Goldilocks and the 3 Shoes

Back in April of this year, I finished an easy-paced 6-mile run with some unfamiliar ankle pain.  I had been running in a nearby state park and figured it was perhaps the result of some rogue tree roots, which I made a habit of tripping over in those days.  I mentioned the pain to my coach and her first question was "how many miles are on your shoes?"  Hmm, let's see, I pondered, I've had them since December, so I have trained in them the entire off-season plus 1 sprint triathlon and a 1/2 marathon.  She didn't wait for me to complete my math.  It was clear I had logged well over the recommended 400-mile limit.  She suggested I wear them one last time - on my way to the store. 

It wasn't the best time for me to go shoe shopping.  I was also on the hunt for a tri bike at the time, and my fiance and I were about to write the final checks for our upcoming wedding. Needless to say - the budget was stretched.  Then I remembered that my current pair of shoes had been purchased from Dick's Sporting Goods with a guarantee - if anything went structurally wrong with the shoes over the course of 1 year, they could be returned for a brand new pair - FREE (this offer has since been discontinued).  Even though it had only been about 4 months, I had given these shoes a substantial beating (recall the tree roots) and the toe lip was coming loose on both sides.  So, following the instructions I was given via phone, I boxed up the old pair, put them in the mail and kissed them goodbye.  I assumed my new shoes would arrive within days, but soon realized that old theory about assumptions.  Upon 1 additional phone call, I came to learn that it could be as many as 3 months before my voucher arrived for the shoes of my choice.  Aha, I thought, that's the catch.

So, my plan temporarily foiled, I headed off to my local triathlon store, Inside Out Sports, to partake in their recently-advertised shoe sale.  Let me caveat here by saying that I did not necessarily expect to find anything in my price range even with the sale.  This place sells 'the good stuff' - those brightly-colored, high-quality Mizunos and Newtons that the pros all wear.  But, as I surveyed the shelves I found myself blinking the disbelief from my eyes. There, directly before me were a pair of Mizuno Wave Musha 2s, with one size left (mine), for $50.  

I didn't ask a thing about them.  They fit and I could afford them.  I tucked them proudly under my arm and headed for the counter.  12 weeks later I received my voucher as promised and, in turn, purchased the most expensive pair it would allow from Dicks.  Asics 2160s.


Fast forward to September.  I had steadily been increasing my mileage for an upcoming half Ironman and expecting even more before the full IM in November.  In spite of the bargain, I had been babying my Mizunos in the previous months - certain that I must savor the quality within.  Yet each time I ran in them, I felt a lightness in my feet that shortened my pace almost 1 full minute per mile.  I was amazed at the difference a few ounces could make and figured that these shoes were my ace in the hole, come race day.  The Asics shoes, on the other hand, felt cushioned and comfy but also heavy as concrete blocks in comparison.  So when my coach asked for my race plan in the week prior, I listed my prized Mizunos on the must-pack list.

As expected, I received an email back from my coach later that day, offering additional advice and tweaks to the plan before it was finalized.  Much to my dismay, there was a big red line through the word "Mizunos".  She noted beside this "not enough support for you on 13 miles on asphalt".  But, but, but - they make me faster and that's what I see all the Kenyan marathoners wearing! I pleaded.  She gently reminded me that I am neither Kenyan, nor an experienced marathon runner yet.  She suggested that, for now, I tuck those away for track sessions and race in my alternate shoes.  I fussed and whined, dramatically imploring her to agree with me because I would simply dread wearing my 'heavy' shoes after that 56-mile bike ride.  She didn't cave, but assured me that it was my decision to make.

When race day arrived, I followed every item of our training plan to a 't' - except for the choice of shoes.  I asserted my own judgment and went with the lighter pair.  I wasn't even at the 6 mile turnaround when I felt it - a sharp pain in the balls of my feet with every step on the pavement.  To make matters worse, I had indulged in pouring water over my head throughout the entire run, leaving my socks drenched and slowly but surely turning my feet into steak tartare.  Ugh.

I did my best to laugh it off.  It was both fitting and ironic that, once again, I arrogantly thought I knew best - and was, once again, wrong (reference my picture beside the word 'uncoachable' in the dictionary).  Following that race, my coach and I had our usual pow-wow and came to a conclusion - I had one pair of shoes that were too heavy, one pair that were too light and now I needed a third (just right).

With the wedding over and the bike long since purchased, I headed back to Inside Out Sports, this time taking a seat and patiently waiting to be fitted.  If you can find a store that provides this service, it is highly valuable. If not, Runner's World online offers a step-by-step process on doing this in your home (you may still want to bribe a friend to watch you walk back and forth a few times).  The purpose of this is to determine what category of shoe is really optimal for your goal.  There are 'stability' shoes for trail running or substantial pronation (roll of the foot inward/outward while running); there are 'cushioned' shoes for runners of larger stature or distance training; there are 'performance' shoes that are light as air and great for short distances; and there are 'neutral' shoes with a combination of features that typically cater to non-pronators.  For my purposes, it seemed I would require a light, neutral shoe with a little bit of cushion for my mid-foot strike.

After trying on nearly a dozen pair, I opted for the Brooks Ghost 3.  Having only done one long run in them so far, I will not yet provide a formal review, but with regard to my criteria, they stack up perfectly.  The lesson I learned is that, in my attempt to save money, I ended up not only spending more but also costing myself valuable time by needing extra foot recovery along the way.  True - even amongst us sporty girls, there can never be too many shoes, BUT it's important to know what you're buying and why - unless you just want to wear them shopping.


I Can’t Go Running Because . . .

When I first made that jump from working out to training, this was seemingly my favorite phrase.  The list was a mile long, with sentence endings like . . .

-          my iPod isn’t charged

-          it’s raining/too hot/too cold

-          I just ate

-          I haven’t eaten in hours

-          I have to be somewhere in an hour

-          I forgot my shoes

Sound familiar?  Trying to manage your workouts on top of a job, home, family and social life can be challenging, but what it really comes down to is commitment.  While it sounds like common sense, it took me having a personal ‘aha’ moment for this to click – endurance training means you have to endure.

My first step toward tackling this list was preparation.  My coach has always recommended writing out a plan the night before a race, and now I’ve begun to write out my workout plans as well.  You don’t have to spell check these or submit them for grading – it’s just a tool to pause for 10 minutes and think through “What do I need to do tonight to ensure a great run tomorrow?”  Do you have the proper fuel before/during your run?  When will it fit best in your schedule?  What route will you take and do you need time to drive there?  What’s the weather forecast?  Do you need to throw your favorite jog bra in the washer?  Also, remember, it’s not just about the run itself.  You might be headed to work or on an errand immediately after – are you planning to shower and change?  Will you want a post-run snack?  Do you need to ask your neighbor to walk your dog or switch the carpool schedule?  Even if you don’t choose to write your plans out, it’s important to take the time to think through your day to minimize unnecessary stress and excuses.

The second step is somewhat harder.  It is managing the workout even when the plan goes awry – when the unforeseen rain storm comes out of nowhere, when your boss asks you to stay for a late meeting, when you forget your shoes at home.  On certain days this happens to all of us, and the question is – do you throw in the towel or can you adapt?   There’s something to be said for reveling in the experience of running in the rain – even if it means your shoes squeak down every aisle of the grocery store after you’re done.  Direct quote:  “Ewww, Mommy, that lady is dripping.”  Training for an Ironman sometimes means leaving your vanity at the door.

Now that you’re all motivated, let me offer a simple caveat that there are times you will want call it quits on your workout.  The first good reason not to run is if you feel unsafe.  Not long ago, I found myself running on a neighborhood golf course path well after dark, thinking I had beaten the little voice in the back of my head - only to later hear of something awful happening to a fellow runner on that trail who had the same idea.  Yes, I believe in the philosophy that we can’t let criminals take over the night, etc, etc., but just be smart about your goal.  Compromising safety for health is a no-no.  The second good reason not to run is pain.  I’m not talking about a little muscle tightness from your heavy kicking set in the pool the night before.  I’m talking about the sharp stings, the dull persistent aches, and those other sensations that feel like something is worn and torn.  Pain is your body’s way of yelling at you and if you don’t listen, it will only yell louder!

Finally, it is worth remembering that your workouts are not light switches with “on” and “off” settings.  Sure, you might have planned to run an hour on your favorite gravel trail.  But just because you forgot your shoes doesn’t mean you need to pack it up.  Wouldn’t it be better to do some barefoot drills in a grassy park than do nothing at all?  Making these types of adjustments will soon train that little voice in your head to silence its nay-saying ways and become supportive music to your ears.  Who needs an iPod anyway?