Friday, October 9, 2009

The Breaking Point of Shoes

Before putting in the kind of miles that will cause one’s shoes to “break,” it’s good to know how you run (e.g. the way that your body aligns itself when it strikes the ground). This has a lot to do with your arch (high, low, neutral), knee and hip alignment. Running, in a general sense, is going to put your body under stress, and you are going to need to combat that in a number of ways. Always try to think “preventative,” keep limber by stretching A LOT and get yourself a good pair of running sneakers that are catered to your body’s running needs. You need to know how a shoe SHOULD feel, and how your body SHOULD feel, when it is being well supported by a solid pair of running sneakers.

At the start of the Team In Training season, they always have “clinics” which give you instruction on not only running techniques, but what and wear you should buy gear. They even have one or two sessions dedicated strictly to buying the proper shoes, and having “professionals” come in to watch you run and tell you what type of runner you are (
Pronation: where your foot and ankle roll inward, or Supination: where your foot and ankle roll to the outside). This can be very helpful, especially after the first few Saturday runs when the new/ first time marathoners come big-eyed and dressed in cut-off sweat pants (no, no, no – let me introduce you to the “dri-fit” running short).

As you know from my July 1st blog post, I have not had much luck when it comes to finding “professionals” in shoe stores fit me for a good shoe (or tell me corresponding information), and was very pleased that I could lean on a trained PT to explain my gait to me (I’m fairly even, with some slight pronation in my right foot). However, doing some research to write this blog has brought to me many interesting websites and really allowed me to SEE what an “over pronator” or “over supinator” looks like and what it really means about and for your body. Northcoast Footcare, Inc. has a great website that goes over the
biomechanics of your foot, and really explains what is going on with your feet as you strike the ground when you walk or run.

If a picture tells a thousand words, then a moving picture has to tell a million, so I, of course, also hiked it over to to see if I could find some informational videos on this topic as well. Youtube did not disappoint (has it ever, really?)


Supination (they call it “underpronation” in the video…it’s the same thing):

Watching these videos really illustrates the extra stress that your ankle joints are put under when you are an overpronator or oversupinator. To get fit for the proper shoe you can do some self assessment of your gait from the comfort of your own home, without even stepping one foot into a specialty running store. Just look at the soles of your old shoes to see if there is a definite wearing down on one side, compared to the other. This will give you great indication of whether or not your ankles roll and put more pressure on the inside or on the outside of your foot.

If you are a light runner (1-3 miles once a week or so) your body may not feel the effects of your less-then-aligned gait, however, tack on 8-10+ miles, and you are sure to walk (hobble) way with some definite joint discomfort or a more serious (and annoyingly long healing) use injury.

Buying the proper shoes is key (they are now designed with gender in mind and to help straighten out your gait so that you are striking the ground more head on), but making sure you don’t keep them past their “breaking point” is equally important. How long shoes last will depend on how many miles you are putting on them each week (including taking into account use for – walking to/ from work, lifting or the elliptical machine at the gym, etc.) Most people who aren’t training for a race (like a marathon) will not put as many miles on their shoes because they won’t be doing (the ridiculously long) miles that, say, marathoners put in on the weekends. The stress on your shoes won’t be as great, and you’ll be able to hold on to them a few more weeks.

It is recommended that you replace running shoes between 350-550 miles depending on your running style, body weight, and the surface on which you run. Lighter runners can get closer to the upper end of the recommendation while heavier runners are harder on shoes and should consider replacement shoes closer to 350 miles.

My shoes out and out broke on my 20 miler day. My cousin, God love him, scheduled his wedding on the same day that Team In Training had scheduled our 20 mile training run. Since I couldn’t really turn to my cousin and say, “Hey, I know you have already completely rearranged your life and sent out ‘wedding invitations’ to friends and family across the United States and booked everything for the 26th of September, but would you mind changing this one, teenie, tiny detail…the day it’s taking place? It kinda conflicts with my training schedule. That’s not going to be inconvenient…right???”


So, I had to find an alternative day and time to do my run. I spoke with the coaches, and some of my teammates, and decided that I was going to do it on the Thursday before the wedding/ the team’s 20 miler, and break it up into two 10 mile runs. It wasn’t ideal, and I got a few teeth-bared, air-sucked in faces from the coaches, but if I tried to do it all at once, I’d either have to wake up at 3:30 am, to be out on the road by 4:00 am, or do it directly after work and not finish until around 10:00 pm. Neither one of these options appealed to me. One of the coaches, Mikey, said that he would run the second 10 miler with me after work. I, unfortunately, could not rope anyone into the morning 10 miler (shocking, yes, I know), so I had to motivate myself to roll out of bed and get to my office’s gym by 6:00 am so that I could head out on the mean streets of DC and get an early morning start to my day. As I learned (and previously predicted), starting your day with 10 miles isn’t the same as starting it with your typical cup of morning joe, but it will get you going (yuck, yuck!). Since my super cool heart monitor watch is not also a super cool GPS tracker, I’ed my route ahead of time, printed out the map and tucked it into the pouch of my waterbelt to help me remember where I was headed. It was pretty straight forward, just a left out of my building, down towards Georgetown, up towards DuPont, then a right onto Massachusetts Avenue, a right onto 6th Street, then a left onto Pennsylvania heading up and around the Capitol Building, then staying straight to hit the National Mall all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, head back down past the reflection pool, over to Pennsylvania again, run down Pennsylvania, back towards the Capitol and past the White House, left onto 15th Street, a left through Farragut Square, and then back to my building. Ta da! Nothing to it. Since I was out before many commuters had decided to get into the city, I was able to breeze through crosswalks and bypass all the red lights with no problem. However, as soon as I started out, I could feel my gait was off. I hoped that as the miles wore on, my body would loosen up and I would become more settled in the pace, but luck wasn’t with me. I knew it was partly because my back was still twinged from the 18 miler the other week. I had felt fantastic the day of, and, in relative terms, I consider how I felt to be “great overall” after running 18 miles, but afterwards my back had been begging for hands to constantly kneed at the knotted muscles, and would often crack if I shifted my weight from side to side (“Oh…that can’t be good,” I’d think). So, my body started to try to compensate for my awkward gait resulting in my right hamstring tightening up on me. Even though the stops weren’t as frequent as they would have been if I had run later in the day, when they came about I used them to get a stretch in and try to loosen up. It helped, a little, but combating my stretching attempts were my now worn out shoes.

I’d say, right about the 6 mile mark, it became undeniably clear that my running shoes were no longer supporting me the way they needed to. Every time I would strike the ground, I could feel how I’d just sink right into the pavement - every time I would catch the edge of the curb, that curb would be nestled into my arch just a bit too snuggly. They had broken, in a big, big way, and were consequently taking my body down along with them (e.g. my right hamstring). I have typically not really gotten to this point with my running shoes. I may not
Mary-Kate or Ashley Olsen, but I don’t weigh all that much, which allows shoes to last a bit longer then they would for someone who was heavier. And, prior to my marathon running ways, I’d ask for and only run a 1 mile loop – scoffing if someone offered a longer course. “2 miles! (scoff, scoff) That would take, like, 25 minutes!” I’d switch out shoes every 6 months – 1 year, because honestly, they would last that long. My last marathon, I had switched out shoes a bit more then I did for this one. Unfortunately, they were a pair I had no business running in (even though I had been fitted for them), which I think added to my knee issues later that season. I used my old shoes when I would cross train on Wednesdays, but pretty much stuck with the one pair for the whole training season. I knew I’d need to replace them, but because of other things I was shelling money out for, I was trying to put it off as long as humanly possible (probably not the best thing to scrimp on).’s “When To Replace Running Shoes” even starts off it’s article with:

Running in old or worn out shoes can lead to an increase in running injuries. Over time running shoes lose stability and shock absorption capacity. When this happens the stress to the feet and legs increases dramatically. Over time such added stress can lead to an overuse injury. A simple prevention strategy includes replacing running shoes when they wear out.

Ah, seems so simple. The light was seen, and I was resolved to the fact that I would have to go home and order myself some new running sneakers. If only could get them to me before the second installment of my 20 mile/2 day! Not so much.

Despite my hamstring, the run went fine. It was a perfect morning to be out there, a good early Fall breeze was blowing, the skies were clear and blue, and I even thought I was lucky enough to get a Barack-Obama-doing-an-early-morning-bike-ride-around-the-Mall sighting…but alas, it was just some other politician surrounded by security. I ended the run, I showered, and I went to work, prepared to finish my run later that day.

As the hours wore on, and sitting in an office chair became my major movement of the day, my hamstring started to get tighter and tighter. I tried to discreetly stretch my legs under my desk and keep moving as much as possible. I emailed and finalized a meeting spot with Coach Mikey, and just told myself to suck it up but take it easy on the second half.

I have to give major thanks to Mikey - he is amazing. Not only did he run 10 miles with me just because I needed someone to run with, but it was on a day that he had to get up and be at work by 5:00 am, after having a rather long night the night before. I think the National Chapter gets a little spoiled by the caliber of support they are given, because, man, when they say “we are there for you if you need something,” they are not joking. Our coaches, mentors and LLS staff are top notch. Having him there for my second installment of the 20 miles was a big help. He was easy to talk with, distracting me from the miles being put in, and I actually kept a more even and open stride, allowing my hamstring to relax some so that I could finish without thinking, “Oh, I may have really pulled something here.” As a precautionary measure, I wrapped my right knee before the last ten miles, as well as my left, to give my joints some extra support since I knew the additional stress could cause me issues I don’t want (ever, but especially) so close to the race. Sure, I was sick of running half way through the second 10, but with a little help from my friend, I was able to push through. We got in front of my office and he threw his hands up, “And, you’re done!” …and so were my shoes.

I got home, popped online, and purchased the same make and model as my last pair. When they arrived a few days later was when I TRULY saw and felt how much I had beaten them up over the course of my training. Sure, the picture shows how dirty they are, but that can happen in a matter of a day after some trail running - the true test was when I slipped one foot into the old sneaker, and the other foot into the new sneaker. Holy cow! It was like I had carved out all of the cushioning from my old sneakers and chucked it in the trash. There was NO support, what-so-ever, left in my old shoes. None. Nada. Zilch. I had killed them, and they were trying to return the favor during my 20 miler (which, they only slightly succeeded in).

You can tell by my tread, that the ware is pretty even around the sole of the shoe. I haven’t been keeping count like I did last season, but I ran 4-6 miles about 3 times a week, plus the long runs on Saturdays - which ranged from 3 miles all the way up to 20, so my guesstimation would be that I put in around 300 miles this season [which would be like me running from Washington, DC to (just a few miles shy of) Fayetteville, NC]. That is on the low side of the mileage people usually go by when it comes to changing out running shoes, which means that it is important to not go by the standard, but how you are feeling. If you are finding that you are having more joint discomfort or muscle fatigue, although there are many factors that can contribute to this, take a look at your shoes and make sure you aren’t wearing them thin (almost literally - all that compression your body puts on the sole, and the wearing away of your thread will cause your shoe to thin out).

Since receiving my new sneaks, I have been strictly using them to make sure that they are broken in before the race. You never want to go into a race in anything new, so I had a little less then a month to make them “used.” Again, as a precautionary measure, I will be Body Gliding the stuffing out of my feet on race day. Nothing says ouch! like a blister on mile 5 of 26.2. That would be a whole other kind of breaking point…

Other articles you may want to check out that deal with this topic are:

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