Not All Trends Are Your Friends

No matter what the experts say, the right running shoe for you might not be flat either.

Prior to the founding of my current racing team, I was a part of the Brooks ID racing team for two years. It was a great ride and I really liked all my Brooks shoes.  Prior to October of 2011 I wore minimal racing flats (the Green Silence and the Racer ST5) only for track workouts, the occasional tempo and races. Otherwise, I trained in the lightweight Ravenna trainer. I was especially excited when the Brooks Pure Project shoes came out right before my fall marathon. I ordered two pairs: the Pure Cadence and the Pure Flow. Several people asked me if the low heel bothered me, but I couldn’t even feel any difference from my sturdy old Ravennas in that regard.

I suppose I need to explain the shoe trend I’m talking about: low heel drop, also known as low profile running shoes. I wasn’t really even aware of it until after I bought the shoes and people were asking me how I liked them. The classic modern running trainer raises the heel off the ground and has a lot of cushioning material between your foot and the ground. Generally, minimalist running shoes are different from your typical modern trainer only in that they have less material between your foot and the ground. Most notable examples of minimalist shoes are racing flats. Minimalist shoes for every day training became very popular in large part to a book called Born to Run. It’s a great book and makes a strong case that modern cushiony running shoes cause more injuries than they prevent. After reading that book (which is a super read, by the way!) it’s hard to lace up a pair of clunky trainers without feeling like an idiot.

Anyway, low profile shoes are simply a subtype of minimalist running shoes, but in addition to having less material they also tout a very low offset. The offset is the difference between the height of the heel of the shoe and the height of the midfoot (middle) of the shoe. Basically, they’re flat (hence the term racing flats!).

Back to my story. I wore the Pure Cadence in that October marathon and bonked miserably.  I had a lot of problems that day that had nothing to do with my shoes, but I do remember wincing in agony hobbling the last several miles with a tender left achilles. “That’s just what happens in a marathon,” I thought never even considering it was the shoes causing that particular pain.

After the marathon I rotated the low profile Pure Project shoes with my trusty old Ravennas. I liked the lightweight feel of the Pure Project shoes and never thought twice about them. I did notice the plantar fasciitis I sometimes get in my left foot was flaring up a little more than normal, but I was running 70 miles a week so that’s to be expected. Right?

Then a few days after Christmas and a few days before I injured myself on New Years Eve, I went in for a deep-tissue massage. Normally, my massage therapist (who is BRILLIANT!) works on every part of my legs equally, but during this appointment she noted that my calves were rocks. She spent almost the entire 75 minutes kneading the knotted lumps into oblivion. They were so sore after the massage that I could barely stand when I got off the table!

Two days later my poor chronically strained butt gave out.

I never strung the tight calves and the injured butt together. In fact I pretty much forgot about my knotted calves as the acute pain in my butt became the complete focus of my attention. That is until I started running again after a few days off.

When I started to test out the injury I only ran in the Ravennas for a few days. And then I threw on the Flows to switch things up and almost immediately my achilles and plantars fascia soreness kicked back up. Ok then!

Jaymee posted about her experience with low profile shoes and it got me thinking about my own experience. Looking back my calves were never much of a problem until I started wearing the low profile shoes regularly and then my butt and other issues were always tolerable before that too. I can’t help but wonder if the low profile shoes caused tight calves which in turn caused a chain reaction that tipped me over the injury edge.

Like Jaymee who had her issues with Doc Martens long before she was interested in low profile running shoes, this phenomenon is not new to me. I remember feeling really sad in the early 90’s that Birkenstock clogs didn’t fit my long toes. Some trends might work great for some people, while some just don’t work for others. Maybe that means I won’t be cool clomping in my high heeled lame-o trainers, but my calves won’t be rocks and hopefully I’ll be running!

Sorry to anyone looking for a Training Basics post today. I am a little time crunched and haven’t had a chance to do all the background work for the post I want to write. Look for a Training Basics article next Tuesday!

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. I was just talking to a runner about the test runsof shoes and if the companies have anyone screen the runners to find if they are appropriate to test the shoes. Need good ankle and foot range. Companies would benefit from doing this not everyone can use them.

  2. You know… I hadn’t thought about it until you wrote this, but going back on all my training logs, every time I had pain in my knee it was when I was wearing my Brooks Pure Cadence, and every time I was okay I was wearing my Mizuno Riders… The bell just went off…those pretty blue shoes just might be getting tossed in the wear-to-work-only pile!

  3. Good thoughts. I’m a fan of using a rotation of shoes to balance out our development of strength. I do believe that, over time, blending in the use of low- or zero-drop shoes will make us overall more resistant to such conditions as Achilles tendinitis and plantar fascitis. Unfortunately, popular press tends to preach an “all or nothing” approach to minimalist shoes and running, and this seems to be what leads to the most problems.
    Above all though, the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” maxim should apply first – if a runner is happy with their results and is injury free in traditional trainers, there is no reason to change. I like to squeeze every ounce out of my shoes and ever percentage of efficiency possible, so I guess I’ll find myself continually pushing the edge on this.