The only thing between foot and road

Injuries can stem from athletic footwear that's improper, worn out

Health & Fitness

April 06, 2003|By Gailor Large | Gailor Large,Special to the Sun

John Senatore was lining up at the start of the 1996 Boston Marathon when he heard, "Hey buddy, you have a flat tire."

He looked down to find the air pocket of one of his Nike Air running shoes deflated. Senatore, a Union Memorial Hospital podiatrist, ran the full 26.2 miles anyway, against his better judgment. "I could barely walk for two weeks afterward," he recalls.

Diehard racers know the value of good running shoes, or at least they should. But even if you're a weekend jogger, it's important to know what to look for when buying running shoes, how to decide when it's time for a new pair and the possible consequences (think back pain) of running in an ill-fitted or outdated pair.

There are three basic styles of running shoes: motion control, stability and cushion. The motion control shoe is designed for the severe overpronator (who rolls his or her feet inward excessively, and often has flat feet). The stability shoe is made for the mild or moderate overpronator. The cushion shoe is designed for "neutral" runners who pronate normally or for underpronators, who often have high arches and need the extra cushioning. Neutral runners may also wear a stability shoe if they prefer the feel.

Consult the experts

To determine which category you fall into, have a shoe expert, podiatrist or knowledgeable runner examine your feet and watch you run. Even if running isn't your sport, it's a good idea to have an expert determine your foot type. Foot biometrics are an important factor when choosing other athletic shoes as well.

What should you expect to pay for good shoes? You may find a great pair on sale for $60, and certain models with bells and whistles cost $200, but on average, you should expect to pay $80-$125.

Serge Arbona, a long-distance runner who logs 100 miles a week and plans to compete in five 100-mile races this year, wears the New Balance 800 series and buys seven to 10 pairs at a time. He rotates five or six pairs -- so as not to run in a pair that's too new -- and has to number his shoes to keep track of where they fall in the rotation.

While most of us will never keep such a heavy training schedule, many of the same issues apply when it comes to shoes.

"I don't care if you're a weekend warrior or a long-distance runner, you need to go to a specialty [running] store," Senatore says. Have both feet measured for length and width, and wear the socks that you wear while running.

When buying shoes, make sure there is at least 1/4 inch between the tips of your toes and the end of the shoe. If your toenail turns black and blue, or you lose it altogether, you are probably running in shoes that are too small, Senatore says.

When to let go

Saying goodbye to a favorite pair of shoes can be as difficult as letting go of an old flame, but it must be done.

If you start experiencing pain in your feet, legs or lower back and have not changed your running schedule, the first thing to do is change your shoes. It's likely that you've worn out your current pair.

David Caldwell, a former professional tennis player who now runs up to eight miles a day, goes by feel when it comes to replacing his shoes. "It's time to buy a new pair when I notice a loss of stability on impact," he says.

If you aren't so in tune with your feet, the standard rule of thumb is to replace running shoes after 500 miles, says Jim Adams, owner of the Falls Road Running Store in Baltimore. The cushioning and stability features are generally worn out by then, although for a petite woman with a light step it could be 750 miles and for a heavier man with a hard stride, 250.

"It depends on how hard a person hits with the first foot strike, and how much they weigh," says Adams.

Senatore advises changing shoes even more regularly, every 300 to 500 miles. Bottom line, according to the experts: never run in shoes that have seen more than 500 miles.

The consequence of keeping that beloved old pair around? "Overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome and lower back pain," says Adams.

Waiting until you feel the cushioning go can be risky. When his shoes are worn, Caldwell notices the tendinitis in his left knee flaring up, and Arbona, who goes through 12 pairs of shoes a year, swears that having the right shoes will reduce injuries by 60 percent to 70 percent.

Arbona also recommends shock-absorbing insoles. Before he started wearing insoles, Arbona experienced knee problems, shin splints and back pain from running. Now he is nearly injury-free. Insoles typically cost $15-$40 and generally last the life of the shoe.

Kick 'em off

It's time to go shopping for running shoes when:

* You have logged 300-500 miles in your current shoes and are of average height and weight.

* Your shoes are more than a year old regardless of how many miles you have logged.

* Your shoes lean inward or outward slightly when set on a flat surface.

* You are noticing foot, knee or lower back pain and haven't changed your training routine.

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