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Day 6 – The search for the perfect running shoe

By Brittany Wortley

What if the perfect shoe is an illusion? Some people swear by a certain brand like Brooks or a certain style like the GT-2000, but I have yet to find a pair of shoes to swear by. In my eight or so years of running, I haven’t tied myself down to a single brand or type of shoe. Of all the shoes I’ve tried, nothing stands out as something I want to get over and over again.

When I started running my first year of high school track, I learned the hard way what an important piece of equipment shoes are to the sport. The training shoes I used during the short three-month season ended up injuring me. I tried to ice 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off as soon as I got home from practice, but I’d still be limping the next day.

It wasn’t until a few years later as I was getting fitted for shoes that I learned the injury from high school track was a result of the shoes I had worn. When I began running more regularly, and by “regularly” I mean two to three times a week, I began wearing a supportive shoe for which I had been properly fit. However, the supportive shoe did not stop my calves from getting tight, keep my feet from going numb or my knee from giving me pain. I was convinced that in spite of the fitting that I still didn’t have the “right” shoes since I was still experiencing those things, however this didn’t stop me from doing all my half marathon training in those same shoes.

After completing my first half marathon in 2013 and then a 10k a few months later with quite a bit of knee pain, I called it good and didn’t train for anything for the next two years. I planned to run the Riverbank Run 25k in 2015 and started to train for it around the end of 2014. The beginning of this journey came with another new pair of shoes, but no knowledge gained from the mistakes I’d made during my half marathon training. I encountered the same problems I had experienced during my last big race training and did little to nothing to correct them. After completing the 25k, I had still learned nothing from the process.

I kept running, trying to build on what fitness I had gained, but it fizzled as the weather cooled and I went back to not training for anything at all. As 2016 came around my family was planning a trip to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, so my training began again with two more pairs of shoes added to my arsenal. This time I was looking to learn from what I’d been doing wrong for the last seven years. How do I keep my calves from getting so tight that it’s uncomfortable to keep moving? How do I keep my knee from giving out? Why are my feet going numb? I began to learn that shoes aren’t always the answer to these types of problems as long as you’ve been fitted well, and I knew I had been.

I was told to stretch to keep my calves from getting so tight. Stretch before a run, after a run, on a day you aren’t running, and use a foam roller as well. I was also introduced to calf sleeves. Wearing these during a workout or a long run help keep the blood flowing, speed up post-run recovery and reduce muscle soreness and fatigue. These tools have not made this problem go away completely, my calves still get tight, but not so tight that I find it hard to walk or run. When looking for help with my ongoing knee problem I was told that if I wasn’t working on strengthening as I was running this would continue to be be a problem.

Again, I learned that my shoes had little to do with my injury. It’s more how you take care of your body in addition to running. I began to do strengthening days at least once a week. After looking up types of exercises to help strengthen knees, one-legged squats and calf raises quickly became my favorite exercises. By adding strength training to my running schedule I began to experience less pain in my knee.

Since I knew I had been fitted well for my shoes, I knew that the fit wasn’t the issue that was making my feet go numb. I researched different ways to tie shoelaces in order to alleviate the tightness around my feet. I tried some new lacing methods, ran with those, and discovered one that worked!

I’ve found it freeing to know that I have the ability to wear a new shoe without it being a big deal. I used to agonize over what shoe to purchase, but now I’m eager to try what I haven’t worn before. I may find a shoe that works well on long mileage days and use it for long runs, another shoe for speed days, and another for the middle mileage range. At this point I haven’t found a shoe I don’t like or can’t use.

To go from always worrying about the shoe to taking care of my entire body so that I can wear many kinds of shoes is better than finding just one shoe. In fact, there is no magic bullet. Shoes are important, and proper fit for your feet vital to running comfortably, but learning to read your body and provide what it needs is instrumental in continuing to pursue your movement goals while staying injury-free.