In 2004, I kicked a 10-year Camel Light habit and the following year ran the New York City Marathon in 3:27:45. I ran a few more after that, but never beat that time and, in the past year, have gotten wickedly out of shape.
In this new series, Tech in Training, I’ll strap on the latest gadgets, ingest the newest supplements and try out experimental techniques to see if a little science can help my nearing-middle-age body top my previous PR this November. First, we start with the basics: finding the right sneaks with the help of a state-of-the-art fitting.
When people tell me they can’t run because it hurts their knees/ankles/hips/fingers, I call shenanigans and tell them they’re just wearing the wrong shoes. I’m no podiatrist, but I know from experience that pain doesn’t have to be a part of running. Get in a sneaker that adjusts for your goofy feet and crooked stride and those aches will usually disappear (also crucial: don’t overtrain). So how do you figure out the right shoe for you? If you’re new to the sport, try to find a running store or clinic that can do for you what the folks at Saucony recently did for me and PopSci copy chief and fellow runner, Rina Bander: take a video of the way your feet land as you run on a treadmill.
The objective is to see is how your foot pronates, or rolls from outside to in as you stride. A little pronation is normal. Too much, without the right support, and your joints can get thrown out of whack, and that hurts. My video shows a tad too much roll-in, so the biomechanical experts on hand recommended a shoe with just a little support. Rina had a more neutral step. The other primary variable in shoes is arch height, and to measure that, they had me walk and run over a pressure-sensitve pad. The attached graphic shows the outline of how I land, and that I have relatively high arches. Without good arch support, I know I’m getting pain in the bottom of my feet. The Saucony test results weren’t shocking to me—I’d arrived at similar conclusions over years of trial and error and a lot of wasted money on shoes. I was surprised at the amount of support the video suggested I needed; I’ve been running in so-called neutral shoes, which offer no pronation control, but I have had some pain recently. The Saucony reps recommended their ProGrid Guide shoes for me, which I’ve just started wearing as I start training for the 2009 ING New York City marathon, my fifth go at that distance and second time running New York.
Even with this kind of analysis—which varies widely in quality and is sometimes no more than a marketing gimmick (most running-store employees are not trained in biomechanics)—finding the right shoe is still a bit of a crap shoot, but if you’re planning to run more than a few miles a week, it’s absolutely worth keeping at it till you find the one that lets you run without pain anywhere but your muscles.
This is the first post in a new series, Tech in Training, in which editor Mike Haney will turn himself into a lab rat for the latest in fitness gear, techniques and enhancements as he prepares to run the New York City Marathon in November. Enjoy, and follow along here (or subscribe via RSS here) for future installments.