One of the great things about the sport of running is that the equipment requirements are minimal. Unlike hockey or football, all you really need is a good pair of running shoes. However, walking into a shoe store today is like walking into an 88 flavors ice cream shop: the choices are overwhelming.
Most running stores today still use foot types as a starting point in shoe selection. However, what is not obvious is the current scientific evidence in this entire process. It’s not so much that our current methods of shoe selection are wrong. It’s just incomplete. Does shoe selection matter? Absolutely. It is the only equipment that a runner needs and uses. Just as a slowly dripping faucet accumulates a full bucket of water over time, an incorrectly fitted shoe can be annoying at best, and contribute to an injury at worst. Something that is only mildly uncomfortable while walking in a shoe store will inevitably be enormously troubling during the thousands of steps taken while running. What we do know for certain in the scientific literature is that for every ounce less that a shoe weighs, it contributes to an improved running efficiency. As well, shoe selection is both an art and a science. Shoes should feel comfortable while running in them. However, comfort is not the only criteria. At the end of the day, the realistic and only answer that science can contribute to the process is “it depends.” It depends on the runner’s running or impact history. It depends on the runner’s goals, mileage, their present or previous injuries, their preferred running terrain, their preferred foot strike pattern, their running efficiency and the list goes on. In other words, the list is as wide as it is long.
As a runner myself, I understand the importance of having the correct shoes on my feet while training and racing. As a physiotherapist, I have the privilege of understanding how a runner’s biomechanics, conditioning and training history relate to their injuries. What I needed however was a person who has a good knowledge of running shoes with whom I can communicate and collaborate. This would help narrow the shoe selection process for the sales person, the runner and myself when all three parties are contributing to the process. This is especially important for those runners with injuries since an incorrect shoe selection could certainly contribute to the problem.
As a result, I approached my running coach Matt Norminton, who also works for the Running Room and I proposed a better way of shoe selection for runners. Matt in turn introduced me to Ed Wagner, the manager at the 109 street Running Room store. For the past 6 months, Ed and I have been working collaboratively to assist my running and walking patients in the process of shoe selection. I have appreciated Ed’s vast knowledge of running shoes and his calm and patient demeanour with his clients. So, I have chosen to interview Ed for this month’s blog. Enjoy!
- So, Ed, let’s begin. Tell me about yourself. How did you get involved with running and with the Running Room? What is your current role with the Running Room?
I used to be a confirmed smoker, topping out at about 60 cigarettes a day. Like most smokers, I tried to quit many times on my own with little success. When I was in my 30’s, I had a very smart doctor, who was a runner herself, who suggested running as a distraction. Combined with a smoking cessation program, running has helped me remain smoke free since the early 1990’s. I found my way to the Running Room as many new runners do looking for information on shoes and the gear I needed for running, and a running group that could help keep me accountable and motivated to run regularly. The running and walking groups of all levels and distances were a great fit. The great positive energy I found in this community had me running out of the store for years, until I joined the staff, and eventually came to serve as an area manager for Edmonton.
- You are a runner yourself. How often do you run?
I run three times a week when not preparing for a race. When a race is on the agenda, I run five times a week. Marathon was my preferred distance, and I’ve run marathons in Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Victoria, Montreal, and many editions of our home race here in Edmonton. Most recently I’ve run as part of the 109 St Master’s Team for the Banff Jasper Relay.
- When a new runner comes into your store seeking advice for a pair of shoes, where do you start? What are some of the questions you ask of the client? What are some of the things you look for?
When a new runner or walker comes in, I assure them that ours will be a collaborative relationship in the shoe selection process. I can provide technical expertise but we need to have their feedback on how a shoe fits and feels. For starters, we talk about the client’s current running experience along with their goals, any history of injuries and their participation in other sports. Then we watch how they walk and run during the gait analysis and we recommend a variety of shoes from our vast selection.
- What are some of the tools you use in helping clients find shoes? Tell me more about the video gait analysis you use in shoe selection.
Our video gait analysis is unique to Running Room’s 109 Street store. It consists of a treadmill, video camera, and software where we can show side by side pictures of our clients running in 4 different pair of shoes. Since we can slow down the video, it helps us see how a particular shoe changes a runner’s foot strike, ankle, leg, knee, and hip movements. It also allows us to show our clients what we are looking at when evaluating a shoe which helps further in the decision making process. Then they can pick the pair that is providing the most appropriate balance (assuming all fit points are correct) or, if all shoes seem to be working equally well, to make a choice based on feel.
- What are the most difficult aspects of the entire shoe selection process for you as a sales person?
Our biggest challenge is to elicit information about how a particular shoe feels, whether it’s the general balance of the shoe, the fit of the heel (slipping or not), arch contour, pressure points, etc. That’s why it’s so important that ours is a collaborative process with our customers. Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine whether a shoe feels right or wrong or just different. Assuming the shoe functions well on the foot, and the general fit points as noted above are correct, Running Room allows a 30 day window where the shoes can be tested indoors on track or treadmill to help settle the issue. If there is an issue not noticed in the store, or feeling different really ends up feeling wrong, regular priced shoes can be returned for exchange or refund within that 30 day period.
- With so many shoes available and with new iterations once to twice a year, how do you stay up to date on your products?
Staying up to date with our product knowledge is part of our professional responsibility. We do have the advantage of constant contact with technical representatives from all our suppliers. They are very helpful in giving us updates on new models, materials and designs, describing differences both great and small from year to year. It also helps that we are running geeks and enjoy spending our time scouring running magazines, supplier websites and technical blogs for the most current information.
- What shoes are you currently using? Is shoe selection a challenging or easy process for yourself?
I’ve been running in the Brooks Ravenna for a few years now. It’s a light stability shoe that helps balance the pronation in my feet, with plenty of cushioning for long run comfort in a lightweight package. Shoe selection has become a relatively straight forward process for myself as I’ve learned over the years the degree of lateral balance I need for my stride, and how to accommodate a relatively stiff arch. The biggest challenge is to get the fit exactly right. I’m always looking for the perfect shoe!
- We have been working collaboratively now for close to 6 months. What aspects of our relationship have you enjoyed or found useful? What kind of feedback have you received from our clients?
I’ve particularly appreciated the collaborative nature of our relationship. You have your clients describe to me their issues, and you suggest the general range of shoes you think might help their specific case. That gives me a wonderful starting point that I can put together with my own gait analysis. Once a shoe has been selected, I will communicate to you a description of the shoe that was selected, its technical features, and the options we explored along with the reasons other shoes were not selected. Our customers are often surprised by the great variety of choices in footwear that are available in a relatively narrow technical range, and the subtle differences within these choices. Our clients also appreciate seeing a video of themselves running and walking. It’s the first time many clients see what their stride looks like.
- Of all the technologies being invested in shoes, which do you like the most or are most excited about?
One of the great changes I’ve seen in the last few years is that shoes have been getting lighter while providing more durable cushioning over distance and time. Any savings in this area is significant since you don’t have to expend the energy to move that weight over the course of your run. Current daily trainers are the weight reserved for light performance trainers in the past. And the new recipes for midsole foam provide consistent cushioning over the distance you are running and the life of the shoe. With these new formulations, we don’t see the compression of the midsole over distances and times that required resting the shoes to recompress as needed just a few years ago.
One of the most curious technologies tried 15 years ago was a shoe that incorporated a computer chip in the effort to make it perform like a variable stability shoe. The intention was that the computer chip would sense the degree of pronation in a particular footstrike, and stiffen the shoe through a wire that ran from the heel to the forefoot keeping the midsole from twisting at toe off. The experiment didn’t work very well limited by the computing power available at that time. Still, the idea is alive and designers continue to look for a variable function shoe that would adapt to a range of biomechanics and footstrikes.
- What signs should runners look for in their shoes to determine when they should be replaced?
The active life of a running shoe is on average between 500 and 750K. Racing flats will have a shorter life than more substantial motion control shoes. The efficiency of a runner’s gait will influence the wear pattern on the shoe which influences its life. I encourage everyone to log the mileage on their shoes to get a sense of, on average, how long they can wear a particular model.
In the meantime, there are a number of ways a person can check when it’s time to change to a fresh pair.
1) One should never continue to run in their shoes if the outsole is worn through. Carbon rubber is used especially in high wear areas such as the heel. Once that rubber is worn through, there is nothing to protect the soft foam in the midsole, and the shoes will wear very quickly at that point. The cushioning of the shoe will have been long gone at that point.
2) To determine if the cushioning is worn out, one may look for accordian like fissures in the midsole. These were more pronounced in older recipes of midsole foam, which would compress noticeably on each run, and needed to be rested to recompress. New formulations of midsole foam are more consistent over distance and time. One doesn’t see the same kind of deep fissures developing as in shoes from even 5 years ago. There will be a point however when they will just feel dead – no bounce, no responsiveness. If unsure about the degree of cushioning left in a pair in use, take them into any Running Room, and try a fresh pair in comparison.
3) If a runner starts to notice new symptoms appearing in their hips, knees or back, especially if there has been no change in training, it can be a sign that the shoes need replacing. These symptoms can arise if the lateral balance of the shoe becomes worn so that the alignment of hips, knees, shins and ankles may be altered. Also, if the cushioning of the shoe is compressed, each footfall may be transmitting marginally more impact forces than if wearing a fresh pair.
Thank you, Ed for this interview. With every referral to Ed by Elevation Physiotherapy, the Running Room provides a 10% discount on shoes purchased. If you are new to running or if you would like some advice on additions to your shoe rotation, we would be pleased to assist you in the process.
Submitted by Albert Chan