Jim2's Running Page

Changing Running Shoe Type

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8/1/03

(The following post was written as a comment to a thread that suggested that running shoes are over designed. A couple of posters indicated that they were considering changing to lighter weight, more flexible shoes that have lower heels and utilize fewer technological features.)

A word of caution about making too much of a sudden change to the type of shoes that you use. At least, I will offer my personal experiences, which may or may not apply to you.

In 1983, during the first year of my first running life, I developed a severe case of ITBS at my right knee which completely stopped me from running. A visit to a sports medicine center determined that it was caused by overpronation.....that was when I learned that I am a moderate overpronator, especially on the right side.

My problem was that the running shoes that I was using didn't control the overpronation. When I started running a few months earlier, I went to one of the chain "mall athletic shoe stores" where a salesperson, who obviously didn't know what he was doing, sold me....a 180 pound beginning runner....a pair of Addidas racing flats! The doctor at the sports medicine center told me that I needed motion control shoes. I stopped running for a few weeks to let the ITBS heal. I tossed the Addidas racing flats, bought my first pair of Asics GT motion control shoes....the original Xcaliber GT model....and had no more problems for 5 years.

In 1988, I developed ITBS at my right hip. It wasn't severe enough to stop me from running....even training and racing hard....but it did bother me a lot. I thought it was just due to overuse because I had steadily increased mileage and the intensity of my running program for 5 consecutive years. However, several weeks passed and it didn't go away.

Finally, I returned to the sports medicine center. They tested me on a treadmill by video taping me from the rear while running in each of the three shoe models that I was using at the time. I had been alternating three Asics models for several months....the GT Express (motion control shoe), Epirus (stability shoe) and Gel Lytes (light weight trainers)....I had adopted the Gel Lytes a few months earlier to use a lighter shoe specifically for speedwork and racing.

(BTW, when Asics later discontinued the Epirus model, they integrated its tapered dual density midsole into the GT model in place of the old GT's high density medial post to create the GT20xx series.)

The result of the treadmill test was impressive. It showed that I had no over or under pronation with the GT Express and just a very slight amount of overpronation on the right side with the Epirus....not enough to be a concern. However, with the Gel Lytes I had a significant amount of overpronation of my right foot, which permitted my knee to go a full inch or more past the vertical plane. Interestingly, I could not detect any difference between the three models simply by how running felt, although the difference was strikingly apparent on the tape.

The doctors advised me to burn the Gel Lytes and stick with motion control and stability shoes to control my overpronation. After ditching the Gel Lytes as running shoes....I made them lawn mowing shoes....my ITBS cleared up.

The right shoe type can correct for biomechanical problems. However, the wrong shoe type can cause problems. Too much stability results in inadequate pronation, which is a natural shock absorbing feature of our bodies. It can even induce supination. Too little stability induces overpronation, and we all know the potential consequences of that.....injury.

The key to shoe selection for an optimum combination of performance and injury avoidance is to choose the minimum shoe that you need for your unique combination of biomechanical characteristics. If one is biomechanically neutral, then racing flats or light weight trainers are great. However, the rest of us need some help from shoe design.

It's true that the running shoes of yesteryear didn't have all of the technological features of those of today. Most fell into categories that we know today as racing flats and light weight trainers. However, there were also a lot fewer runners. And, perhaps, many of those who had biomechanical imperfections were simply weeded out by injuries, as I probably would have been if motion control shoes had not been available when I was a novice runner.

I would strongly suggest that anyone who isn't having a problem, but wants to try a different type of running shoe, at least have someone run behind you on an early run in the new shoe type and "eyeball" your form. The emphasis should be on looking for vertical alignment of the ankle, knee and hip in mid-stride and no medial (inward) movement of the knee past the vertical plane.

Jim2