Feet First – what to buy?

The one area of running that is thoroughly covered, both in terms of commercial options and expert opinion, is footwear – what shoes do you strap on those potatoes??? Still I think I would be remiss in writing this blog if I didn’t address it. The answer is complicated, an unsatisfying ‘well, it depends.’ It depends in part on what type of runner you are, the miles, the terrain, etc. I’m going to breakdown my footwear choices that fit my needs – long distance runner who does short (3-4 miles) and medium (6-10 miles) runs with great frequency and long runs (12-20 miles) with regularity confined to a small window of the year. Within that breakdown you may find something useful for your needs, your mileage, etc. Keep that sentiment in mind though – your running shoes are a highly personal choice and need to work for you – not meet the idea of what you ‘think’ a runner should wear or what his shoes look like. As you’ll see below I’m not singularly brand loyal. I go with what works. There are certainly enough options out there for you to experiment. [Note: I’m not going to talk pricing, but let me just say this – if you spend above $120 on shoes you are wasting your money. Don’t spend above that unless you really like the shoe, perhaps aesthetics come into play at that point.]

Short Runs: 3-4 miles

This is the Nike LunarRacer 2+. Recently purchased (early August 2010). An amazingly lightweight shoe (6.7 oz.) that fits somewhat snug but comfortably on the foot. The key behind Nike’s Lunar series is Vectran, it is a truly ‘space age’ polymer fiber, used to make space suits for NASA Astronauts!

I have been wearing this for my short runs mainly because of the weight and feel. It allows for quick action, sprinting, etc. Over a short distance (for me) of 3-4 miles I can sustain a higher speed (read: lower pace/minute) without feeling any pain for having minimal shoe protection. Over the long haul it wouldn’t hold up as well. Something like this shoe is also ideal for 5K races, where you want something give just enough but stay lightweight when you leave it all on the race course (read: hauling arse).

Medium Runs: 6-10 miles

For mid-distance runs I like something with just a bit more structure to the upper portion of the shoe but still retaining lightweight feel and action. This is where my Asics Gel-Speed Star III shoes come into play. Another phenomenal find, happened upon them (early Summer 2009) while trying different shoes from Zappos.com (their free return shipping is great). As I said above, these are still very light but provide just a little more ‘control’ and ‘feel’ in the uppers. For me it means being able to do varied paces at the mid-distances and using the same shoe for all of it (sprints, tempo runs, marathon pace, etc.).

Long Runs: 12-20 miles

For the long run I’m currently running in these fellas, Brooks Launch. For me, it is a great shoe. Frankly the best I’ve ever worn (picked them up mid-Summer 2009).

Why? As I stated above I do varied distances at different times and the long run is the smallest % of days per year.

The why boils down to this – on the long run comfort AND performance need to be harmonious or you won’t make it (or at least won’t enjoy it). This shoe, for me, is as close to the perfect balance I can find for comfortable ride, lightweight (they are surprisingly light) and minimal upper support/structure. I don’t like a shoe that has tons of structure on top – all of my choices reflect that, they vary more on weight and cushion variations.

The Variable – Vibram Five Finger KSO’s

I’m sure you’ve either seen this, seen them on 60 minutes of heard about them. A fairly new product (a few years out) that radically challenges the notion of what you need (or perhaps don’t need) on your foot. They reinforce everything you hear about in barefoot running [To read more about barefoot running in general checkout Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It is actually quite a fascinating read.] but provide protection. You truly feel like you are running barefoot. It provides an amazing balance that you probably didn’t know was masked by traditional form function of sneakers (yeah, sneakers – I’m an east coaster. None of this tennis nonsense).

How much do I run in these? Right now not much, but early Spring into early Summer it’s all I wore for running, stopped when I hit 12 miles and switched back to traditional sneakers for marathon training consideration.

One last note – I find it helps to have shoes that reflect who you are, hence my bold and unorthodox color choices. And the VFF’s are just plain beyond that logic.

Good luck, keep running and get those feet on the road.

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About Feet on the Road
Avid runner, looking to share what I've learned from trial and error.

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