On Appropriate Running Shoes

So the plan was to sit down this morning and write a enthusiastic post about how my life was changed by switching from one variety of sneakers to another after realizing that the mid-run pain in the outer bit of my leg was caused by wearing sneakers with more support than I need. I even took this picture yesterday of the new sneakers stomping upon the old sneakers, proving their superiority.

The plan was that my lovely 11 mile run yesterday would have cemented the fact that the shoes the running store and I spent hours (okay, probably 40 minutes) deciding were perfect for my absurdly large feet with a confused arch were, actually, what I should be running in.

I was going to write beautiful words of joy and delight about how wonderful it is when you have finally found the appropriate sneaker. I was going to draw charts showing things about what different kinds of support structures do to your leg when you run on them, and I was going to do research and it was going to be a lovely post, all in all.

Instead, I am sitting on my bed moving an icepack around my lower left leg every 20 minutes, and staring at my “new, perfect, blah blah blah” sneakers with rage. Rage. Once I mentally collect myself, I will be going back to my favorite running store, where, once again, I will exchange shoes that I ran 15-20 miles in for another pair of new shoes which, fingers crossed, will do the trick.

Things started hurting yesterday around mile 5 or 6. I am too stubborn for my own good. But the rest of my body felt great, it was sunny, I felt strong and full of running capabilities. Stupid freaking left outer knee & left foot area. If my shoes had been right, I could have run forever and ever.

First up, yes — humans are capable of running for long periods of time & we were designed to do that. We were not designed to sit on sofas for 10 years and then go try to run 10 miles right away–injuries, etc, happen when you try to make your body do something that is is not prepared to do. We need to slowly and safely build ourselves into runners, developing the necessary muscles, tissue, etc, through training time. I do not thing running is bad for people. I think ill-informed and ill-prepared running is bad for people. But so is ill-prepared and ill-informed knitting, cooking, zamboney driving, road-tripping, violin-playing, and gardening. Safe, smart running is perfectly fine for humans.

The shoes you run on dictate everything about the impact you have with the ground (how your muscles/tendons/etc are affected), and, if you want to take care of your body and be able to run for years and years down the road (pun acknowledged, but not intended), you absolutely need to be running in the right kind of shoes. CoolRunning.com has a TON of really great information — this article on running shoes & the “right” shoes for your feet is excellent, and rather than plagiarizing it, I’ll direct you towards it.

Generally, there are 3 different types of sneakers: support supportive motion-control, moderately supportive, and neutral. The amount of support you need depends on how you walk/place your weight over your foot/what your arch is like. Look at this lovely diagram I made to show what happens when the amount of weight you’re putting on your arch doesn’t equal out to the amount of arch support your sneakers are providing. Of course the dramatic red spray paint markings denote where pain would be felt.

This makes sense to me. I haven't experienced that inner leg pain that I drew there. But it makes sense that if your ankle rolls in a bit, that's where things would hurt, right?

With the weight loss and continued changes in my foot support system/musculature/whatever, my feet have changed a lot. When I first got fitted for sneakers, I got these attractive beasts, which were ideal for my fairly flat foot which needed a lot of extra support. I recently threw out everything in my closet, so no longer am keeping worn-out pairs of old sneakers. So this is the best picture I can get of them.

If you go to a running store and say you want perfect shoes for your feet and you also demand that the shoes be attractive, you will not always get the perfect shoes for your feet.

See how much arch support those offer? That is the inside of my foot/leg, and that dark grey stuff is essentially made of cement. These shoes offer a ton of support and motion-control. Which was exactly what I needed at that point.

I went through two or three pairs of those shoes before I started to have some pain in my outer knee/IT-band area. After many crying fits inspired by thinking that I would never be able to run again, I got myself to google, and then I got myself to the running store. The expert running shoe lady took one look at my feet and essentially said, “well of course you’re in pain! those are not the right shoes for you!” I got fitted for another pair, this time with moderate support, and BAM, runs became perfect again. Glorious. I ran through 2 pairs of these sneakers, loving every step.

The bit under the arches here still provides a good amount of support & motion-control, but you can see that they're a lot less solid than the last pair of sneakers.

Generally, once you find a running shoe that works for you, you can stick with it for years and years. Running shoes usually need to be replaced every 300 to 500 miles, but you’ll be able to tell when you need a new pair. I really wanted these to be those shoes for me. Because they’re pretty.

Despite me not losing a very significant amount of weight since I first got fitted for those shoes, other things have changed in my legs enough that the shoes that worked perfectly for me since July no longer work. I started to have that same outer-leg pain a few weeks ago, except this time it is was more centralized around my outer knee, rather than running up and down my entire outer leg.  I assumed this simply meant I needed to update the shoes, so I went and bought a third pair of them. The first 5 mile run in them was great. The 10 mile long run in them was great, except the next day I had a strange pain in my outer/under knee area. Then I biked all week. And the next time I attempted a long run in these sneakers, I had to stop by mile 3. Ouch. So much ouch.

I went back up to the running store and I explained the predicament. The shoe lady asked the following, saying that any of them could also lead to knee pain/general problems:

  1. Have you recently dramatically increased weekly milage? (I told her I had gone from running 4-6 miles 4-5 times a week to running 4-6 miles two or three times a week and then 10-12 miles once a week–actually not a dramatic shift).
  2. Did you just start running, after not running for a long time? (No)
  3. Are your leg muscles equally strong (as in hamstrings & quads)? Do you stretch frequently? (yes & yes)

She said that the shoe I was running in did seem like it was a good one for me, but then had me try a more neutral one with less arch support. After trying on numerous neutral shoes and running up and down the sidewalk in running shoes and my business casual outfit, I bought a pair of neutral shoes. And I had a very excellent & pain-free run on Thursday in them. Things were looking good (even though I didn’t find the sneakers to be all that attractive).

These shoes are neutral and don't have the same very solid and supportive framework around the arch, like the other shoes did.

But. After the long run yesterday, this is what was going on.

This is how my legs felt after 11 miles yesterday. Those red sad marks should be a LOT bigger and more dramatic. I should have drawn knives stabbing into my leg.

And this is how my legs are feeling right now.

it's NOT FAIR that my muscles feel strong & great and my other bits feel grumpy and weak.

I think that these shoes are too narrow for my gigantor feet, since I could feel tightness from the shoes around my arch-area. Also, as you can tell from the beautiful illustrations, there was lingering outer knee area pain. Any pain around the knees makes me super nervous. I’m relieved that it’s outer-leg pain instead of shin-area pain, because the phrase “shin splints” is something I want to avoid (and think I will, since I’ve slowly built up to being a runner and am generally cautious to be running in the right shoe). Perhaps bringing print-outs of these images to the running store will help me in my search for new shoes?

So this isn’t very conclusive, I’m aware. It wasn’t exactly the post I planned to write. This combination of giant feet, confusing & constantly changing arches, and giant feet does not make sneaker shopping easy. It’s not until I have put a few (read 15ish) miles on a sneaker that I can tell how they feel. Basically, you don’t want to feel the shoe at all. I am totally intrigued by all of this barefoot running/vibram 5-finger business. I can’t lie. But. For now, with excess weight on me still, I do feel like it’s wise to run without some cushioning. I don’t know. I’m googling like a madwoman.

But soon I will re-find the right shoe. And I will be so so happy. So. Happy.

In other news, this is the first post I’m writing from my fancy, shiny new macbook pro. I love it. This is the longest I’ve ever owned a computer (2 days) without wanting to jump on it/burn it/throw it against walls/stab it with knives.

In additional other news, these are on my kitchen table. So even though my leg is a bit uncomfortable, all is well in the world. Happy Spring!

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9 Comments to “On Appropriate Running Shoes”

  1. Hi Sarah – it’s Robin from the WW message boards. First, love the blog. Second, my PSA on shoes: I spent a gazillion dollars/hours of time shopping for the perfect shoes, with little success other than draining my bank account and becoming increasingly frustrated. Someone from my WW meetings suggested I start with a podiatrist visit. I went, explained my situation. He examined my tootsies, wrote down two brand/style numbers of shoes and a brand/style of inserts. I went and picked out the less ugly of the two, tossed in the inserts and BAM! Perfection. A $40 co-pay well spent. Have been using the same style of shoe for 2 years now with zero problems.

    • nice!
      what I love about the running store I go to is that they spend time with you & your feet, and then if they end up selling you shoes that don’t do the job (which I never find out until mid-run), they exchange them for another pair, no questions asked.

      but podiatrist makes sense! Especially for people not near running stores!

  2. i think if you took print outs of your leg pics into the running store it would, at the very least, make people smile:~)

    good luck finding the right shoe! we don’t have a running store around here, just a couple of sports stores that sell shoes. i checked on out yesterday while i was in the area (because i’m getting ready to start brad’s running program & recommended we get some new proper running shoes), & when i asked the guy how they help my find the right shoe he told me, “by knowing the shoes”. or something like that that did not tell me what i wanted to hear. they don’t watch me walk or anything. kinda disappointing. i may just make do till i get to a larger town with a real running store. you have made the case for a knowledgeable running staff very clear:~)

    • yeah, a knowledgable running shoe sales-person (who is also actually a runner) is key! good luck finding something that works for you — maybe take Robin’s tip & go get recommendations from a podiatrist?

      Good luck!

  3. The thing about the vibrams and other *natural running* unpadded shoes, is the whole natural running our ancestors did was on grass/sand/dirt and not concrete/hardened surfaces. That’s sort of why we have padding on our shoes, to make the concrete seem like dirt to your feet.

    For trail or beach running, vibrams are probably cool, but on the road I’d think you’d end up killing your arches…

    Some people really like Newtons (the shoes with the lugs on the front that force you to land on your toes more). Trying to land mid-foot or forward is something that might help with your running and pain, if you heel strike too much, that puts a lot of stress on your knees and the tendons.

    I think the podiatrist might be good to talk to, I wish you luck finding good shoes!

    • hah, Kevin, that’s exactly the conversation that Running Shoe Guy & I just had! re: running barefoot on cement.

      I tried on vibrams & ran around the block in them — totally cool. Really makes you more aware of your step and gait and all that. They’re also just a ton of fun to run in. I bought a different pair of real sneakers, and just went on a little jog, paying attention to landing more on the front part of my foot. Made a big difference in how my legs felt & all that.

      I think I will eventually get a pair of vibrams, but I won’t use them exclusively. I am actually able to do a fair amount of non-concrete running, which is lucky.

  4. I feel the same way about bra’s. I hate them!! No matter how many times I try them on or try to find a different brand, style, design, etc. . . nothing seems to work right.

    Sneakers are right up there too. I have a pretty wide foot. Everyone says get New Balance, but the women’s brand still doesn’t fit right. I ended up with a men’s in New Balance and this is probably the best fitting sneaker I’ve found to date.

    I know you’re in pain, but your post did crack me up as always. I love the little smiley and sad faces up and down your leg. Sooo funny!!

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