The Right Running Shoe Matters

After a terrific tempo run yesterday, I had an easy 6 mile run on the schedule for today. I recently bought a pair of New Balance Fresh Foam 980s based on reading reviews that raved on the cushioning and that they had only a 4mm drop. None of my favorite running shoes are particularly well cushioned. In general, this isn’t an issue for me. But on my Sunday 20 miler, the soles of my feet felt especially slapped. I knew it was most likely because the shoes I was wearing (Newton Distance Elite Ironman version) have over 500 miles on them. However, at the end of both my previous marathons, the soles of my feet felt on fire. Maybe more cushion would help with that.

IMG_3362.PNGSo, since I was going to do an easy run on the treadmill today before my strength workout, I thought I’d try out the New Balances. As a precaution, I brought my Skechers GoMeb shoes to the Y.

It only took me a mile and a half to decide I hated the shoes. I felt like I was wearing cinderblocks despite that they weren’t much heavier than my usual shoes. I know I was tired from my run yesterday, but this was more than that. I’d wanted to try to run at least 3 miles in them, but I began feeling unpleasant cramping in my calves. Also, the bottom of my right foot was beginning to feel slappy after only a mile. It was as if the extra cushion made it worse than no cushion would’ve.

I hopped off the treadmill, switched to my usual shoes, hopped back on the treadmill, and all was well.

But here’s the even more interesting thing about my shoe change — it wasn’t merely how the shoes felt heavy or caused leg cramps — the NB shoes drastically affected my stride length.

I wear a Garmin footpod when I do treadmill runs because I’m anal about tracking my runs. One thing I notice by doing this — and by running on different treadmills — is how much treadmills vary in their calibration. Weirdly, I tend to prefer to run on the treadmills that show my pace as lower than what my Garmin measures. I don’t know why, but I guess that means I’m not terribly vain about what pace other people see me running.

When I was running in the NB shoes, I was averaging about a 10 minute mile. Which was fine except that it felt ridiculously hard. When I paused the treadmill at 1.5 miles, I hit the lap button on my Garmin. When I restarted the treadmill, I set the pace at exactly the same speed as when I was wearing the NBs.

This is what my run ended up looking like:


Like I said, I had the treadmill set on the exact same pace for that second mile and a half as I did for the first mile and a half. The only difference was the shoes I was wearing.

When I got home, I looked at the uploaded Garmin data, thinking that perhaps my cadence had changed due to the heavier shoe. What I was surprised to discover was this:


The big difference was in my stride length. By a lot. I knew I felt immensely better in my Meb shoes, but this was really telling. The Fresh Foams are not for me. I clearly need less shoe. It’s too bad because I think the NBs are pretty, but I’m hoping they’ll work for crosstraining.

My feet are so damned particular! I’ve tried all the big brands and only Newtons (the four lug Distance line) and GoMeb work for me. It worries me because running shoe companies discontinue shoes all the time (like my beloved Newton Running Distance update totally hurts my calves and ankles) and I’m limited in my selection. I keep hoping I’ll find another pair to put in rotation, but I’ve had zero luck.

I’m embarrassed at the size of my shoe reject pile. I’ve got a problem.

But now that I’ve seen metrics of what the right or wrong running shoe can do for my stride, I’m not messing around with shoes that feel anything less than great. Having the right running shoe really matters.


9 thoughts on “The Right Running Shoe Matters

  1. I pretty much stick with the shoe I know works for me. Just in the past year I purchased a pair of Saucony and Newtons. Other then that, I’ve been with Brooks for 10+ years.
    The Saucony caused a callous on my right foot that still bothers me. I don’t run often enough in the Newtons to have them not cause me problems. It seems like you have to change a lot to run well in Newtons.
    Bought a new pair of Brooks Adrenaline the other night, they feel great.
    Cheers – Andy

  2. I try new shoes all the time. The right pair makes all the difference. I also tried the Fresh Foam. They’re OK for me, but they’re not my favorite. However, my sister LOVES them. They really work well for her. Which just goes to show what an individual process finding the right shoe is! I give away many of the pairs I get too.

  3. You’re not alone in your shoe pickiness – I totally know what you mean. Last time I tried to find a new shoe, I went through over two dozen different models before I finally settled on the shoe I have now. It’s so funny how some people can basically wear anything, where as others are so particular about what works and what doesn’t. I am very jealous of the former variety!

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