Those of us on the selling floor will hear a lot of comments, observations and complaints but without a doubt, the most common statement will relate to color as in “what’s up with these shoes”? Walk into any store that sells running shoes, be it a big box giant or an independent running establishment like Miles Ahead and the first thing that you notice is color!…Lots of it. The selling wall resembles a jelly bean jar. We hear you. In my almost 40 years of running, I can never recall the variety of bold colors and exotic design. The irony to this expansive mass of color is the fact that if someone is looking for a plain, white shoe, you’re out of luck. They’ve come up with colors that don’t even have names but should you want a basic color, oh well. I suppose you could make a case that an all-white shoe will get dirty quicker but truth be told, I suspect the reason is more to the fact that white is boring. That’s a word that no shoe brand wants associated with their product. The industry is hard at work pursuing the age demographic that every business covets, the kids. It doesn’t matter that we ancients have more disposable income. Kids want color and flash, brands wants kids wearing their product, older runners better get used to it. Look at the bright side; if you’re worried about standing out if you wear flashy shoes, you’d probably stand out more if you didn’t!
The other big change we’ve seen in recent years is the basic design of the shoes themselves. When the running boom took place back in the 70’s, it was thought that the shoes had to be attached to an elevated platform designed to dampen the shock of the foot strike. Made sense, right? We ambled along blissfully under the conception that we were protecting our most vulnerable body part, our knees. Next thing you know, some guy writes a book about a tribe of Mexican Indians who run unheard of distances daily in leather sandals and get this, they never get hurt! The author then postulates that the reason so many of us get hurt is BECAUSE of these over-stuffed shoes and that all of us should learn to run as we would if barefoot. A simple slab of rubber for protection is all we need to run safer, faster and longer. Simply drink the cool-aide, adios your Kayanos, squeeze into some Vibrams and sure as Bob’s your uncle, you’re in running Nirvana!
Well, after making every sports podiatrist in the western world rich, people came to realize that barefoot running was NOT the answer to injury free running. While there were runners who benefited from the switch and have been happy with this new style, many others found that while their knees may have benefitted from this minimal style, other parts of their body didn’t. Injuries to feet and ankles proliferated. Sure, we weren’t designed to run with the heel-striking pattern traditional running shoes caused but we weren’t designed to run on concrete and asphalt either. Back to the drawing board.
If you’ve been in Miles Ahead within the last 6 months or so, you’ve probably noticed some shoes that more resemble moon boots. These oddities are from a brand called HOKA ONE ONE. They are at the forefront of a trend that is the polar opposite of the minimalist shoe. These shoes appear to sit on a mountain of foam and at first glance, they seem like their weight should be quoted in pounds, not grams. It’s fair to say that this is a very strange looking shoe.
At closer glance however, the concept has a lot of merit. Developed initially by and for ultra marathoners, the large foam platform is designed to absorb almost all the shock caused by the heel strike. Further, by examining the components of these shoes, you see that your foot is cradled in the shoe so your height off the ground is not nearly what it appears to be. It also borrowed a concept from the barefoot trend of having your heel height much lower to the ground than a traditional shoe. We refer to the “drop” in a shoe as being the height difference in millimeters between the heel and the forefoot. A traditional shoe might have a 10 or 12 millimeter drop while a minimalist shoe would be 0 or 2. These Hokas have a drop of 4 or 6. This lower drop encourages a more mid-foot strike as opposed to a heel strike. This is a more efficient stride that reduces shock to the body but doesn’t shift it to other vulnerable areas of the foot and lower leg. Oh yea, one more thing, the lightness of these shoes is astonishing. If you haven’t tried one of these on, you owe it to yourself to do so. Admittedly, these things aren’t going to win any fashion contests but they may save your knees.
Let’s summarize all this by saying that no “one” thing will work for and appeal to everyone. Any shoe company or retailer that tells you differently is fibbing. Change is inevitable. Companies must continually update styles, colors and technology to stay relevant. When considering a change to your running shoes, it’s wise to do some research and talk to your running shoe sellers in person. What may work for your best friend might not work for you. Only a fair and thorough assessment of your running style, foot and arch profile and goals hoped for with the change will reduce your chances of getting injured. There’s a lot to be said for sticking with what works but hey, we’re human, sometimes change is fun. Unfortunately, the expertise at Miles Ahead can only go so far and while we feel your pain, we can’t tell you when they’re going to come out with an all white shoe. What the heck, buy that chartreuse trainer with the neon laces and enjoy the looks you get on the boards. Hey, at least they’re looking!
Spring is here! I know this as I just saw the first Robin. He was frozen in a bird bath but nonetheless, he's here.
Spring means the end of "excuse" season. No more justifying our inactivity with reports of coming snow or record breaking low temps. That ship has sailed and with it, any reasons to remain on the couch. No sir, it's time to do an honest assessment of our fitness and what needs to be done.
To those of you who managed to work out and stay active throughout the winter, well done. By staying fit and finding activities that kept your body firing on all cylinders, you're ready to slide into the next phase of your program. When the coming warm weather invites you to shed those winter clothes, you'll be ready to proudly show off that lean physique. Life is good!
I would dare say, however, there's a fair amount of you that didn't feel compelled to get out the door this winter. The theory that if hibernation is good for bears, it has to be good for you seemed quite sensible these past few months. It would be hard to argue with the soundness of that logic but it probably means that pile of innertubes with ears staring at you in the mirror looks familiar. There's nothing left to do but brush its teeth and resolve to change things.
An honest assessment of your fitness level should be just that, honest. Just because you were cracking out 5K races throughout the summer and fall doesn't mean you're ready to hit the ground running if you haven't maintained your conditioning all winter. Coming back too quickly is recipe for injury which is hardly the way to kick off the season. If you've remained fit all winter, by all means keep it up but always remember to build your workouts gradually. Even going from a treadmill to the roads requires a bit of adaptation as the change of surface will stress our legs differently.
After assessing your conditioning, it's smart to look at the condition of your shoes. Running shoes that have a couple of hundred miles from the Fall followed by a couple of months of inactivity should probably be replaced. The foams will dry out and lose their responsiveness which means your legs will be bearing more pounding than they'd like. Unhappy legs will make the rest of your body unhappy. Who needs that?!
Above all, keep this in mind; nothing will derail or otherwise defeat a fitness plan quicker than unrealistic goals. You set yourself up for failure when you set goals that you have little or no chance of reaching. Let's face it, the vast majority of goals center around weight loss which is all well and good but when the scale is your only gauge of success or failure, you walk a slippery slope. Instead of telling yourself you want to lose X lbs per week, commit to losing a sensible amount by the start of summer. If you exercise smartly and eat right, you WILL lose the weight but as important, your commitment to doing these healthy things will improve your sense of self while benefiting things like blood pressure, cholesterol and sleep quality.
Look at Spring as a second chance for healthy resolutions. Instead of a "new year", it'll be a "new you" resolution. Even better, this resolution will take place in the warm weather instead of January and February and that's a good thing right?
-written by Jay Russell (visit Jay on the weekends at Miles Ahead!)
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