April 30, 2007

Ops... I made a mistake 20 years ago

I've been doing a lot of reading over the weekend, and I came to a realization that I made a mistake 20 years ago in selecting my running shoes. Let me explain.

I started running about 1973 in Phoenix. I didn't know that running shoes existed, and I ran in my work shoes, army boots, and old sneakers (known as gym shoes back in that era). I worked up to about 3 miles two or three times a week. Then, in February 1976, I moved to Massachusetts with a new job in Maynard, MA.

The Digital Running Club was just getting started in Maynard, and I went to the first meeting and learned about running shoes. I went to a local sports store and bought a pair of Etonic Trans Am shoes. Etonic was a Massachusetts company, and their shoes were in all the Massachusetts stores. Boy, running was different with those shoes compared to my army boots. Today the Trans Am are considered walking shoes, but back then they were the latest in running shoes.

I soon discovered that I had a problem with the shoes, because the heel on my right foot compressed until the outside thickness was about 1/4 inch less than the inside thickness. This put a terrific torque on my ankle, but I didn't suffer any injuries from it. The cause of the compression was a skeleton defect that I had at birth -- I walk on the outside of my right foot. Even today, I can sit on a chair with my heels on the floor and my toes sticking up, and I can see a tilt in my foot. I was a supinator, although the cause was my skeleton defect rather than a high, stiff arch that is usually associated with supination (I have a medium arch, but my joints are very stiff. They were described by a bone specialist as the opposite of double joints). I didn't realize at the time that my skeleton defect was the cause of the compression.

In 1981, I ran my first marathon in Vermont, called the Green Mountain Marathon. I was concerned about the compression of the right heel, and I used my electric glue gun to rebuild the heel back to normal height. Boy, was that a mistake, because all that glue had no cushioning at all. I developed a pain in my right quad that would appear after about 45 minutes running. The pain didn't get worse or change location, so I ignored it. I even ran a marathon with it. After a few weeks of experimenting, I discovered that the pain was due to my shoe and all that glue. I got new shoes, and the pain was gone. I needed new shoes, anyway, because I had 1000 miles on them.

One day I called Etonic and asked them what shoes I should use for my supination. They said to use the Stability Pro shoe that was designed for pronators. I said I supinate, and the man said they would help with that, too. By then, the Etonic running shoe market was falling apart, so I got mine via mail (the Internet wasn't invented by Al Gore yet). Hey, no more heel compression, great! I used those shoes until about a year ago when I decided to try something with newer technology and switched to LOCO shoes and the MOJO stability shoe.

Now, back to this past weekend. After I put 500 miles on my shoes, I switch to a new pair and use the old ones for my walking shoes. I noticed a few days ago that my old walking shoes did have a small amount of compression in the right heel, and I decided to search for a shoe that wouldn't compress. I learned from my reading that there are three types of shoes, motion control, stability, and neutral. Motion control shoes are for severe pronators and stability shoes are for moderate pronators. Both shoes are built to resist the natural roll of the pronator's foot past the center of the shoe and onto the inside edge of the shoe. That is, they "push" the foot towards the outside of the shoe. After I read that, I realized that the stability shoes I had been wearing for 20 years were pushing my foot toward the outside even though my foot was already on the outside. That is, my shoes were doing the opposite of what they should have been doing! Then I read that supinators should use a neutral shoe that would let the foot move toward the center. I said a quick prayer of thanks that my wrong shoes during the past 20 years hadn't led to injury.

One question that needs to be answered is, "Why did my stability shoes remove almost all of the compression of the heel?" For 20 years, I thought the answer was because they were stability shoes designed to stabilize the foot. I did wonder why shoes built to help pronators would help supinators, but I didn't think about that much and just accepted on faith that they would help. I now realize that the reason is probably because the stability shoes had better material in the heel, material that was less subject to compression, that is, newer technology.

I haven't purchased a neutral shoe yet, but I will try one and will report the results in this blog.

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