in your old shoes, so wear patterns can be discussed.
“Today’s take home? Prevention! Self-care is the best care. You can prevent many running injuries by replacing your shoes when needed.”
If your shoes are worn down toward the outside heel and inside of the toe area, you pronate (rotate your foot inward), and will probably do better with a shoe that offers strong arch support and a solid, stable heel. If you see wear on the outside edge of your shoe, you supinate, and would benefit from a different design. Some runners do well wearing shoes with less support and structure because they like the idea that their feet and legs have to work harder and get stronger. If you want to explore this innovative less-is-more option, take it slowly so your body can gradually adjust.
GO FOR COMFORT
A new running shoe should feel good from the get-go. It doesn’t need “breaking in.” Walk around the store. Ask to take it for a trial run. You want your heel to fit snuggly in the shoe and feel well-supported by the firm heel counter that provides stability for the entire foot and leg. The toe box should be roomy, but not too big. Too tight and you’ll end up with battered toes. If the shoe rubs or pinches anywhere, don’t buy it.
DO A HANDS-ON INSPECTION
Quality control can be slipshod even in $200 shoes. Before you buy, inspect for defects. Are the arches firmly in place? Do both shoes flex in the same place when you press down? Run your hands along the inside seams of the shoe, checking for rough spots or bulges. If you find a problem, hit reject and inspect another pair.
And know this please: Running shoes are designed for running and walking. They are not designed for lateral motion sports like basketball, volleyball, tennis, Ultimate Frisbee. If you cheat and make do, you’re not preventing injuries, you’re inviting them.
Marilynn Preston – Healthy lifestyle expert, well-being coach and Emmy-winning producer – is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, marilynnpreston.com, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.