Apologies in advance if this gets a little long, but I think it’s a worthwhile topic and one I’ve never seen addressed anywhere…
A little over four years ago, I signed up for my first race, a half-marathon, and began the most recent running chapter in my life. I’d loved running as a kid and joined the elementary school track team in 5th grade. I continued sprinting through junior high and high school, but by college I was focused on other pursuits. With a slightly more flexible schedule in grad school I started dabbling in 3-milers again. I signed up for the half marathon about a year after finishing my masters. The first thing I did was to download Hal Higdon’s beginner training plan and the second thing was to go to the running store to by “real” shoes.
I had read about gait analysis and the importance of having shoes properly fitted in Runners’ World, but I remember being disappointed in the actual process. From what I recall, I was told to roll up my pant legs and walk around the store in my stocking feet while the sales guy cocked his head slightly and squinted a little. I was then told—wait for it—that I pronated slightly and should get a mid-range motion-control shoe. (Note that this advice applies to 95% of all runners.) I tried on several models and settled on my beloved NB 768’s. As I ran more and raced more, I eventually ended up adding another pair and rotated between them. I kept track of my mileage and dutifully replaced my shoes every 400 miles or so. As my form improved, I found that my shoes were lasting longer (also due to the rotation, no doubt), and I started to stretch it out to 600 miles before I retired them. Then, last spring, I realized that my oldest shoes had almost 700 miles on them, but actually felt better than the newer ones. This was not so long after the Born to Run frenzy as well, and I decided to see if they would make it to 800. Then 900. Then 1000.
Enter the marathon. By then I was running in 3 pairs of 769’s, which had something like 700, 800, and 1000 miles on them, respectively, and they all kept feeling better and better. I was pounding out 20-milers and Yasso’s by the dozen. About two months in, I started feeling an ache in my lower back, and shortly thereafter, the IT band pain started. I tried everything, including new shoes, which only seemed to make things worse. Back to the old 769’s.
I was still running in the 769’s (now at 900, 950, and 1300) last week, when I got a 25% off coupon for Roadrunner Sports. I’d been putting off buying new shoes for ages, in part because I knew the stability structure of my current pairs was probably completely gone and I wasn’t looking forward to acclimating to a completely different feel. Still, 25% off running shoes is not to be turned down, so I decided to actually go to the store rather than order online. I described my predicament to the salesclerk, complete with the battered 1300-mile 769’s as props. He suggested I have my gait re-analyzed, which sounded like a reasonable suggestion. This time around, I actually ran on a treadmill in bare feet with a camera at tread-level recording my footfalls. I can now report that I have quite a nice neutral mid-foot strike and what are apparently very high arches. It seems that my stability shoes have, in fact, been rocking my foot precisely the wrong way. (No surprise that the older they got, the better they felt.)
I left the store with a pair of NB 890’s with which I’m totally smitten. They’re light and flexible and springy and oh so pretty! After my first run in them, it became apparent that my old shoes had NO cushioning left and that I had been absorbing everything in my legs. A week in, I’ve had no issues with my calves tightening and the ache in my SI joint seems to be easing as well.
I’m not totally sure what’s actually happened here. It’s possible that I was put in the wrong shoes from Day 1 and that the motion control in the shoes contributed to the IT band injury. What seems more likely to me is that the shoes were fine when I was starting out, but as my feet and legs got stronger I no longer needed the structure. (I do think my arches have come up a bit since I started running.) It’s also possible that wearing the old shoes until all the structure broke down actually forced me into a better stride (a la Born to Run). In any case, this is where the PSA comes in: Get your stride re-checked every now and then. Most of the runners I know are constantly trying to improve their form, but we tend to forget to readjust the equipment accordingly. And who doesn’t like new shoes?