Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Learning from your running shoes

Running shoe are really the most important piece of equipment we have as runners.  Sure, there is a lot of other equipment that makes us more comfortable, but from an essentials standpoint, sneakers are the one. Unless you are into barefoot running, but that's not really my thing.
New shoes: A blank canvas ready for miles of adventure.
I recently passed the 600 mile mark it my electric blue ASICS. The shoes have served me well over the miles and after everything they have done for me (including 2 PRs, an epic donut dash, and a variety of other races), I thought it was worth seeing what I can learn from our time together.
Forget Running on E, I've been Running on Foam.
Right off the bat, I noticed some pretty striking patterns in my tread wear. I've known a few things about my stride and foot strike tendencies, and my tread wear patterns really confirm them. Here are the 3 most noticeable items and what they tend to mean.
  1. Heel wear: Overstriding and landing with a heel strike.
  2. Edge wear: Tends to be from supinating or people who land on the outside of their feet.
  3. Upper shoe: Is actually still in great shape. No major signs of trouble or off balance wear.

Even some foam showing on the outside of my toes.

What I've been working on.

Now most of those observations are not news to me, but it's really interesting to see how obvious the pattern is. This spring I've spent a lot of time trying to work on my stride to both make it more efficient, but more importantly to protect myself from injury.
  1. Increasing my cadence: I've spent a lot of time focusing on increasing my running cadence (#footfalls/minute). By doing this, it actually helps to prevent overstriding because you end up condensing your stride with your foot landing under your body. This addresses my overstriding and heel striking issue, and helps to prevent impact injuries related to overstriding. I've noticed my joints feel a lot less beat up and my quads and hips feel a lot more engaged in my stride. I've also switch to a shoe with a lower heel to toe drop (8mm from 11mm), but overall a very similar shoe to what I've been wearing.  Though I don't think shoes were ever the cause of my problems, I do think they can accentuate my form problems. For example, I have chronically tight calves, and a high heel to toe drop isn't doing me any favors.
  2. Working on my hip and glut strength: My landing pattern is inconsistent, in that I think I land on the outside of my foot more on one side of my body than the other, probably due to a muscle imbalance. In fact, while running on a treadmill across from a mirror the other day, I noticed I tend to drift to the left while running. To correct for this, I am working on both my hip and glut strength and incorporating single leg exercises to prevent compensation by the stronger side.
  3. Posture: When analyzing their stride, runners have a tendency, myself included, to focus on everything south of the belly button, ignoring the contributions of the upper body. I tend to have a slouchy upper body when tired, especially in late miles. This leads to chicken arms (elbows sticking out all funny like wings), and resting back in my hips/pelvis. I've been focusing on strengthening my core, but also my shoulders and arms, so I have the strength in the late miles to keep my frame open, my hips forward, and my shoulders back.
My newest training partners.
Probably worth noting here that I am not a PT, Orthopedist, or Sport physician so please don't take this as official advice.  These are observations I've made about my own stride and running style and the efforts I've made to help improve them. So far I've seen a good response from my body in that I feel less beat up after hard runs, I'm engaging my core more during my runs, and I feel more comfortable running at higher speeds. I'll be curious to see if my wear patterns have changed when the Purple Mile Eaters reach 600 miles.

Additional Reading:
Blame the Runner: Shoes don't cause Injuries from Outside
What's your wear pattern from Runner's World

Do you check the wear pattern of your sneakers? Do you work specifically on your stride?


  1. Great post. I've never looked at the wear pattern on my shoes, totally trying that.

    As for stride, I take a lot from your post because those are a lot of the same that I've observed in my own form. I'm working on many the same things you are and I've noticed how much of a difference it makes.

    1. Thank you Schlub! It's amazing how much difference a few little changes can make.

  2. You know I am going to look at my old shoes now lo Great thoughts...when I try to go fast I tend to lengthen my stride too much, I try to work on that but it's hard when you are tired. Posture is huge isn't it? I would love to a video and see what's really happening sometime. My hips are off a bit and I still tend to favor one side more.

    1. Thanks Karen! I've found that I tend to length my stride for speed as well. Working on increasing turnover instead.

  3. Yep, I like to see where they wear thin first and try to look at what that means.

    1. It's really interesting to look at sometimes.

  4. It's wise to have as much deterrents to foot injuries that we can get as possible. Sports activities of any kind should be explored freely, with nothing like hazards getting heavily in the way. We can always counteract them either with accessories and equipment or, if it comes down to it, therapy. Nice running shoes, by the way. I hope that it gives you comfort throughout your running journey.

    Mary Elaine Buenconsejo @ I-Om Physical Therapy

  5. this is why i love taking or wearing my current running shoes whenever i'm going to get fitted into a new pair. there's so much to learn from what's underneath! LOVE your new shoes :)

    1. My one issue with this is that if you've never actually tried to improve your running form (overstriding, for example) they may just prescribe you footwear for your current less than optimal form, rather than you actually trying to improve it.

      Another issue with looking at wear pattern is that it shows nothing of what the rest of the body is doing or what the foot is actually doing inside the shoe. It simply shows where you are creating the most friction against the ground.

    2. I agree with Kyle. I think you can learn a lot about your running form from your shoes and ways your form can be improved. I tried to focus on ways I can improve my form from my wear information in order to reduce the possibility of future injury, while just changing your shoes will not always help fix that.

  6. I liked the way you wrote it. You did not divert from the topic even once which I have not seen in many other writers. I have been reading many articles on the same issue but found this one uniquely written. You covered almost every point over the topic.

  7. It's my new years resolution to get fitter and I recently started running for it I'm using the New Balance online running shoes


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