Running shoe myths, dispelled

(Note: originally written for Run.com)

Working at the Running Company and consequently being surrounded by shoes and runners all day, we have heard it all. From recounts of doctor experiences to descriptions of shoe wear patterns to stories of past running shoe experiences, customers tend to tell us a lot of things about their shoes. This can be helpful in recommending their next pair…however, there are comments at which we find ourselves constantly cringing. Sometimes these statements are heard within our walls everyday, making them almost cliché. Okay, a little comical, actually. Here are some of the top running shoe myths we regularly hear, and why they aren’t true. If you think you may be guilty of them…please read on and be enlightened….

Podiatrists seriously need to get over their infatuation with New Balance. Don’t get me wrong, New Balance is a great company that makes awesome running shoes. They’ve even been very innovative in the past year, improving on some of their running shoes immensely, and doing things like snagging the road racing flat of the year. The issue with this statement is, you can really replace NB with any and every other company. New Balance may have been one of the first companies to make widths readily available to the average shopper looking for a good shoe; however, nearly every running shoe from every company now comes in wide and narrow widths. In fact, in our store we stock more widths in other brands than we do in New Balance: Asics GT-2000Asics NimbusSaucony RideNike VomeroNike StructureBrooks Adrenaline versus the New Balance 990, currently the only NB shoe we have in wide widths! Most of the top-selling shoes are available in 2A (narrow women’s), B (narrow men’s, medium women’s), D (wide women’s, medium men’s), 2E (wide men’s, extra wide women’s), and 4E (men’s extra wide). So, the next time you fall in love with a shoe but it’s just a tad too tight – ask if you can get it wider! Chances are, you can. Even without a big “N” on the side of the shoe, I promise.

There are a few things wrong with this assumption. First, let show you where people are pointing when they say this:

Newsflash: if you strike on your heel at all, you are going to strike here. It’s just going to happen. If you can show me an exception, I’d be really interested in analyzing your gait, so please stop in and show me! Having wear in this spot is normal; it is indicative of the supination that is the first part of the gait cycle as your foot approaches the ground. Everybody supinates (it should be a book title, right? Okay maybe not…). What’s important is what happens next. Do you roll onto the ball of the foot and push off without your arch excessively rolling inward? Do you remain on the outside of the shoe once you roll onto the forefoot? In case one, you are in an appropriate running shoe for your biomechanics. In case two, you are either oversupported if you are in a stability shoe or a “supinator,” as some say, if you are in a neutral shoe. So that being said, the location of shoe wear on the heel doesn’t matter; it’s only good to know if it exists. Shoe wear on the forefoot can actually tell you something:

There are two more things to keep in mind: 1.) A mid-foot strike would generate a wear pattern that looks like the middle shoe above, but without wear (or much of it, anyway) near the heel, and 2.) You can only get a limited amount of information from looking at the wear pattern on your shoes. the best way to really understand how you are running and what you need is to get to a store and have your gait analyzed on the treadmill and/or as you run down the sidewalk (sometimes they produce different results, trust me!).

Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold up. I’m not sure there is a single brand that can be categorized as “bad” as a whole. Some running shoe companies make only higher-quality running shoes, meaning there are no models that retail for less than ~$80 and all have pretty sound cushioning systems (e.g., Brooks, Mizuno). However, most brands make “cheaper” shoes that are abundant on the shelves of department stores and retail for $50 or less. Put enough of these on the market, make them attractive enough, and advertise them as “running shoes,” and you will certainly get a lot of complaints from runners trying to get 40 miles per week out of them. Maybe even 20. Nike is a culprit of this practice, and it’s actually fine – if you let the half-mile dog walkers and the gym class-goers purchase them for those purposes only.  Nike makes plenty of superb running shoes in addition to their sub-par models – those are the ones you want to try. Another reason someone might believe the above myth is…the Nike Free. I’m not sure why, but in some people’s minds, the Nike Free = Nike. This is obviously not true. Frees are flexible and not supportive…they work for some people, not for others (like any other shoe). It shouldn’t define Nike as a brand though. Need some support? Try the Nike Structure the next time you come in for a new pair of shoes. You might be pleasantly surprised. Are you a neutral runner who likes a lot of cushion? If you haven’t worn the Vomero or Pegasus, don’t knock on Nike.

Back in the day, before I knew what i was doing, I wore cheap Nikes...in a race for that matter!? I have since learned, obviously.
Back in the day, before I knew what I was doing, I wore cheap Nikes…in a race for that matter!? I have since learned, obviously.

 

I’m sorry, but this is totally backwards. Let me explain. Here is a diagram of the foot in respect to arches:

When we talk about having a high or low arch, we are usually referring to the height of medial longitudinal arch with respect to the ground on which we are standing.  Usually, if your arch is “high,” it is stable, meaning it stays upright throughout the gait cycle and you are a neutral runner needing no extra support from your running shoe. A running shoe with stability could cause you to not pronate enough, which is just as bad as overpronating. There are occasions in which a high arch is also very flexible and needs more stability, but this is a rarer case. It is not wrong for someone with a high arch to want to feel “support” though. A stable shoe is not the answer though; all shoes are flat inside. Now, there are some that have a more narrow platform in the center, which might feel better given the shape of the foot’s arch. What a runner with a high arch should consider is actually an insert such as Superfeet or Powerstep to fill in the gap between the arch and the shoe. While it’s not necessary from a visual/biomechanical standpoint, its addition has many benefits, such as plantar fasciitis prevention, comfort, and increased toe-off efficiency.

Green Superfeet insole.

Another note about Superfeet: the different colors aren’t just for fun! Each (Berry, Orange, Green, Blue, Black, and Carbon – new at PRC!) are a little different, and what works for the unique combination of your foot + your shoe depends on a number of factors. As always, let us know if you aren’t sure why you have the color you have, or if you should try something different. There are only subtle differences…but how many steps do you take on a run?! It all adds up, and the key is to be comfortable and supported.

Well, I’ve got to get back to work…chances are I’ll hear about five other myths throughout the course of the day and kick myself for not including them in this post.

What questions do you have for me? I’m down for dispelling myths all day, so ask away in the comments! Don’t be shy! 

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2 thoughts on “Running shoe myths, dispelled

  1. Pingback: Running shoe myths, dispelled | cheap nike free mens shoes

  2. Nice post! I knew a fair amount of this info, but it is interesting to hear from your perspective as a shoe sales person. I like hearing about this, so dispell some more myths in the future!

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