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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Running Shoe construction - Have we sould out to the shoe companies?

"Recalling that your sister was a barefoot runner early in her career, I wonder about your thoughts on minimal running shoes. I can see valid points on both sides of the argument."

Photo: Lorraine and our late father, Gordon Moller, circa 1976, training in the Central North Island forests (Pinedale).

Note the rough terrain. The light shoes are conducive to nimble footwork. This terrain meant every foot strike gave varied stress on the feet and ankles and was quite soft on the knees and hips.

Heavy, over-constructed shoes would only lead to clumsy footwork and consequent injury - mostly from falls and ankle sprains.

"I had hip surgery July 2008 for labral tear induced by a well meaning therapist, on a totally fine hip, to impress me with her work and refer patients! Ouch. I have to vary my activity widely. The greatest bulk of my exercise time is in the twice weekly 2.5 hour strength training sessions. With one more shorter strength session, a couple hour hike in the mountains one day and a long stationary bike ride other days.

One day a week I allow myself the luxury of running for an hour. I don't want to lose that last bit of my running soul and have to be very careful given the hip surgery and the 3 preceding knee surgeries.

Occasionally I set aside my Asics Gel Nimbus in favor of my old Nike Free 5. Today I felt lousy before my run but once again I was surprised when I ran my usual course in just over 56 minutes - a minute faster than my last couple of year PR and 2-3 minutes faster than usual.

Have we sold out to the shoe companies? Have they stolen our running souls? (all inherent puns and double entendres intended)"
Gary responds:
(Readers might gather that Michael is a doctor who loves to run).

"The human foot is the result of millions of years of evolution. The shoe companies want to change the design of the foot straightaway. Running in the cumbersome boots that jam the display shelves of the typical running shoe store is akin to John McEnroe trying to play tennis with a baseball bat"
Gordon Pirie

I weighed a pair of Lorraine's Mizuno Run Bird shoes which helped her win the Osaka Marathon circa 1987 and a pair of heavier modern running shoes. The Run Birds are of absolute minimal construction and weighed in at just over 100 grams per shoe. That is really light for running a marathon on hard pavement! A pair of my modern Asics off road shoes were almost three times that weight.

If you are running for an hour, you are probably raising and lowering a shoe about 30cm or more for each meter run. That's about 10,000 times. Which means you are raising the shoe 3,000 meters in height. According to my calculations: The total weight being lifted and lowered one meter in height is about 300Kg worth for the 100 gram shoe or about 900 Kg for the heavier shoes. These calculations do not include the energy cost of accelerating and decelerating the shoes. (PS: I rushed these calculations, so my apologies if there are any errors).

Now, try this:
  • Get a 10 Kg weight, a bench one meter in height and set yourself up with a heart rate monitor. Then:
  • Measure resting heart rate standing still. Then:
  • Lift the 10 kg weight from the ground onto the bench and then lower. Repeat this non-stop for 30 repetitions.
  • How much did your heart rate go up and how long did it take to do the 30 repetitions?
  • Work out how far you could run in that time at that heart rate.
  • Rest for 5 minutes and then repeat the exercise, this time doing 90 repetitions.
  • Now extrapolate these results to running a marathon.
Phew! Give me the light shoes any day!

Heavy shoes, or any extra weight, including a water bottle, back pack, watch or heavy clothing all energy-sappers.

So, the message here is to run light and that definitely includes your shoes.

My favourite running shoes are a pair of super light Addidas racing flats. I have removed the inner soles and replaced these with a pair of heat moulded Formthotics Shock Stop inner soles.

But what about injury risk? Very little of my running is on hard and boring pavement nowadays - I run over tracks that are generally rough and often very steep (That's Wellington for you!). I seldom run longer than an hour and do my longer exercise sessions on a mountain bike.

This works well allowing me to compete in a number of sports injury free at 56 years of age.

I hope this kind of answers your question - I am sure you can gather where I stand on this matter. Minimalist.

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Wayne said...

what about people who supinate and pronate their ankles>?

Gary Moller said...

Hi Wayne
I have added a couple of links to the bottom of the article which help answer the question.

I am of the inclination that pronation and supination problems are non-issues in feet that are free of over-engineered shoes and used naturally on uneven natural surfaces.

Wayne said...

I remember when there were no running shoes with foam rubber midsoles, it was bata bullets or skellerup plimsoles, thin rubber soles. zero motion control.
foam rubber midsoles didnt take off until the eighties and few of the shoes had motion control. In NZ there was very iltttle choice that was affordable, most people were running in one of about three models.
I used to dod a good 80k on hills every week for years in them, cant say they were much worse than todays shoes that cost five times more.
I dont have any legacy of crippling injuries

Wayne said...

one thing I would be careful of with running shoes, the less supportive ones can also have very soft midsole foam, be careful of these shoes especially if you are a heavier build. if you land on yoru outside heel as most runners do the foam can over compress allowing the ankle to roll to far and setup etra strain on the lateral Iliotibial band on the knee and the lateral ligaments causing injury.

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Great article and it's so helpful. But I just can't see any picture in your blog. Is that my computer problem? But I can see other s' blog pictures.

Gary Moller said...

Picture is there on my computer!

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