Friday, June 12, 2009

Rethinking shoes and putting my money where my mouth is

Last night I bought a pair of trail racing shoes that I plan to wear at the Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run next Saturday.

I'd been eyeing these shoes for a few weeks, especially as I continue rethinking the kinds of running shoes I should wear (thanks to a very thought-provoking book I'm reading, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall). After much consideration, I forked over $110 for a pair of black Salomon Speedcross 2's, purchased from Geiger's Ski & Sport Haus in Chagrin Falls, a retailer of very high-end outdoor sporting goods. These shoes are light and flexible and have a nice lacing system and some aggressive gripping.

Buying light-weight, flexible trail shoes was a big step for me. Usually for a 100-miler I'd buy a substantial, high-stability trail shoe such as the Montrail Hardrocks I bought a few years ago. These Salomons are none of that. They are pure trail racing shoes and my plan is to slip into them after the river crossing at Mohican. I'll be taking them through a few creeks, so hopefully they'll drain well.

In case the Salomons aren't working for me, I'll have at least four other pairs of shoes in my drop bags throughout the course. Hopefully I'll stay in the Salomons at least until the last 10 miles, when we get back on roads.


I know that lately I've been harping on shoes and what I'm learning about in Born to Run. But it's good to question what we've always considered conventional wisdom. I think of a famous scene in "Dead Poets Society" in which Mr. Keating, played by Robin Williams, stands on his desk and implores his students to always look for a new, different perspective on the world.

Right now I'm standing on my desk trying to get a new view of my shoe-buying behaviors. As a guy who used to be 220 lbs. with a spare tire and a few chins, I still feel drawn toward shoes for big guys. You'll see me in heavy stability trainers 99% of the time. Only for road races do I break out my 10 oz. light-weight trainers. It's time that I come to grips with the fact that I'm no longer a burly guy and might just be able to buy shoes for speed. And thus a pair of Salomon Speedcross 2's are now in my possession. We'll see how they work at Mohican--maybe great, maybe not so great. Stay tuned.


Anyway, back to running shoes. The question I'm asking right now is what the human foot really needs in the 21st century. Does it need crash pads, motion-control bars, thick in-soles, etc.--or does it just need a thin rubber sole and a basic upper for protection? In other words, should the role of running shoes be to guide--or dictate--the foot's movement, or just to provide basic support and protection as the foot goes through its own natural motion? Too much shoe, I'm reading, can lead to weak feet and, consequently, to a host of injuries to the Achilles, arch, heel, etc. Now I'm wondering if the stability shoes I've always worn--shoes with built-up heels--are causing me to be a heel-striker. With the right shoes, could I be a forefoot striker?

Of course, running-shoe companies want us to think we need super-fancy (and, thus, expensive) shoes and that each of us fits into one of three categories--stability, neutral-cushioned and motion-control. From Nike and Asics to Adidas, my beloved Saucony and other companies, they've led us to believe that pronation is a bad thing when, in fact, it's normal and perfectly healthy for the foot.

A few days ago I ran an 1/8 of a mile barefooted and I noticed that I instantly changed my form--more compact stride, feet hitting the ground right below my body (as they should), quicker turnover, forefoot striking, etc. You can't heel-strike running barefooted because your foot knows that heel-striking will cause destructive stress. So you naturally correct and run with proper form. Don't get me wrong--I'm not interested in or even advocating barefooted running, but running barefooted will reveal your natural stride. The challenge then becomes finding shoes that allow you to run naturally while providing the basic support and protection you need.

Anyway, after Mohican I'm going to experiment with some different types of running shoes to see what I really should be wearing. Given my brief but enlightening barefoot running experience, maybe there's perfect form in me yet.


  1. Let me know what you think of those Salomens; I am looking for a lighter trail shoe.
    Good points regarding the shoe debate. I've been leaning toward the low-tech shoes, but I am concerned that at my age, I risk fallen arches without some support, so I am not completely ready to go to the flat shoes. Even Nike Frees retain some arch support.

  2. Hey Wyatt, really like your blog. Glad I found it! I just got a pair of Roclite 320s. A big change for me too going with Inov8s. I haven't done any real long stuff in them yet but so far they seem supportive with enough cushioning for an ultra.