Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Great Experiment

The sport of running requires one piece of equipment: running shoes.  There are a lot of other things that help, but nothing is more important than shoes.  Whenever flying, I will carry on my shoes above all else.  The airline can loose all my other possessions.  They can be replaced, but a good pair of broken-in shoes are irreplaceable.

The right pair of running shoes will minimize the chances of getting injured, and help a runner to hit their stride effortlessly.  For a long time, I considered myself bio-mechanically inefficient.  I am pigeon toed (my toes tend to point inward), flat footed, and I tend to overpronate.  Therefore, my shoe type of choice tends towards support shoes, with inserts to minimize knee pain.

For the longest time, I trained in Asics Gel Kayanos and raced in Saucony Fastwitches.  Every year, shoe companies re-release their shoes with different colors and usually minor changes.  Unfortunately for Asics, they ruined the Kayanos in my humble opinion, forcing me to change shoes.  The 2010 model caused nothing but major blisters and the shoes would not stay tied no matter what I did.  So I switched to the Brooks Trance, essentially the same style of shoe made by a different company.

The shoe provides a lot of support and cushion.  In addition to helping flat footed runners, it is supposed to help compensate for those that tend to land on their heels.  Both the Kayanos and Trance are on the heavy side for shoes, weighing in at 11-13 ounces.  However, the Trance are a bit less clunky and have a tighter fit.

The Saucony Fastwitch on the other hand are all about light weight.  They are racing flats, designed to be used in road races and fast training days.  Every year, they have made the shoe lighter and lighter.  This year in particular they have really done a good job.  There is almost nothing to the shoe, weighing in at 7 ounces.  It provides just a splash of support for flat footed runners.

I have always run races in these shoes and have felt awesome in them.  My stride is always so much smoother and more effortless when wearing these shoes.  However, with the reduced "protection," I was always concerned about running too much in them.  My opinion started to change during my Spring training cycle.  I completed 3 marathons, all in the Fastwitches, and felt just as good if not better in those shoes than I did in my trainers after long runs.

I decided for the second half of 2010 to do all my speedwork and tempo runs in my racing flats, dedicating a larger percentage of my mileage to the lighter shoes.  If I did not experience any new pain after a few months, I'd consider going to even lighter weight shoes.  After 4 months of experimenting, I am happy to report that my body can handle the lighter shoes quite well.  I absolutely love running in my Fastwitches, my stride just feels so natural.

The only draw back with racing flats is durability.  At only 200 miles, the treads are almost completely shot and the shoes end up feeling "flat."  My most recent pair will be retired at the end of this week, after only 1.5 months.  Thankfully, they are cheaper than my trainers, so the cost per mile is nearly the same, meaning I don't really spend more money for taking this approach.

However, I have noticed something very interesting about the wear patterns on my Fastwitches.  I see almost no wear whatsoever on the heels, all the wear is between the midfoot and forefoot area.  This is hard evidence that I am not a heel striker, and may be more biomechanically efficient than I thought.  Taking a closer look at my trainers revealed the same pattern.

After talking to some people who commented that I do run upright with a good a stride, and seeing wear patterns on heel strikers, I have concluded that my stride is actually a good one.  I still flail way too much and don't keep my legs and knees as straight as I could, but the most important part of my stride seems to be good.  It means that I may be able to run in neutral shoes, or shoes that are even lighter than my Fastwitches.  I also don't exhibit wear patterns suggesting overpronating.  That could mean the shoes are doing their jobs, or that I don't overpronate to begin with.  Since the Fastwitch gives less support, but yet the wear pattern is no different, I'm assuming that I don't overpronate (at least not anymore).

I still use my cut to fit orthotics to relieve knee pain, since I am convinced they cured my patellar tendinitis...a problem I developed back in 2007 when I made my return to running.  However, my next step in my shoe experiment is to try a lighter weight neutral shoe.  I just picked up a pair of Brooks T6 Racers.  Weighing in at 6oz's, it is one of the lightest road racing flats on the market.  It is recommended one works carefully with this shoe, trying shorter distance events before taking them for a spin in a marathon.

After trying them on, they feel like they can work.  I'll start off real slow with them, first trying them during my easy morning runs with Back on my Feet.  If that goes well, next will be one of my short but moderate paced solo runs.  If a few of those work, I'll try some speedwork, then a 5K race, then some tempos, then longer races.  I have no idea how much I'll be able to handle, or how far I'll be able to run in them while avoiding pain.

However, I feel I have enough evidence to suggest I can handle it.  Based on my current trend, if the Fastwitches feel awesome, perhaps this lighter shoe will feel even better.  My next move would be to obtain lighter weight shoes to train in, reserving the T6s for racing only, or some combination of speedwork and racing.

If this experiment works, I'll end up running exclusively in Brooks shoes.  Combine that with my growing collection of Brooks apparel, and one may notice I'm making a move towards one brand.  There is a reason for this, which hopefully, will provide some benefit for me in the future, but more on that another time.


  1. Sounds like you want to be a member of the Brooks racing team.

  2. Yes...although they just made it a lot harder to get in. There used to be a period where you could submit an application.

    Now it's "invitation only" and you have to submit a resume. Of course, it has to be a running rather than professional resume. I'm going to try and pull the trigger sometime in mid-2011 assuming the shoe situation works out.

    That gives me time to get more involved with volunteering for BRRC (which I did not do as much as I wanted this year).