Last fall, I trained for a series of cross country races that culminated in competing with my team at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon on December 14, 2013.  After my training cycle, I took a solid nine days off from training.

Photo credit: Kevin Ko

USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon. Photo credit: Kevin Ko

On my second or third run back from break, I decided to break out my Saucony Kinvaras, a pair of shoes I’d purchased several months prior. I’d run in the Kinvaras several times but never quite decided if I liked them.  Something usually felt a little off. I really wanted to like them. Several of my experienced running friends adore their Kinvaras. It’s a widely revered shoe.

My workout plan that day was to run to the gym, lift, and then run back, but my plan was quickly derailed. About 10-11 minutes into my run, one of my knees hurt so badly I had to turn around and walk back to my car. On the way back, I hoped to intersperse some running with the walking, but my knee hurt so bad I couldn’t run at all.   After the run, I finally made up my mind about the Kinvaras and promptly gave them away.  A few days later I ran a 15-mile workout (5 miles at 7:30 pace, 5 miles at 7:00 pace, 5 miles at 6:30 pace) in my favorite speed/tempo shoes. My knees were absolutely fine. No pain. My point? When it comes to running pain-free, shoes are a huge part of the equation.

New Balance 1400 - my favorite workout/race shoe. Photo credit: Nate Cooper

New Balance 1400 – my favorite workout/race shoe. Photo credit: Nate Cooper

 

Find the right type of shoe for you

Several times friends who are new to running complain that something is hurting, often their knees or shins. One of my first questions is, “How are your shoes?” Often they’re running in shoes they’ve had for over a year which they bought based more on color or price than function and feel. If someone is new to running and they’re developing an injury, I always recommend they go to a running specialty store and try on several pairs of shoes. Running specialty stores usually let you run on a treadmill or sidewalk in several different shoes to determine which pair(s) feels the best. Please don’t select your running shoes based on color or price. Pick the shoes that actually feel the best when you’re running. Sometimes stores will even let you go home and run in your new shoes for up to 30 days and still return them if they don’t work out.

Side note: If you try on several shoes at a specialty store and find a pair you like, please buy the shoes from that store. Don’t go home and look for the best price online. Specialty stores stock a variety of solid running shoes and usually employ experienced runners that offer helpful shoe advice. If a store has offered you a valuable service, (sharing their expertise and allowing you to try on several shoes), please buy from them.

If you find that you’re still hurting in your new shoes, don’t always blame your body when maybe it’s still the shoes. Many friends in my running group, most of whom run 50+ miles a week and train regularly for half and full marathons are still experimenting with shoes. During some training cycles, they’ll experiment with 2-3 different shoes until they find they right ones. Many new runners give up running too quickly because of an ache or pain, when perhaps they need to spend a little extra time finding the right shoes.

 

Rotate 2+ types of shoes when possible

I stay healthier when I rotate at least two different kinds of running shoes. In college, I would run in a light stability shoe one day (the Nike Structure Triax), and a neutral shoe the next (the Nike Pegasus), and we did almost all of our speed workouts in spikes on grass or the track. Currently I rotate a few different versions of the New Balance 890, a lightweight neutral trainer, and a couple versions of the New Balance 1400, a racing flat.  Some days one shoe feels better, another day a different shoe feels better. Each shoe works slightly different muscles and patterns, allowing some to work and others to rest.  Apparently I’m not the only runner to stay healthier by rotating running shoes.  A 2013 study found that runners who wore different pairs of shoes over 22 weeks had a 39 percent lower risk of running injury than those who used only one pair of shoes. Rotating shoes is a great way to run a little healthier, and while the upfront cost may be a little higher, in the end you’re paying the same amount for your shoes.  

 

Replace shoes when they’re worn out

Over the years, especially when I’m not rotating shoes as frequently, my knees or hips will start to ache once I’ve accrued 350-400 miles on a pair of training shoes or about 200 miles on a pair of speed/tempo shoes. (These numbers vary by runner and shoe.) Even when I am rotating shoes, I can feel when a pair of shoes is shot. My body will ache during or after a run or a specific area will start to hurt. Often when the old shoes are replaced with new ones, the aches go away.

 

If it’s not broke, don’t fix it

If you’re running pain-free in a pair of shoes, be wary of switching them. If you want to try a new shoe, rotate them with a pair that is tried and true. Finding a pair of running shoes that feels great is priceless, so don’t be cavalier about letting them go.

 

Don’t get me wrong, shoes are not the holy grail when it comes to running pain-free. Strength training, stretching, and rolling are other critical pieces in my injury-prevention puzzle, but shoes make a considerable difference and offer a quick pay-off factor. What you wear on your feet for approximately 180 steps/minute for 30-60+ minutes per run makes a huge difference in how you feel.

In summary, if you’re feeling achy or developing a running injury, take a look at your shoes. Are you running in the right type of shoe for you? Is it time for your shoes to be replaced? Could you try rotating multiple pairs of shoes? Shoes have been essential in helping me run healthy and pain-free.

I’d love to hear about your experience with running shoes. Feel free to leave a comment below or review your favorites shoe in our Shoes & Gear directory.