Running Shoes, Part 1
January has so far proven to be a very busy month and is only going to get busier due to upcoming travel. Hence the gap in posts here which is probably going to continue. But with a small break in the activities today I found an opportunity to post on something a few people have asked me about recently – running shoes. Specifically, the questions have been on the advantages (or disadvantages) of wearing minimal shoes or none at all by running barefoot.
Let me provide a bit of background for this piece first by describing how I came to be a runner and the shoes I used back then. In Part 2 I will get into what I tell the runners and triathletes I coach now about their footwear.
I was a track and field athlete starting at age 12 in junior high school and then on through college. I ran the low and high hurdles in junior high, high school and freshman year of college. In my sophomore year (1964) U.S. collegiate track and field began the introduction of the intermediate hurdles. These were at a height half-way between the lows (which were eliminated) and the high hurdles. Hence the name 'intermediate.' The distance of the intermediate race was longer – 300 meters (330 yards back then in the U.S.). The lows were run over 200 meters (220 yards) and the highs at 110 meters (120 yards). The 300-meter race eventually became the internationally common 400 meters which is the distance now run in all college track and field.
Back then as a hurdler there was no difference between the shoes I trained in and those used by shot putters or milers. The shoe had a black canvas top with laces and a gum rubber sole. The sole was perhaps a centimeter thick from toe to heel. There was no built-in arch support. For competition we wore racing spikes that were leather uppers with a thin leather sole and five to seven replaceable spikes in the forefoot. The spikes were in the range of one to five centimeters long and were changed relative to the conditions of the track on a particular day. All of the tracks I ran on then were cinders over clay which made for a great running surface. But they were a hassle to maintain so were replaced by “all-weather” surfaces beginning in the 1970s.
I took a break from serious running after graduation from college in 1966 as the government needed me to help win the war in Vietnam. While there I jogged a couple of times a week around the airbase (Phan Rang – “Happy Valley by the Sea”) wearing “Chuckies” – white, canvas, high-top basketball shoes. They offered minimal cushioning and had no significant support for the arch.
After Vietnam I continued to jog occasionally but sporadically through the early ‘70s. By the middle of the decade I was still jogging but starting to get serious about running once again. By now I had morphed into a distance runner. I had a pair of Nike Cortez shoes with leather uppers and a wave-pattern, rubber outsole. They are still made to this day and look much the same as back then.
By 1979 I was running a lot, so much that I decided to leave teaching and open a running store. That was a pretty radical idea back then as there were only a handful of them in the country. In 1980 I bought a local running store – Foot of the Rockies in Fort Collins, Colorado. The sale was completed in the spring and I took possession in July. We carried the major and popular brands of the day – Nike, New Balance, Tiger (now ASICS) and Brooks. The only major brand we didn’t have was Adidas.
At the time I bought the store running shoe design had not progressed much beyond my Cortez. About the only big changes were the Nike Waffle sole and nylon uppers. In the early 1980s Brooks introduced the anti-pronation wedge in a shoe which proved to be popular. Soon other manufacturers were making changes in their shoes to control pronation. At my store we tended to shy away from “high-tech” shoes preferring instead to put runners in the older-style, more basic shoes. The Tiger “Montreal” was our best selling model. It was a thin-soled shoe with a nylon upper. I loved them, and probably still have a pair stashed away somewhere in the attic.
As the technology of running shoes became more complex the price of shoes escalated. Our average shoe sell then was about $35, about $10 below the industry average, and the most expensive was a New Balance shoe at $79. It came in widths which made people with wide feet very happy and they were willing to pay for the comfort.
In 1987 I sold the store to become a part-time coach (I had a day job as a fundraiser for a non-profit). By 1992 I was coaching full-time. During this time running shoes experienced continuing change as they became even more complex. I tried to keep up with the new shoe widgets but finally gave up by the late 1990s. Now when I go into a running store I’m amazed at how much stuff has been added to the shoe to “correct” a problem with the human foot and movements of running.
This may give you some idea as to the direction I’m going with my advice to athletes when it comes to running shoes. But I’ll leave you to ponder that until I get an opportunity to write again in a few days. Now I’m off now to Lehi, UT (Wednesday) and then Ballwin, MO (Saturday) for clinics at which I’m speaking. If you’re in either neighborhood I hope you can attend (see my most recent posts below for the details).
Labels: running shoes