Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 10 Feb 2007 05:53:30 -0500

Blame the Shoes?

RUNNING COMMENTARY 662

Sellers of running shoes love us runners. We're quick to buy a shoe in the belief that it can make us healthier.

When that doesn't happen, we instinctively blame that shoe and quickly replace it with a model that we believe will be better. We can run through several different types of shoes each year, not because they wear out but because they don't live up to our hopes.

The longer we run in a certain shoe, the stronger the attachment to it and the greater the sense of loss when this pair wears out and can't be replaced. At rare times when they do, this model often has changed or disappeared before we can replace the original.

Our search for elusive, and probably unattainable, perfection resumes. You know you're a real runner when you have stocked a closet with failed shoes, with hundreds of unrun miles still in them.

The story of my running life has been the search for the perfect shoe. Every time, high hopes sooner or later yield to disappointment.

A year ago I'd found my almost-perfect shoe. This was an experimental Nike Pegasus that never went into production. It carried me through marathon training the race itself, without any injury interruptions, for the first time in this century.

Last summer my search took me through three models from two companies (including the latest mass-produced Pegasus) before I landed in the Nike Hayward. While alternating week to week between two pairs, I stayed well -- and therefore ran well and quit looking for a better shoe -- into the new year.

Then came an injury -- actually a pair of identical injuries, on each achilles tendon, for the price of one. This pain was more annoying than serious. It would ease enough to allow near-normal runs, but at other times of day I would stiffen into an embarrassing shuffle of a walk.

Instinctively and instantly I blamed the shoes. Must be the shoes. Time to try others -- many others.

In less than a month I tested another four models from three different companies -- New Balance, Saucony, Nike. The more shoes I tried, and the longer the achilles pain lingered without any improvement, the more I had to wonder where the blame truly rested.

Was it really with the shoes? Or was it with the main culprit in running injuries -- a flaw in the running routine?

Now I know that the Nike Hayward was guilty by association. The shoe wasn't the main perpetrator this time. I was, for making a mistake in the running itself for the 99th time.

The sore tendons wouldn't get better until I made big changes in my running during recovery, then subtle ones later in the name of prevention. Changing the runs that cause or aggravate an injury is better medicine -- cheaper too -- than changing the shoes whenever our feet and legs complain of abuse.

(RC 663 will carry a plan for rehabbing after an injury. RC 664 will tell how to reduce the relapses.)
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