Lessons for a First Time Racer – Part 1: Shoes

June 1st, 2013 was the first time I ever did a running race.  I’ve run hundreds of miles since starting in February of 2012, but I got injured before I could enter a race (had to scratch my first one due to a re-herniated disc), and a few injuries and surgeries since then have gotten in the way.  Today, I completed one of the Susan G. Komen 5Ks (the most popular 5K series in the country) as my first race.  It’s not the longest I’ve run (as it would have been when I signed up for it last year), but it was a totally different experience than running recreationally, and tougher in a different way than any other run I’ve done, distance and speed aside.  I learned a few things (or was made aware of things I need to learn more about), and thought it would be valuable to share those things.

I’ve organized these learnings into sections that I will post as separate blog entries.  This is the first part on shoe strategy. Be sure to check out the post on pacing and the other on hydration.

Shoe Strategy
I went to the race with three shoes in my trunk and one pair on my feet.  I’m a minimalist guy, and really wanted to run in a minimalist shoe with an anatomical shape.  That would mean either my Adidas Adipure Gazelle or the even-more-anatomical Merrell Bare Access 2s.  The problem is, my Gazelles are a bit worn out (after only about 50 miles, I’m sorry to say), so I was concerned about feeling askew in them.  The Bare Access are fantastic shoes, and have a great toe box design with lots of room. However, I’ve found that my feet burn or feel rubbed raw in Merrells (still can’t quite figure out which socks work best for this), and I ran with them in London for some longer distance runs, and the lack of soft cushioning really contributed to some nerve pain I had to deal with in the 2 weeks before the race.  With hike of the three tallest peaks in the Northeast over three days next weekend, a 3.5 mile race 10 days later and a 10K at the end of the month, I was nervous about using the Merrells.

That left me with my latest purchase, the Saucony Kinvara 4s.  I love these shoes a lot.  That said, I don’t like the more traditional toe box as I feel squeezed (my minimalist running has spread my toes nicely).  I also find it’s a little hard to get a good toe strike given the traditional design, despite the 4mm offset.  What I love is the light-weight feel of them (the Merrell’s are actually a touch lighter, but these feel lighter as you expect them to be heavier than they are given their traditional look), and the excellent cushioning.  Some complain that they’re squishy, but I don’t really find that. They’re not as solid when doing hard pivots or going down hill as the Adidas given the extra cushioning, but I wouldn’t call them sloppy by any stretch.

What to wear, what to wear?  I went with the Merrells.  I regretted it almost instantly.  The reason is that they have a firmness to their overall construction that results in my finding it hard to get them to hold my foot stably inside. It’s also likely that the great, wide, anatomical design is almost too wide for me, so there’s just enough room for slop inside. I think that’s why I feel like I’m running on sand paper a lot with them. It made me feel like the laces were too loose, and several times I looked down expecting them to be untied. Neither was true. I had pulled them tight before the race started, and they stayed tied. Don’t get me wrong, I do love these shoes, but it became clear to me when I was really pushing the speed, pivoting around people and turning on roads a lot that I needed something a bit more glove-like.

I’m glad I didn’t use the Gazelles as I feel like what little structure the uppers had in them is gone. What I should have done is what I was thinking all along – break out my new pair of Gazelles (I’ve only used them on treadmills, and for about 8 miles so far, so they’re in great condition compared to the pair I brought with me).  The Gazelle has the perfect mix of shape, flex, cushion, light weight and comfort. It’s one flaw is the laces and how quickly it wears out. I can’t seem to get the laces to stay tied, even with double knots.

If I do nothing else, it would be to get Lock Laces for the Merrells and Gazelles.  I do think I will run my other Gazelles for my 3.5 mile race (JPMorgan Corporate Challenge), but use my Kinvaras for the 10K and Half I’m registered for.  All of this has me thinking I should be looking at the Saucony Virrata, but I have a feeling they’re about to release a new version of it as you can start to find them with a nice discount (20% off at Running Warehouse).  I’d love two changes to them before buying them – 1) widen the toe box just a touch, and 2) put some rubber on the soles (at least in the forefoot) to increase their life (they’re EVA+, which is just a denser/more durable foam).  Then they’d be hard for me to resist buying.

The Lesson
So the lesson here is to put some time aside to really think about what shoes you have at your disposal, what their pros and cons are, and then make the right call without any silly reasons for holding back. For me, my silly reason was fear of laces coming undone (I had time to get Lock Laces) and not wanting to wear out the newer pair of Gazelles.  That’s really silly since they will ultimately wear out over the same number of miles.  It’s not like not running in them will make them last for more miles ultimately.  It just means I’m wasting my investment in them.

These learnings, like most of my posts, are presented a bit free-form.  There’s no explicit “do X to avoid Y” teaching so much as me sharing my thinking to help provoke thinking on your part.  After all, someone else telling you something will never allow you to develop as much as if you figure it out for yourself (albeit with a bit of guidance from a thought partner). That’s how you enlighten.your.body.

About bryan falchuk

bryan falchuk is the founder of newbodi.es, a certified personal trainer, behavior change specialist and the best-selling author of "Do a Day". bryan coaches people on their whole health - the physical, mental and emotional combination of wellness that we need to thrive and change our lives.

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