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Confession: as a fitness professional and running fanatic, I slyly check out the shoes of every single person who hops on a treadmill at my gym. No, not because I’m a brand snob or anything like that, but more so because I like to see people’s preferences. And I suppose, because I’m a shoe nerd. I’ve noticed a huge correlation between experienced runners and the new people, or what we call “beginning health seekers” in the fitness industry. Experienced runners will typically wear a performance shoe, and one they likely wear only for running and not for day to day task. Beginner runners often reach for whatever pair of athletic sneakers they might have hiding in the back of the closet. A beginner might not immediately see the importance of having a properly fitted running sneaker; however they may unfortunately discover the necessity once ailments such as blisters or joint pain set in.
Confession #2: I ran my very first half marathon in a pair of 2 year old cross training shoes that I also wore waiting tables full time. I ended up with blisters and couldn’t walk for a week. Don’t be like me. Here are four common running shoe mistakes, and what you can do to avoid them.
Your Activity Doesn’t Match Your Shoe.
It is important to wear a shoe that is designed for the activity that you are doing. For example, running indoors on a treadmill in shoes that are designed for aggressive trail hiking may feel cumbersome and uncomfortable. Further, running outside on the road in a shoe that is designed for studio aerobics classes may not provide the traction or support you desire. I’ve seen people trying to put in miles on the treadmill in loosely tied casual street shoes that simply made me cringe. If in the beginning you are unsure of where the majority of your running will be done, opt for a general running shoe, as it will likely be your most versatile option.
Support and Design.
While the act of running may seem very straightforward, the reality is that many individuals vary greatly in their gait and foot strike pattern. Some runners supinate, where their foot insufficiently rolls inward upon landing, whereas other runners may overpronate, where the foot rolls inward beyond the ideal percentage upon landing. Some runners may not have either biomechanical issue, and thus are considered neutral runners. Further, some people may require extra support or stability in their shoes due to a number of issues, such as a biomechanical weakness or even a weight issue. Running in a shoe that is that is designed to compensate for an issue that you do not have may result in discomfort or even injury.
I see this mistake of running in the wrong shoe occur most often in beginners who try to bargain shop at an outlet or a chain retail store that has employees who aren’t well versed in running. The beginning runner will choose a shoe based on a) price, b) aesthetics (“ooooh these ones are pretty!) , or c) how “soft” and comfortable the shoe feels. Keep in mind that “softer” and more cushioned is NOT always better when it comes to running sneakers. And while I understand the concept of crunching pennies as much as the next person, the initial investment is absolutely worth avoiding the potential cost of injuries due to running in the wrong sneaker.
Too Many Miles!
Over time, all sneakers will begin to breakdown in cushion, support, and structure. This breakdown occurs no matter what you do in the shoes: run, walk, play racquet ball, grocery shop. Often times, the breakdown occurs within the midsole before there is significant noticeable wear and tear to the outside of the shoe. The compression and wear of the midsole often results in knee pain, shin splints, or aching feet. The general suggestion is that sneakers should be replaced every 300 to 500 miles. This of course varies on factors such as your weight, and the terrain you primarily use the shoes on. As already mentioned, it is important to keep in mind that this usage includes things such as cross training, group exercise classes, and even common everyday use such as running errands or walking the dog. Even if you have never used your athletic shoes for running before, keep in mind their cumulative wear from other activities before assigning them as your running shoes.
The constant pounding of your feet on the pavement, trail, or treadmill, combined with increased blood flow due to vigorous exercise, often results in a slight swelling of feet, especially as distance increases. Because of this, it is often recommended that runners choose a shoe that is half a size larger than their everyday casual shoe. This not only allows room to compensate for the possible swelling, but also gives the foot enough room to move with each step without rubbing against the shoe, preventing things such as blisters or toenail damage. If a shoe is too narrow, it may cause pain on the top of the foot or blistering where “hot spots” rub against the foot. Alternatively, if the shoe is too big, you may also run the risk of chafing and blisters due to the foot sliding around in your shoe. Give your feet room to breathe: but not too much room
Don’t be. There are awesome professionals out there more than willing to help you find the RIGHT shoe for your needs. The best option for a beginner is to visit a local running store and allow experienced employees help you choose your first pair of sneakers, helping you avoid common running shoe mistakes. Their experience and knowledge will make the process much less stressful, plus you will be supporting your local running community at the same time. Having the proper running shoe right from the start is one step in ensuring a successful, injury free running journey.
Runners: what’s the biggest shoe mistake you’ve ever made? Chime in on the comments section below!