The more I think about my years crammed up in über padded running shoes from major brands, the more frustrated I get that my feet suffered in those suffocating hot boxes. Cramped toes, over pronation, and sore knees were all things I thought runners were “supposed” to feel. With all that padding in pretty much every part of the shoe, common sense would tell you the runner in said shoes should feel no pain or stiffness after a run. For me, that’s not so.
Let me qualify what I mean by padding. Think of the stuffed feeling your fingers get when you put on a highly insulated winter glove. It has five fingers and is roughly designed around the basic human design. Sure, the fingers fit into the glove, but it’s not optimal you are trying to do very specific actions. For me, an extremely padded running shoe feels the same way. I’m talking upper/inner padding that rivals the midsole of the shoe. For runners that have, what I call “hobbit”-feet (like me!), a shoe this padded just feels like the foot space in coach on an airplane. My feet are wide and need much more space than a traditional toe box.
Roughly two years ago, I decided I was going to embark on a training plan for a half-marathon. Because of the medication I was on, I had gained a significant amount of weight. About 30 pounds over my usual weight, the added bulk to my left thigh caused a condition called meralgia parasthetica, which is essentially a pinched nerve. The frequent and unpredictable episodes of sharp pain, stinging, and numbness kept me up at night and moving much slower in the day. I was run down to the ground between the physicality of my job, the overload of caffeine coupled with poor diet choices, and the lack of sleep due to the pain. It kind of went without saying that my half-marathon training was moved to the back burner.
The only treatment for this condition is medication, which was prescribed on top of the other medication I was already taking. I was a walking, pharmaceutical zombie. Sluggish, tired, and barely able to ignore the faint pain that occasionally come back, despite the drugs my doctors loaded me up with. I promised myself I would start running again, but continued to push it back. Days became weeks, and so on. The fall and winter passed, and as spring turned the corner, I decided to get back at there. The first run was three miles, and I was huffing it. Any base of fitness I had in years past had been obliterated by the sedentary person I barely recognized. I didn’t get right back to consistent weekly mileages until late that summer. There were some good days in the beginning of the spring, but I won’t lie, there were much more rough days, and some days I didn’t even bother.
So I decided to resurrect the half-marathon training plan. Numerical, spreadsheet plans are certainly not for everyone, but they are great for me. I dialed in the plan and started. There was only one problem, but it was a big one: shoes. I won’t name any brand names in the derogatory, but my running shoes manufactured by a more well-known company were not helping my running. Most of us runners aren’t rich folks, and even if you do have money coming out of your ears, you should always ask yourself what a piece of gear is going to do to enhance your running. Good products are usually not cheap, but that extra money is worth it.
As I mentioned above, my feet were crammed into those past shoes. The pain in my thigh from the meralgia parasthetica was becoming more tolerable, so I started to focus on the problem(s) relating to my aching feet. On one of my runs, early in the half-marathon training process, I listened to an interview with Golden Harper, founder of Altra Running Footwear.
The design, aside from their Zero Drop and Foot Shape, incorporated a very wide toe box. The idea behind this design is it allows your toes to splay out. When your toes and foot are in their natural state, not compressed with excessive padding, all the joints up through your leg participate in absorbing the impact in each stride. I got my hands on a pair of their road shoes, the Instinct 3. About a mile into the first run, I knew I found my shoe.
Sure, I still got a little sore after long runs, but my feet and my knees felt rejuvenated after a few weeks. I saw the speed go up in my runs and there was no longer any distraction. I could just focus on the my goals for each run.
Altra worked for me, but I know they aren’t for everyone. The only reason I mention their name is because of how amazing my feet felt and how unique their design is. There are several shoe manufacturers stepping up their game as far as design goes. I’d encourage you to do a lot of research and step outside the casual Nike option. I’m not trying to knock Nike here, just saying they are often the default for people looking to start running. Go to your local running store, comb running websites for reviews, and ultimately try the shoes on before you commit.
Companies like Altra and Hoka have a free 30-day trial period if you order from them directly online. I’ve tried a few pair of Hoka shoes just out of pure curiosity and never had a problem returning them, even after a run in them. Take advantage of things like that. Go to your local running store and try on a few pairs after some research online. Check out gear reviews on Ginger Runner Live, Gearist, iRunFar, and UltraRunner Podcast. I think you’ll find that your ideal pair of shoes are a little bit more expensive than the ones you find at the department store, but I don’t think they will be as outrageously expensive as you may fear.
I was at the lowest point I’d ever been as far as running went. It was amazing what a pair of shoes did for me. Don’t skimp on the shoes. Your investment in a good pair will not only motivate you to get the return, it will make your runs so much better.
Here’s to the kicks!