My internal shoe debate

Asics, Brooks

In the mid-1990s when I ran some track in high school and then from 2004 to mid-2006, I didn't worry about what shoes I wore. I would try on a few pairs and buy what was the most comfortable and economical. Then I joined a training group in the summer of 2006 and got what I thought was an education on shoes.

Don't get me wrong -- I learned a lot about shoes and myself that summer, but it's also easy to trace my steps back to that moment and see a pattern. My first injury happened at the end of a training cycle that summer. Could it have been my increased mileage over time? Maybe, but in hindsight I know that the mileage buildup wasn't drastic. Could it have been the change in shoes? Possibly, but it wasn't like the injury happened right away in those shoes.

Fast forward a few years after battling plantar faciitis, going through different shoes -- mainly the Asics 2100 series line and Brooks Adrenaline, both stability shoes -- and I got a different answer at a race expo at the end of summer 2009 (I first wrote about these shoes here).

Simply put, the shoes I had been wearing may have been too much for my feet. The Brooks Ravenna was still a stability shoe, but just barely. I then strung together my longest injury-free streak since I first got fitted for shoes.

The story of my most recent injury isn't one I need to rehash, but as I slowly build a base and prepare for marathon training again, I'm analyzing everything. I attribute most of my recent trouble to sloppy running -- poor form, not doing enough cross training, etc. Perhaps those are things I've always done that led to previous problems. But as I string together a solid couple of months or so, I can't help but still wonder -- do I need to do something about my shoes?

I've been thinking about this for a while, but haven't been able to find the right words until this week. I've been rotating two pairs of shoes of the same model for a year and a half -- it definitely helps increase my mileage, I think. I recently started to wonder if I should rotate two models of shoes though. I see so many of my Daily Mile friends doing it, but no one really explained why.

Then, this week, I read this post from Fitz over on Strength Running who discusses this very topic. In a response to my comment, Fitz credits Pete at Runblogger for discussing this subject as well. (Both blogs are great, by the way, so add them to your blogroll/reader. You'll learn a lot from them.) In reading Fitz's post I realized what my "problem" may be -- I've learned this certain way to think about shoes and gotten in my head what I "need." Yes, I do need good shoes, but do I need just one model?

Despite working on my form, always running on hills by default and mixing up the types of runs I do, the fact remains that running is a repetitive motion. Eventually my body is going to get used to all that and, very likely, have some sort of injury. That's not negative thinking -- it's the truth.

But looking at my friends on Daily Mile who rotate different types of shoes, there's a pattern -- they remain free of major injuries.

All this brings me to present day and what I did yesterday -- for the first time in 5 years, I tried on a shoe that didn't have "stability" labeled in front of it. I was in a chain store, so I didn't feel guilty about just trying on a pair, and didn't have a salesman try to talk to me about why or why not I "needed" a certain shoe.

Brooks, Ghost 3, runningI tried on a pair of Brooks Ghost 3, a "neutral" shoe. I've heard a lot of good things about this shoe and my trying-on test didn't disappoint. They were very comfortable. I also tried on one shoe while wearing a retired running shoe to see if I could feel the difference. There wasn't much.

As with any shoe, though, the true test doesn't come until there are several runs in them, which is unfortunately impossible with any shoe.

Last night I posted on Twitter and Daily Mile a question about making the switch from stability to neutral and I got no reasons not to do it. In fact, several people have made the switch with no issues.

So why am I writing all this? I've already answered that -- I've learned a certain thing about shoes that I can't get out of my head. For a while with my Ravennas I've had the "if it ain't broke" mentality, but an injury proves that something -- perhaps several things -- is broke. I've worked on everything else without even thinking about my shoes, which is a mistake. I'm not going to get rid of my Ravennas, but perhaps it is time to mix it up.

If you've ever switched types of shoes, or have any advice on this subject, I'd love to hear it.