One of the great benefits of our sport is the simplicity of it all. We don’t NEED a huge bag full of fancy equipment to get in our daily workout, just our feet and a destination (or sometimes not even a destination). The most asked question I get from new runners and walkers is what type of special gear do I need to run or walk a half marathon? In reality, there a lots of things that can make your workouts more fun, more comfortable, enjoyable, etc. However, the one really important thing to consider is footwear – shoes and socks. Seems like a pretty simple answer, but has more to it than simply picking up a pair or two of “sneakers.” And yes, for those of you who have run Cap City a few times I am recycling this post. We need to hear it every year!
First and foremost, if you have not already done so PLEASE go to a specialty running store, like my buddies Tim and Jeff at Fleet Feet Sports in Polaris, and have a proper shoe fitting. This is more than am I a size 5 or 13? They will watch you run, evaluate your gait, and determine what kind of shoe you need. They will determine if you have a neutral foot strike, over-pronate, or under-pronate. They can determine from that and discussion with you about your running goals if you should be in a neutral, motion control, or stability shoe. Please don’t go to a big box store to buy your running shoes! This is the one piece of equipment that we need as runners and in reality is much cheaper to buy a quality pair of shoes with the proper fit, than to spend months in PT or worse and throw away your race entry $$!
Libby from Fleet Feet assisting a runner with proper fit and assessing her running/walking needs to find the perfect shoe.
Note that often when you start distance running your running shoe size might be a half size larger than your typical shoe size. Over the course of a half marathon or a long run, our feet swell. Shoes that are your normal size might be great for 5 miles but at 12 feel like they’re strangling your feet. Again, talk to the folks at the running store to determine the best size strategy for you!
Miles on Shoes
Our Medical Director, Dr. Bright, gives a great talk about shoe life expectancy. It will vary somewhat based on the materials used in the shoe, your weight and biomechanics, and the type of shoe that it is. Generally though after about 50 miles the shoe will have 75% of it’s original shock absorption, after 100-150 it will be at 67% of it’s original value, and after 250-500 will be less than 60%. Keep track of the miles you have on your shoes. Winging it is for the birds (sorry couldn’t help myself). I like to think about replacing my shoes after about 300 miles, BEFORE I feel like I need to…
If possible, it is nice to have a shoe rotation. Have a pair that are 100 miles in and then buy another pair (either same model or different model same type of shoe). Use the new ones for longer runs, keep the old ones for shorter runs, and so on. This way you’ll not only always have a dry pair, but you’ll be giving your body a little change every day. The healthiest I have ever been, running wise, is when I had several different shoe models and rotated them throughout the week. This can be cost prohibitive, but having two pairs at different stages in their lives allows you to change it up even if ever so slightly. In reality, if you have a couple different pairs at any given time you will eventually put the same number of miles on them, just not up front. You will outlay the same $$ in the long run, but in the short term have two pairs of shoes to rotate!
Extreme example of shoe rotation!
Half Marathon Shoes
Ideally, you want the shoes that you wear on race day to have about 40 miles on them. Buy a pair of whatever you’ve been wearing and loving all season. Wear them for a short run to make sure you still love them, then wear them for one of your longer runs. Then wear them again for a midweek tempo or speed workout if you do those. That should give you an idea of how they are working for you. If you still love them, put them away until race day. If you don’t, start over. You want to do this ahead of time, so you can change them if necessary and still get some miles on them before race day!
Ever since the book Born to Run the minimalist shoe/barefoot scene has exploded in popularity. Like politics and religion EVERYONE seems to have an opinion. The basic gist of the minimalist theory is this. Modern running shoes have slowly changed our gait to become more heel striking versus midfoot or forefoot. Since this has happened quicker than we evolve, it can lead to injuries. Indeed, some folks believe they see less injuries after switching to minimalist running. I am very concerned about this movement however, but not because I think it is an inherently bad idea. There is good scientific information about the forces that occur over the course of a footstrike through push off that shows that this is different for shod runners versus barefooot. My concern is that like a lot of things with tons of energy and excitement around them, people will jump on the bandwagon too quickly and get injured. If you are considering barefoot or minimalist running, you MUST transition to it SLOWLY. I can’t say that loudly enough, SLOWLY. One good way to do this is to take off your shoes after a run and run in the grass barefoot for a few minutes. Or if you already have minimalist shoes, go out in them for a half mile and then drop them off and finish your workout in your “normal” shoes. It isn’t for everyone but many can do it successfully. If you are thinking about going barefoot or minimalist, I really encourage you to talk with a sports medicine expert, like Dr. Bright, about how to safely start the transition.
Lastly, don’t forget about socks. If you are running in cotton socks, STOP NOW! In fact, if you are running in anything cotton just stop. The newer technical fibers or the old standby wool are much better at wicking moisture away from your feet. Your feet will stay dry, less stinky, and more importantly you will be less susceptible to blisters (ugh).
Enjoy the cushion and cloud-like feeling that comes with a new pair of running shoes! We are only two months from race day and I can’t wait to see you all on May 3rd!