The new shoes

I need to be writing thesis and not blog.

Thesis makes me go crazy.

Blog lets me be a bit crazy.

Since Ironman I haven’t been running tired and sore very often. It’s been revolutionary! I’m definitely not as fast or as fit, but when running I feel like I’ve become a runner. It’s not such a crazy thing, perhaps even expected, that a year of focus on becoming a better runner turned me into a better runner.

But! – you say – you’re not as fit and not as fast, how are you more of a runner now than you were in 2009?

I feel like a runner. That’s enough, and if you’re going to measure it, then I’d contend that this’s all that matters. Let’s just cross my fingers that I still feel like a cyclist next spring. With a beautiful new chariot to ride around the countryside I can hardly imagine that being a problem and I’m not worried at all.

How can I tell I’m a runner? My shoes just aren’t quite right anymore. I’ve spent coming up on 5 years running in Asics GT 2110s, then 2120s and then 2130s an 2140s. Asics changed the name and charged me more money every few months along the way but because they were working for me I stuck with the motto, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. They didn’t really break, but since I’ve been running fresh and relaxed I’ve started to realize that they’re old fashioned. I’ve evolved to a higher life form over the course of the past year with my running, I’m more centered over my feet, I no longer brake against my momentum during my stride, and my leg carriage while still low and somewhat lousy compared to how I’d like it to look, is significantly higher and more efficient. I poured over a lot of research during the past couple weeks during bits and pieces of spare time and concluded that basically all of the research out there is a form of marketing. I suppose my research is a form of marketing too, it’s how we think. Someone can have a conniption about how thoroughly capitalism has ingrained itself in our social structure here, I’m not going to complain, I’m just going to observe. So, I decided that I’d listen to marketing that sounded like someone was thinking instead of deciding that I needed to find real bonified and impartial research. I’m not convinced you can buy shoes without being sold something. I’m pretty sure you can’t buy anything without being sold something for that matter.

This wasn’t meant to be philosphical, it just turned out that way. It was meant to be short because every sentence typed here isn’t being typed and added to the massive tome I’m scribing like a monk. Maybe if I build up a ton of momentum typing about shoes I can maintain that momentum in my fingers and crank out another chapter before I fall asleep tonight?

Ecco’s biom project sounded like people were thinking. I wanted to give them a shot, but I also wanted to let Jack Cook from Fast Trax help me to decide what he believed were important features of a shoe based on my running stride. I showed up, bag of shoes in hand, and we did some video and some running. We watched me run barefoot, in racing flats, in my normal trainers and then in three different styles of natural motion shoes. We did try the Biom shoes, and the same natural motion shoes that my friend Stefan started using mid-summer, substantial padding without the support.

We observed that the alignment through my heel and knee was the worst out of ALL the shoes sampled… in the Asics that I do the vast majority of my running in. We noted that as expected, running in Piranhas (racing flats) was very similar to barefoot and if anything it was assisting me in landing in more natural alignment compared with running barefoot. Perhaps it’s a confidence thing, running barefoot forces you to tread gingerly, and to an extent this is a good thing. It could be however, that the best tracking of your foot through a stride is achieved using something to boost your confidence. Confidence that isn’t there, nor is it ever going to be there despite how much running that you ever do barefoot that you’re certain you won’t step on a sharp rock, piece of glass or get jabbed by a stick. The best stride is a confident one, not a sissy one that’s nimbly picking it’s way along the road. The caveman analogy that says we’re best evolved to run barefoot has some things right. Human beings haven’t “exercised” though until very recently in our evolution. When the caveman is chasing his dinner he’s running with confidence in his stride even if he is barefoot. If I am racing, perhaps I can run with confidence and throw caution to the wind that I won’t step on a nail. In 95% of the other situations though when us humans are exercising we’re not using our running gait “as it was evolved to be used” and so the addition of a shoe, if it adds confidence to your stride could bring you close to running as nature intended.

OK, now it’s really philosophical. And you love it, keep reading.

So, the solution should be to get a closet full of racing flats, as many as you can get for as cheap as you can get? No. Running in racing flats all the time though will make your feet really tired. Jack admitted he’s tried this, it makes your feet sore and generally tired. No wonder, you’re slamming them on the ground with no help or relief. This is where the natural motion shoe fits in the equation. Let’s put a shoe around that natural stride to help it out with the things that it can’t do on its own, that being to (aside from staying warm in Edmonton’s winters) provide a platform that provides enough feedback that you know you’re running in your natural stride with good alignment, and to surround the foot in that position so the forces of doing all the running aren’t going to kill your feet. Cavemen couldn’t run on concrete, it wasn’t invented yet. But me, I have to run on that crap all the time.

Cease philosophy and give an objective review.

  • Biom B at slower speeds really felt like I had a lot of shoe underfoot. This is perhaps due to me being familiar to running on a super thin sole (Piranha) when running in a shoe that provided no support. As I sped up this shoe seemed to disappear from underfoot. It was possible to run with a flat footed stride in this shoe but it definitely encouraged a mid-footed stride. It definitely wasn’t rolling you forwards to try and run forefoot like a Newton. Heel-striking in this shoe was just not going to happen. As I sped up the treadmill the sensation of being on thick shoes disappeared, it wasn’t me getting used to it as the sensation returned as I slowed down.
  • Biom A at slower speeds and faster speeds never felt cumbersome or thick, it is a much thinner soled shoe to begin with. Running flat footed was really discouraged by this shoe in the same way that heel-striking in the B felt like it was just impossible. Yet, it did this without creating the sensation of being encouraged to run up onto my forefoot. As I sped up, the shoe seemed to be able to keep up, it’s performance was uniform all the way across almost all the speeds I use during training. I think I’ll still be sticking to flats for track work and short intervals though. There isn’t arch support in this or the Biom B but there is a stiff section of the midsole near your instep. It’s almost like your heel is on a bit of a shelf above the front of the shoe. This is not the shape of the interior of the shoe, it’s just the best way I think I can describe the sensation. When running the shoe encourages you to step over this part of the shoe onto your midfoot with each footstrike. It’s stiffness also encourages you to use the outside of your foot and not to land on the instep. In the Biom B it’s noticeable but totally tolerable to run with heavy weight of your feet right on that part of the shoe if you want, but you’re encouraged not to. The Biom A is a bit firmer (excuse the pun) in making that suggestion.
  • Saucony Kinvara – A significant amount of padding compared to the Biom A and B. I didn’t feel a lack of padding in Ecco’s so I wasn’t craving a cushy shoe when Jack suggested I try this one for a bit more padding, the padding “just was”. It seemed good, and I fell into the midfoot strike rather readily. Standing still this shoe felt like it had a ton of arch support, but as soon as I started running I realized this was a fake support. It wasn’t actually supporting the foot there it wasn’t actually providing any feedback during the footstrike as to whether or not I had my alignment right. It was giving the foot a nudge from the instep as well as another one from the outstep and gently suggesting you find a comfortable middle ground with your alignment. At slow speeds this all felt fantastic but as I sped up the shoe seemed to be deceiving me into a sense of helping me out and then underperforming. It might be a habit from running in motion control shoes, that when I want the shoe to help it usually does, but the Kinvara didn’t. My guess is that if you’ve got a good natural footstrike, this shoe is probably going to just feel good and it’s going to let you keep running well. If you’re in the process of letting your running stride evolve I think this could be a bit of a messy shoe, it feels like there’s a lot there but when push comes to shove there just isn’t much underfoot. Additionally I wasn’t a fan of the pressure on the outstep, I think that’s a personal preference though.

So, I left FastTrax with pair of the Biom As and while the price is high it was hardly a tough pill to swallow after nearly an hour of opportunity to try on the shoes, run in them and almost a full half hour of Jack’s attention in investigating via video some of these things. With Gordo’s comments about seeking the best mentors and consulting advice fresh in my mind I am quietly confident that this is a very good first step in a slightly new direction. If I can wear them out I’ll be back for an updated diagnosis with the video-cam and another pair at full retail price without complaining. A big plus is that these shoes are leather and polyurethane instead of some silly mesh which always seems to rip on my Asics, and EVA foam which gets crushed within a couple hundred kms of use. I’m guessing that the dollars per mile for this shoe might be nearly equivalent to most other shoes that I’d be in the market for.

Photo from gallery: Triathlon - 2010

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