What runners should I be wearing? Podiatrist’s guide to runners

The Melbourne Marathon is now just under 4 months away and your preparations are about to ramp up. I thought it would be appropriate time to start talking about footwear.

Hopefully you caught our recent blog on exercise tolerance in preparation for the Melbourne Marathon. The take home message being start your preparation early, understand that you must develop a tolerance to exercise, and you do this by stressing the body, recovering well and then gradually increase your exercise load over time.

Footwear has long been a controversial topic, with lots of confusion about which shoes you should be wearing to reduce your risk for injury and improve your performance. You might get your running shoe advice from health professionals, other runners, running shoe retailers, advertisements or websites. Each have probably take a different stance and might tell you vastly different things.

So here it is. Running shoes aren’t THAT important.

Now don’t get me wrong, they’re an essential piece of equipment for a runner and are going to take you a long way in the coming months. But the reality with running shoes is, we give them more credit than what we probably should.

In terms of running performance and reducing your risk for injury, footwear is really low down on the list of things that are going to have an effect. All the bells, whistles, characteristics and components that go into making a running

shoe have a really minimal effect on whether you’ll slug out the 42km or not.

Chris Napier and Rich Willy, two running guru’s, said it best, “With respect to reducing injury, runners should be instructed to choose one shoe over another, no more than choosing a red shoe over a blue shoe”. You would be better off spending time and energy on refining your load management, sleep, nutrition, strength and conditioning.

 

 

 

Having said that, you probably still need some advice on what and how to choose a shoe, so here it is.

 

Cushioning and comfort

Something comfortable is sensible. I recommend comfort, not because it will reduce your risk for injury, but because it will be something that you will enjoy running in. You’ve got to be comfortable in your shoes if you’re going to get out there in some pretty trying conditions and pound the pavement.

The only way to make sure you’re getting something comfortable is to take your time when you’re getting fit up. Spend time in a variety of shoes to ensure you’re making the right choice. Many stores will allow you to run on a treadmill to get a feel for comfort. Absolutely do this! Active Feet and The Running Company are two great stores that offer this service.

Lightweight

Something light is sensible. There’s an old saying “one pound on your foot is worth 5 pounds on your back”. By running in light shoes, we reduce the metabolic cost of running. Put simply, it’ll be less work requiring less energy. If you’re going to be slogging it out for 42km, step after step, you’ve got the be aware of what you’re carrying. Where possible and not at too much of a detriment to comfort, choose the lighter shoe.

Familiar

Something not too much of a deviation away from what you’ve been used to is sensible. Now is not the time to join the barefoot community and purchase a pair of Vibram 5 fingers. Stick with what you know and within the realm of what you’re used to. In the clinic we often talk about shoe paradigms.These being:
Minimalist – Ultra light weight, minimal to no midsole and ultra flexibile.
Traditional – Moderate weight, Strong and cushioned midsole with shoe stiffness but bend at the toe break.
Maximalist – Still moderate weight, thick and ultra-cushioned midsole with shoe stiffness and some that are rigid through the toe break.

Don’t change it up too much. There are risks associated with changing footwear paradigms too quickly. Be guided by a health professional and have an understanding of the risks and potential injuries if you are going to change shoe paradigms.

Variation is key

Varying your footwear is sensible. There is still so much variation with a shoe paradigm to vary your footwear. By varying your footwear we can subtly change the stress placed on the lower limb and foot. This can be somewhat of a protective mechanism for injury as not one muscle, tendon or ligament is exposed to the same stress, run after run. A good strategy is to choose a lighter less cushioned shoe for your shorter, quicker runs and a more structured and cushioned shoe for your long runs.

In summary, runners think shoes matter. It’s not to say they don’t matter at all, but it is probably fairly low down on the rung in terms of preventing injury, getting to the start line and completing your marathon. So, when it comes to footwear, whether they’re red or blue, it probably doesn’t matter so much. Opt for something comfortable, relatively lightweight, familiar and try to have 2-3 pairs on the go to vary the stresses placed on your lower limb.

This might not have been the advice you wanted to hear, but I hope it minimises any expectation that your shoes are going to carry you over the finish line. Quite the opposite really.

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