How do you know which of the approximately 1,456,723 kinds of running shoes to buy when you first start out? It is an important choice, since you will spend HOURS on these things, and if you choose wrong, the consequences range from blisters to injury or worse: looking bad! When I started running, I should have listened to what my dad (old school runner – the “run at lunch every day at work, almost BQ without really knowing it” kind) told me to do: don’t start running. But fortunately I did not listen. Instead I listened to his backup advice: go to a running store and get the right shoes. So, I went to my locally owned running store (Fleet Feet here in Syracuse, which recently was named best running store in the Universe, or something like that). They asked me a bunch of questions (more in depth than my doctor) and put me on a treadmill with a slow motion video camera to really emphasize how truly awful my form is, and then started bringing out shoes for me. Eventually, they helped me narrow down the approximately 17 choices, and after more analysis, we picked my first real running shoes. And they worked fine. And each time I went back, I’d just get the same thing. And they still worked fine. The system was perfect. As they say: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So I did not mess with success.
Until I went to Lake Placid to watch (and sign up for) Ironman last summer. Yeah, I got caught up. Yeah, Newton shoes were all the rage. Yeah, they had a booth. Yeah, they were the coolest things ever. Yeah, I drank the Kool Aid and I got some. And that started the most intensive sneaker study ever conducted on the planet. I’d give you the short version, but since no one reads my blog except my wife and parents, why skip anything boring, when I can give you ALL the boring. And here it is:
They tell you not to run too far the first time you wear minimal shoes. So I ran to the end of the driveway, got the mail, and ran back. It was OK. Eventually I tried a mile or so. And it still felt OK. BUT then I immediately switched to my old shoes and went back out and WOW! It was like running in cement blocks. Relatively soft cement blocks (Newtons are not really all that cushioned, and my old ones were) but SO big and heavy. In comparison, I LOVED the Newtons!
So I slowly made the switch, putting more and more miles on the Newtons each time I went out, until that magic day when I realized that Newtons really don’t have a lot of cushioning and I’m old and beat up and maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. So I checked with Fleet Feet – what could I do that is light and minimal like Newtons but supportive and soft like my old shoes? Ahh – “try these Karhus” they said (I think they are made by Volvo in Sweden or something like that) and WOW! They were SOFT! And light!
So again I slowly made the switch, putting more and more miles on them each time I went out, until that magic day when I realized that they are really too soft and I’m old and beat up and need more support. But, instead of asking Fleet Feet, I figured out the solution myself. (Or so I thought) I needed to put back my Super Feet, which the Newton guy, based on his years of medical training and thorough history of my physical condition, said I would not need. But maybe, I thought, they would give me that extra support and cushioning, while still allowing me to have minimalist shoes?
So again, I slowly made the switch, putting more and more miles on my Karhus, now with Super Feet, until that magic day when I realized they are pretty good, BUT what about the Newtons with Super Feet? Maybe that combination would be the ticket?
And so it began:
The experiment: Run between 1/2 and 1 mile in each shoe,switching until I’ve run in all three, twice, all on the same run. That gave a real good idea of how they compare. Until I thought “why not just try one on each foot?” and so I ran for awhile with one brand on one foot, one on another, then I’d switch one brand, and continue.
I did this with every possible combination I could think of. I used a spreadsheet, an abacus, my old statistics book from college and a lot of my poor memory and put together an ever-growing data bank of opinions on all the shoes, both with and without Super Ffeet. I spent weeks and weeks looking like an idiot running around my neighborhood with different shoes on and noting things like: Too soft, too flat, too heavy, too fat; too pointy, too white, too loose, too tight. Wait! Dr Suess and Fleet Feet had it right the first time. Yup: just right? Old shoes! (with Super Feet) Just right, just right, just right.
Ahh, the answer finally, and everything is settled. Back to just running and getting ready for Placid. Until last week, after a new MRI, when my doctor called and said I need to run in softer shoes. He gave me three to choose from.