There is no ‘perfect’ running shoe. There is also no good research to prove that a specific shoe will make every runner go faster, or keep most runners injury free. A list of the characteristics of my ideal running shoe is therefore based on my opinion…even though it is an educated opinion.
I wrote a little book called Running Essentials about two years ago, in an effort to guide my patients towards long term running improvement and injury prevention. One half of the book is about the rules of running volume and intensity. The other half of the book is on the rules of running mechanics. One of the key aspects to the rules of mechanics is that a mid-foot strike facilitates a number of the vital movements of a runners stride. Firstly, a mid-foot strike provides a stable base during the foot strike phase of a runners stride. Significantly more stable than heel strike or forefoot strike. Secondly, runners with a mid-foot strike tend to have a more flexed knee during foot strike. This improves shock absorption and creates a stronger lever for the hip to extend from (using the gluteal muscles). Barefoot running (or zero drop shoes) facilitate a mid-foot strike.
I transitioned from a traditional (8 – 12mm) heel to toe drop running shoe to a more natural (4 – 6mm) running shoe for the simple reason that I always felt my running form was better while running barefoot. This was quite a long time ago and zero drop running shoes were not available back then. For this reason I jumped at the chance to get my hands on zero drop shoes the first time it hit the South African market…and I was not disappointed. The only problem with my transition to zero drop running shoes is that I now struggle to run with anything else! But I’m okay with that since I think they are here to stay.
Some people are born with more fast-twitch muscle fibers (think Usain Bolt), while others are loaded with more slow-twitch muscle fibers (think Eluid Kipchoge…even though he’d beat most of us in a sprint anyway!). I was born with more fast-twitch muscle fibers and I do much better at races below the marathon distance than ultra-distance events. A race like Comrades is therefore way beyond what I’m comfortable with, but it’s always been a bucket list event for me. I also treat so many of the runners preparing for Comrades that I needed to know what they put their bodies through. I see their blistered feet, their blue toenails (or no toenails at all) and the number of niggles and injuries that creep up on them with high mileage running. That’s why I ran Comrades the last two years.
I was not smiling beyond the 60km mark of either the up or the down run at Comrades, but with my zero drop shoes I was able to finish the race without a single blister, blue toenail or injury. Yes, there are other factors that come into play, but I remember how many toenails I lost before I started running with zero drop shoes.
Making the transition to a zero drop shoe should not happen over-night and if you are currently running with a more traditional shoe and nothing is ‘broke’ then you should probably not try to fix it. If, however you read my book and realize that you are struggling with the rules of running mechanics; better running form comes easier with a zero drop shoe.