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Sole-Reapers

Posted Oct 01 2009 2:12pm

I went for a run with Adam yesterday and the topic of "Shoes" came up in conversation. As a matter of fact, over the last few weeks, footwear has been the topic of many a conversation that I've had both on the run and at work at Eastern Mountain Sports. The main topic of conversation these days tends to revolve around a new book that recently came out titled Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. In his book, Christopher McDougall introduces the running world to the Tarahamura indian tribe and their abilities to run barefoot or with nothing more than sandals made from old rubber tires. DING! Imagine that... humans who run barefoot and can run hundreds of miles while doing so.

Baby Me This - Baby Me That
This isn't the first time I myself have thought about running barefoot. During my year studying to enter the athletic training program at the University of New Hampshire, I was simply amazed at the neediness of the schools track and field athletes. While getting my shadowing hours done in the schools athletic training room, I sat in amazement as some of the track and field runners came down to have their arches taped. I remember one day, while watching a sophomore in the program taping an arch, saying to the runner, "I wonder where Native American's got the athletic tape to tape their arches while they hunted their food?" Of course, my sarcasm was duly noted but my point was vastly overlooked. A few months later, while sitting in a room filled with students in the A.T. Major and a few professors, I was asked what about the program had surprised me the most and I replied, "The overall neediness of some athletes to feel babied." It truly was an outstanding time in my life of education. I sat in disbelief that high schools and even college's are treating athletes in ways that could be more detrimental to their long term running then we are in helping them. How did Roger Bannister ever run a 4 minute mile in nothing more then a thin pair of rubber slippers?


What Do I Wear?
I was asked yesterday, and have been various times, what shoes I run in. Before I get to what I currently enjoy running in, lets take a trip down memory lane about what I've spent some time running in previously. When I first started running I went out and bought the first pair of shoes that felt good on my feet. When I put them on they cradled my foot, offered some toe room and I felt comfortable while running in them. I like the shoes, but they didn't last very long, they were Asics Gel (something or other). The next pair of shoes I got was my first sponsorship. I received a free pair of shoes from Loco Running. The Loco Bandito's are as I've referred to them as "the shoe that feels like the box." 'Nuff said. My next pair of shoes would take me great lengths and was part of my second ever sponsorship with a store known as Hubert's. This company was gracious enough to give me 8 pairs of The North Face Ultra GTX Trail Running shoes. When I started running mellow trails with these shoes I loved them... but as soon as I took to the mountains my foot moved all around inside the shoe. The shoes would wear in at a lightning fast speed, the soles fell apart and I really found out that as I began to run further on my runs; that I could truly trash a pair of shoes. These shoes got me through my first ultra, they saw me to the finish of many White Mountain Runs, but in the end; they just deteriorated far too fast for my liking and it was time to move on. I moved on to The Salomon XA Pro 3D Xcr trail shoes. These shoes were rugged with some of the best gripping soles I've ever stepped upon rocks with. However... I ran into problems with the lacing system. The zip-lock lacing system would wear to a point that the eyelets would break or the cordage would fray and snap. The zip-lock wasn't very secure and the shoes would loosen, leaving my heels open to blisters the size of half dollars. And finally... at $125 a shoe, I couldn't see buying any more pairs of Gore-tex shoes whose toe box splits straight across the top when repeatedly getting wet. After the Salomons I moved onto Montrail Hardrocks, again a great shoe with tremendous toe and side protection for those of us who run on rugged terrain. These shoes grip the trail well and could take a beating. The only problem is that once Columbia bought out Montrail, the construction of the shoe's changed for the worse (as did the way the company dealt with their athletes and the sport of ultra-running) so I boycotted them all together.

Enter Brooks
For the last two years I've been lucky enough to run for an represent the running company known as Brooks Running. I Run Happy in two different pairs of shoes that they offer. The Cascadia's and The Adrenaline ASR 5's . Both shoes are different. The Cascadia's (3 or 4's) are strictly a trail shoe that drain very well in wet conditions. A great shoe that however does not offer much in the way of toe protection or "sticky soles" for rocky terrain. I tend to wear these shoes in trail races which require the need for draining and/or doesn't offer much in the way of rugged terrain. Then there is my go to shoe... the Adrenaline ASR 5's (I'm currently testing the 6's) which is a road and trail hybrid shoe... which means you can run in it on either roads or trails. This shoe is a great all around shoe for ultras where we do tend to run on both road and trails. The soles have adequate traction, there is plenty of stability and there is some fashion of toe protection. They don't drain well... but they're damn comfy. They are the shoe that is working for me the best right now... and until something better comes along or it is time to move on... they are what I'll continue to run in as I'm very pleased with my testing of the ASR 6's.

Wow... what a boat load of shoe history. I started running in 2004 and in the almost five years that I've been running, working my way up from a paltry mile to a brain demoralizing 125 miles, I've run in seven different pairs/styles of shoes. I've never gone too far into investigating what the right pair of shoe for me is. I've always just gone out, tried a pair on, took a few strides and if they felt good... I tried em out. I look for toe protection, stability, perhaps they drain well or are Gore-Tex, durable and have some kind of sole that'll grip all these rocks in New Hampshire (Yes.. we have rocks in NH). In the end, I am beginning to wonder if I've done it all wrong. Have I taken good care of my feet and knees by being so lax in my shoe shopping procedures? Have I thrown my bodies alignment off by not paying attention to the needs of my muscles?... after all, the ankle bone's connected to the leg bone.. the leg bone is home to the calf muscle...the calf muscle's connected to the hamstring.. etc. And how many more times will the count have to come out and continue to count shoes in my historical collection?

I decided to visit the Runners World website today while job hunting (yes.. I'm digging deep into places I have no chance) and there on the homepage was a so called "Running Shoe Finder." I sat wide eyed as I looked at the screen to see how very few questions the Shoe Finder asked me. Gender, Size, Shoe Type and Sort Results By. I filled in my responses: Male, 8.5, Trail, Lowest Price and then clicked on "find shoes." The count was in full action as I counted a results page with 40... count them.. FORTY uh uh uhhhhh.. pairs of shoes that apparently might suit me. All of the companies are there and prices range from $80 to $130. I clicked on my favorite Brooks Adrenaline ASR 5's and read the Runners World Review: "This trail version of the Adrenaline GTS 8 offers better traction and a water-resistant upper. Another notable feature is an environmentally friendly outsole rubber that's made from sand." Wow... shoes made from sand, sign me up! It's only now that I find where it says Foot Biomechanics with the answer "Neutral." Now I'm not 100% certain what neutral is and how it relates to you pronators and supinators out there... and as soon as I'm done writing this I'll do some more research. But what I find odd is that Foot Biomechanics wasn't one of the original options that needed answering in order to refine my shoe search. Isn't this one of the main questions I need to be asking myself? Is it one of those foot telling questions that I've ignored for so long putting my shoes and my body in a difficult position?

Articles:
Recently I received some e-mails that spoke about the running shoe industry. I want you to check them out (It's better reading then what I write) and keep them in mind as you move forward with your shoe selections.
Popular Mechanics - The Running Shoe Debate: How Barefoot Runners Are Shaping The Shoe Industry
2.) Dailymail - The Painful Truth About Trainers: Are Running Shoes A Waste Of Money? (By Chris McDougall)
3.) NYMag - You Walk Wrong
All three of these articles, and McDougall's book Born To Run, speak to the overpowering evidence that the shoe industry is the reason so many are getting hurt while running and subsequently why so many end up HATING running and will never do it again because "it hurts." I'm not saying that I myself will be going barefoot anytime soon though I will be checking out the new Vibram Five Fingers the first chance I get to help strengthen some of the very muscles that running in shoes ignores. But what I am saying is this...

It's Up To YOU
You might be one of those over thinkers that mulls over every stupid detail involved in deciding on a running shoe. Maybe it's be course of habit or you have to because of your flat feet... whatever. I just want you to think about what is merely important to you in a running shoe. For me, again, its durability, toe protection, good traction and a comfortable fit. You're first pair won't be the perfect pair.. it might take you years to find the perfect match and when you do, the company you go with will discontinue the shoe. It happens, just be ready to adjust to change and adjust your opinions. YOU NEED TO FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. What works for me might not be the best for you.. so asking someone "well what do you wear?" will get you no where. You are an experiment of one as is with anything in this sport... experiment away and see the results for yourself.

Happy Trails
SJ
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