Your Running Shoes Don’t Matter

I’m a proud owner of a pair of Vibram FiveFingers.  In fact, it’s my second pair, I wore out my first pair with no adverse effects on my legs.  So I watch with amused disinterest when I see the various pro/con stories pop up.

This latest one, “Barefoot running shoe maker forced to withdraw health claims”, got me thinking.

Thing is, I also own a pair of Nike Frees.  And a pair of rather bulky Asics.  I rotate between all three for my runs.  And I can say this with confidence:

Your running shoes don’t matter.

Sure, the shoes feel different.  And they teach you different things about your stride.  My Vibrams taught me a lot about how bad my form was when I got them.  This just happened to coincide with a rigorous yoga/training schedule that included weight training, better diet, and less running.  Yes, less running.  Don’t knock it, it shaved almost a half hour off my marathon time, but that’s beside the point.

Here’s where I learned that if I wanted to be a faster runner, my form needed to improve.  And that’s why your running shoes, in the end, don’t matter.  The distance between your foot and the asphalt?  ¼ inch, tops.  If you’re thinking a proper cushion is going to make a lick of difference, you might want to rethink that.

No, it’s your footstrike that starts the cushioning.   The arch of your foot grips the road as it coils up, the shock travels up your leg and gets further absorbed by the thighs, hips, and then your core.  There’s your cushioning.  About four feet of muscles and tendons in a delicate trapeze to keep your torso gliding smoothly as a cloud over the road.

Sure, Nike and Vibram will tell you some BS about how your feet and calves will adapt to the strain of minimalis shoes.  They’re marketing departments and you should suspect them.  Is your form off?  Do you run with a hunched back and a potbelly?  Do you shuffle along like it’s a struggle to stay upright?  Your feet and shins are not designed to handle that kind of strain.  They will only crack and break.

It’s what I discussed with my friends at Phase IV – “overuse injury” is really a misnomer.  It’s really “overabuse” – that is, running for too long with a form that abuses specific joints not designed to handle stress.

Instead, look at the people that show off those light shoes in the ads.  They’re fit, trim, their abs are tight, and they run like they’re hovering over the ground.  If you want to avoid injury, you need to learn how to run like that.  That takes dedication.  It’s the kind of gait we aspire to as runners, it’s what we admire in awe when we watch elites glide down the road like a dream.

And when you keep this as the benchmark of injury free running, your running shoes don’t matter.