A Reintroduction to Running Shoes

I love running shoes almost as much as I love running. I was in denial about this for some time, but after enough goading and very little personal examination I have to come to accept it. As such, this is a topic that I will likely be returning to frequently.

Running shoes have changed incredibly over the last decade. When I started running as a kid, I remember shoe shopping being a simple process. We’d go to the athletic store, I’d try on a couple shoes, we’d leave with the pair that was the most comfortable. Back then, I liked how Nike fit compared to other brands. They also had the option with the coolest name… so I spent my cross country days riding a Pegasus. Many years later, I’d realized I’d learned one important lesson from this process. Despite my dad always being a bargain shopper, especially when it came to shoes, we never cut corners on running shoes. You take care of your feet. I’ve never suffered an injury for the sake of frugality.

My first real exciting experience in buying running shoes was shortly after I finished Navy bootcamp. I found an online company (whose name I cannot even guess at) that was way ahead of its time. For about the same price as any name brand, you could order a custom colored shoe. I carefully assembled a tasteful blue/gold/tan shoe that served me well for countless miles. I think this was my last running shoe purchase before the big break.

The next pair of shoes I would buy would be many years later. I’d put on 20-30 pounds since my running days and wasn’t thrilled about it. I went to a local shoe shop and picked up a pair of Brooks. I am not certain what shoe it was, possibly the adrenaline. There wasn’t much discussion at the time. “I have gained some weight and want to get back into shape and try running.” “These should work.”, “Great.”

I started fast, my legs remembering what a good pace should feel like. This lasted for about a quarter mile. My ankle was sore, my knees ached, my hip was shot and I was done. I would have a run much like this every year or two, until I finally decided to do things right.

Going backwards a bit–at this point, my right ankle was perpetually sore and had significantly reduced range of motion, having not healed well from an old cross country injury. A physical therapist told me my range of motion was insufficient for running and as old as the injury was, I wasn’t a good candidate for surger. However, with enough walking, stretching and strength building I may be able to improve the range of motion. Having read a few articles about the benefits of barefoot walking and running to improve foot strength, I bought some Vibram Five Fingers and set out. Say what you want about Vibram; I know they’ve had some legal trouble, and yes the toe shoes looked goofy and smelled awful, but they did help me improve my ankle.

I wasn’t going to be running in those, however. So I took to the Internet to find real shoes. After some precursory research I was as much fascinated as overwhelmed. There were a lot more words associated with running shoes than I remembered. Arch height and insole were still things, but now there were many new concepts: pronation, supination, drop height, stack height, midsole, outsole, upper, toe box… so many things that sounded like they should be discussed in the doctor’s office and yet, apparently, I needed to understand them to buy the “right” shoe. The Internet left me with the impression picking the wrong shoe style would be no less troublesome than stepping out in front of a moving bus. (This may, in fact, be true–depending on the shoe and the speed of said bus.)

This was the beginning of a great love affair with running shoes. For every pair of running shoes I own (and I confess, there are many), there’s a dozen more I want.

200 miles on these as of this afternoon. #runhappy

A photo posted by Allen (@theprawn) on

I settled on the Brooks Pure Connect. I’d later learn the toe box was small and the outsole was insufficient, but they served me well and were probably the perfect shoe at the time. They were completely shot by 300 miles, I loved watching them wear away–a feature I some times miss with my current, more durable shoes. I’d go through one more pair of the Pure Connect before moving on to the next brand. In between Connects, I tried a pair of Brooks Pure Drift, but they were just too minimal for treadmill wear at the time. I ended up with a couple weeks of reduced capacity after hurting my foot. To Brooks credit, they have the absolute best return policy. I had more than 50 miles on those shoes, but Brooks took them back and issued a full refund, even covered return shipping. I wish more companies offered a truly risk free trial of their shoes.

Altra The One. Very green.

Altra “The One” only came in one color option, toxic ooze.

My next shoe was a pair of Altra “The Instinct” 1.5 I picked up locally on clearance. The brand name was one that kept coming up during my research and I had been curious. The shoe itself was much too stiff and heavy for me to run in. I’ve since relegated that pair to lawn mowing duty. I was, however, impressed by the durability of the materials and construction. A while later, when Altra released their newest shoe “The One”, I was very interested. As soon as I discovered Altra was another beautiful company offering a 30 day, no questions asked return policy, I ordered. I immediately fell in love with the shoe, swore I’d never buy any other shoe again (Oh that was a lie…). After hundreds of miles of use, the shoe looks and feels brand new. Despite being the ugliest shoe I’ve ever worn, it’s still one of my favorites and my go-to treadmill shoe.

But, like I said, it wasn’t my last shoe. Late one night I was watching video reviews by the ginger runner. I enjoy his reviews, though I’ve come to find we have nothing in common when it comes to shoe preference. That night he gave a not particularly glowing review of the Skora Form. In the comments, Kyle from Skora jumped in, said some nice things in the shoes defense without stepping on GR’s toes, and immediately impressed me with the personal engagement. The next day I ordered my first of many pair of Skora (the “Fit”), and the only brand I’ve purchased since. So far. I’ll geek out in more detail on those shoes another day.

I’ve learned a lot about shoes in the last couple years, but… to be perfectly honest? Not much has changed. Despite all the words I’ve learned to describe my shoes, I still just wear the ones I think feel the best.

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