Aside from training, gear is the most important part of running. Proper gear can make the difference between a successful run or race, or an absolutely miserable run. So for the next few weeks we will look at running essentials and why they are so important.
Today we are going to start with what is without a doubt the most important piece of running gear you will ever own: Running Shoes.
The most important thing is that you purchase a pair of shoes that are labeled “running shoes.” Not tennis shoes, not basketball shoes, not cross training, and absolutely none of those shoes that are supposed tone and shape muscles. Running shoes are specifically made to support your feet, legs, and joints through the abuse that they receive running long distances. But beyond that, I really can’t give you specific recommendations as to what type of shoe you should by. This is because there are a lot of things to consider when determining what is the right shoe for you.
Gait Analysis and Shoe Fitting
Getting a gait analysis is the best way to determine what your individual needs are for running shoes. This is not something that can be done at a regular shoe store, or even a general sporting good store. You need to go somewhere with the proper knowledge and equipment to determine what your individual needs are. One option is to visit a doctor who specializes in sports medicine, which can be expensive, but if you are a serious runner who plans to put on hundreds of training and racing miles in a year, then it is definitely worth the cost. However, for the beginner and the basic hobbyist, the most common and inexpensive way to get a gait analysis is to visit a specialty running store. Most running stores offer this service for free or a small fee. This is the route I would recommend as a doctor can only tell you the specific elements of your gait (which we will explore below), while a running store can help you find options that meet all those needs and allow you to try them on right then and there and you can walk out of the store with the perfect shoes for you. I recommend avoiding stores that only carry one brand (Nike, Asics, Rebook, etc) as they don’t tend to specialize in running (and thus can be less knowledgeable) and you only have one brand option for purchases. The easiest way to find a running store near you is to use this handy store finder from Runner’s World. Just be sure to call the store to verify that they do gait analysis and fittings for new runners. If you happen to be at Downtown Disney at Disney Wold, there is a running store there called Fit2Run, which I highly recommend, but do not wait until you are at Disney for a race to get fitted for proper shoes.
When you get a gait analysis and fitting there are several things they look at. First they examine your arch to determine whether you have a high, medium, or flat arch. This will determine if you need an insole (and what type) or if you can use the standard insole found in the shoes. If you need a specific insole, they will likely have you wear that for the rest of the analysis.
Next they will determine your motion mechanics. This is usually done with a high speed camera so that your running can be viewed in slow motion to determine exactly how you run, however some stores will simply watch you walk or jog around. . They will be looking at two things. First they will be determining your pronation. This is how your foot rolls when it hits the ground in your stride. If you have a neutral stride you foot does not roll when it hits the round. If you are an over-pronator your foot rolls inward and you push off mainly from the inside of the foot. If you are an under-pronator-pronation your foot rolls outward and you push off mainly from the outside of your foot. This is super important to get correct, as this will determine the type of shoe you need. There are specific shoes makes for every type of stride and wearing a neutral shoe when you over/under-pronate or wearing a shoe to correct for over/under-pronation when you don’t need it can lead to unnecessary stress and injury. When looking at your motion mechanics they will also determine you strike, or what part of your foot hits the ground first. By determining whether you have a forefoot, mid-foot, heel, or extreme heel strike they can recommend shoes with more padding/gel in that area of the foot.
Once they have determined the basics of your running mechanics, they will recommend a variety of shoes based on your needs. Be sure to not only try them on but to jog/run in them to really get a feel for what it will be like wearing them when you run.
It is a good idea to get a gait analysis done every year or so, unless you lose a significant amount of weight, then it should be done more frequently. Its also a good idea to have it done if you are not replacing your old running shoes with the exact same model, that way you ensure your new shoes fit correctly and meet all your needs.
Retiring/Replacing Your Running Shoes
Running shoes should be replaced every 200-500 miles. Don’t wait until the end of their life to get a new pair. You should start transitioning between shoes at least 50 miles before “retirement” of your old pair, unless that transition falls during or just before a race, in which case you might want to start transitioning sooner if you intend on racing in the newer shoes. If the shoes start to show visible wear in your strike area (which in my case is the heel, but is dependent on your foot strike, so examining the whole shoe until you learn your strike area is a good idea) that is a good indication that its time to replace your shoes.
I like to retire my shoes with about 100-150 usable miles on them, that way I can use them as a “backup” pair of shoes for races. Having a backup pair is not super important if you are running a single race locally, but if you are traveling or running a challenge with multiple races in a weekend having a backup pair of shoes is essential. If you are traveling, keep one pair in your carry on and one pair in your checked bag (or in two separate carry-on bag if you are not checking a bag). That way if something happens to your luggage you are not without your shoes and scrambling to buy at pair at your destination that you haven’t properly broken in before your race. And in running a challenge having an extra pair is important, especially if rain is in the forecast. The last thing you want is to run a 10k in the rain, then the next morning discover your shoes are still damp and you have to run the half marathon in soggy/damp shoes. Plus, you never know when some freak thing might happen that renders your running shoes useless. So I’d rather replace my shoes early and have my old shoes to take with me to all my races, than to run them until their death before replacing them.
If your shoes start to show visible wear in areas other than your strike area, or shows extreme wear in the strike area then it is time to retire them completely. But worry not! Just because they are too worn for training and racing, doesn’t mean they are destined for the garbage. Most shoes that have reached the end of their running life are still perfectly wearable. Some people use their retired running shoes as everyday sneakers, others donate them to the myriad of charities that accept old running shoes that are either sent to those in need of shoes, or they recycle the shoes by turning them into playground surfaces for schools.
Transitioning Between an Old and New Pair of Running Shoes
Everyone has their own strategy for transitioning between a new pair of shoes and an old pair. Some just go right to the new shoe, usually at the beginning of a training plan, when the weekly miles are low and stop wearing the old shoes all together. Some like to ease their way into a new pair. I do both strategies, depending on where I am in my training.
When I first started running, I wasn’t even used to wearing “real shoes” as I went all day, every day either barefoot or in flip-flops. So I started by just going for walks in my shoes to break them in and get used to wearing them about a week before I started training. Then I wore them on every training run. And since the mileage started low and gradually increased, they were plenty worn in by the time I finished the program and started running longer distances
I just got a new pair of shoes, and I will be starting the transition within the next month. Because I am already over a month into my Dopey training plan, I will be using the “ease in” strategy as I can see signs of wear on my current shoes, which currently have 172 miles on them and are just shy of 1 year old, so I know it is getting to be time to retire them into a “backup role.” In a few weeks when I start the transition, I will run one of my weekday maintenance runs in my new shoes, and the other maintenance run and the long run in my old shoes. The following week I’ll run both weekday maintenance runs in the new shoes and my long run in my old shoes. After a few weeks of that I will start wearing the new shoes on the weekend long run. Since my training plan alternates between shorter distances and longer distances on the long runs, I’ll start in the new shoes on a shorter run weekend. At which point I will no long wear my old shoes, except as a backup pair. And since I intend on buying a pair of runDisney Exclusive New Balance shoes at my next expo well before I need to retire my new shoes, I will start breaking the New Balance shoes in at the beginning of a training plan when I’m ready to start wearing them.
Remember, never run a race in a pair of shoes that you have not trained in or properly broken in, that is a recipe for blisters and a miserable race.
Dos and Don’ts of Running Shoes:
- DO invest in a good pair of running shoes
- DO NOT wear non running shoes for races and training, especially avoid “toning and shaping” shoes
- DO get properly fitted with a gait analysis from your local running store
- DO NOT race in a brand new pair of shoes
- DO NOT train or race in shoes beyond their life (200-500 miles)
- DO bring a pair of backup shoes to out of town races and any race weekend where you are running multiple distances.
Running shoes are not cheap, an average pair is upwards of $100, but they are absolutely worth the investment. If you skimp and budget with all your other gear, please please please do not skimp and just get a cheap pair of shoes to run in. I cannot stress enough just how important the right pair of shoes are. Without the right pair of shoes, you are at a greater risk of injury: everything from Plantar fasciitis and shin splints to stress fractures and joint damage.
TMSM is very excited to publish the “Racing Disney” runDisney series by Addie Clark and Tali McPike. Please keep an eye out for more of their amazing and informative articles! If you missed of the articles in this series make sure you check them at www.themainstreetmouse.com/tag/addie/ and www.themainstreetmouse.com/tag/tali/
If you are planning on running in a runDisney event and have questions, or have participated and want to talk about your experiences make sure you visit our runDisney Forum at http://goo.gl/RLB5ka
*TMSM Edit- For those that read the whole way to the bottom of this article solely because you wanted the shoes pictured, those are the 2014 runDisney New Balance line. Information on the 2015 runDisney New Balance line is available on TMSM. For those confused with why we used the image, simpl! The article is about running Disney and shoes, and well those are runDisney shoes!
- Racing Disney: The Importance of Tapering - January 4, 2016
- Racing Disney: Running (But Not Racing) at Walt Disney World - November 30, 2015
- Racing Disney: How Running Changed My Life - November 23, 2015