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What Motivates Me: Story of a Student

Nike Free RunI gave the first lecture of the semester in my Exercise Physiology class yesterday. As I always do, I started the course by talking about why human beings should be active, and how our relative inactivity in modern society can be linked to a host of health problems. I discussed our evolutionary history, and talked a bit about the human-as-distance-runner hypothesis put forth by scientists like Daniel Lieberman, Dennis Bramble, and David Carrier. As part of this discussion I brought up the structure of the human leg, and discussed how adding weight distally, particularly at the foot, increases the energetic cost of moving the leg while running. I showed a picture of a 12oz training shoe vs. a 4oz flat to emphasize the point.

At the end of the class a student came up to me with a question. She indicated that she joined the Boston Marathon training group at the College. Every year a group of 30+ students trains together to run the Boston Marathon as bandits. It’s a tradition at my college, and though I personally don’t approve of banditing races, I also see the positive transformation that it leads to in the students that accomplish the goal. It sets many of them onto a path of becoming runners for life, and the experience can be a profoundly emotional one. I myself am not involved in the group, but I’m happy to be a source of advice for those who are, and I have had many students in my classes who have participated over the past 10 years. In fact, watching my students do it was what motivated me to start running seriously back in 2007. It also gave me the confidence that I could complete my first marathon in 2008.

The student came up not to ask me about training for the race, but rather she had a question about shoes. She said that though she is active (she works out, does CrossFit), this was going to be her first ever running race. She acknowledged her relative lack of experience as a runner, and the possible lack of wisdom in running a marathon as a first race. She indicated that she thought she might need some “real” running shoes, so she had recently visited a specialty running store to get fitted for a pair. That’s why she was standing in front of me – she wanted to ask about what had happened in the store.

She said that the clerk at the store had watched her walk (yes, walk) across the store and told her she needed stability. They brought out shoes that looked like the big, heavy one on the slide (her assessment) that I had projected on the screen during lecture. She said they were uncomfortable and felt like bricks, and she was very skeptical of how they approached the fitting process. She left the store without any shoes, and wanted to know if this was the right decision.

In response, I asked her what she had been running in up to this point. Looking at her feet I suspected that I knew the answer – she was wearing Nike Frees (as do about 75% or more of my female students). She had indeed been running in the Frees, but was worried that they were not a “running shoe.” She bought them more for casual purposes and for gym workouts (she said she owned like 7 pairs of Frees!). I asked her if the running had been going well, had she felt any pain. She said everything had been going great, no issues at all.

My advice to her was quite simple. I told her to stick with the Frees as there is no reason you can’t run in them, and given the number of pairs she owned I suspected she was pretty well adapted to being in them. I told her that I’ve run many miles in Nike Frees without problems. I told her that if she is running without pain, there is absolutely no reason she needs a special pair of store-fitted “running” shoes. I told her that walking is a totally different gait than running, and that if that was how the store was assessing shoe needs then she was right to walk out the door. I told her there is no scientific support for much of the shoe fitting process that occurs in many running shops (every time I write this someone tells me that stores have moved on from these methods – this is clearly not the case). I told her to listen to her body, and if she started to develop any pain she should come talk to me and at that point we could assess whether a different shoe might help.

This is the kind of thing that motivates me to write this blog, to teach, and to do what I do. I want people to enjoy running, to be active, to be healthy, and to not have pain. I want people to find shoes that work, not be prescribed shoes that are heavy and uncomfortable based on outdated and debunked fitting protocols that mainly serve as a vehicle to make sales easier. I’m proud of this student for walking out the door of that store, and I’m proud that she could sense that she was being steered in a direction that was not right for her.

I think my main frustration from the entire experience is that there I still a perception that running entails a need for a particular kind of shoe. My position is that the only shoe you need is the one that allows you to enjoy the experience without pain. That’s the only thing that really matters. I don’t much care if it’s a traditional 12oz shoe or a 4oz flat, the key is that it works for your body. I’m also frustrated that some stores continue to employ practices that have little to no justification. Static arch height, watching a runner walk across the store without even attempting to look at how they run, etc. A lot of education still needs to be done. And that’s why I’ll keep on writing.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Raf Castillo says:

    Pete, let me just say that I’ve finally come around to your point of view. It’s been a long journey. I’ve run on and off over the years, after running cross country and track in High School, mostly as a recreational runner. in high school, I wore random Nike trainers and the Waffle racer for races. My senior year at Boston College, I also decided to run (bandit) the Boston Marathon for a campus charity. I got fitted at a well known Boston area running store with heavy stability/motion control shoes (I have flat flat feet). I have to admit that throughout high school I ran in and through pain and when I wore those heavy shoes, the pain seemed to go away for the most part. So through the years I’ve bought nothing but MC shoes (Brooks Beast, Nike Equalon, Nike Structure Triax, etc). until fairly recently. Various books, articles, & online blogs including this one convinced me to try something more minimal. So I bought the 2012 Nike Run Free 3.0 (Free 5.0). Though not the most minimal, it’s worlds apart than what I was running in. And I have to say, I’m running pain free. I’m running more often, further, and more consistently than I have since high school. I have to say that after years of running in bricks, this just feels right. I think in retrospect that my pains had more to do with my running form and posture than it with my shoes. Heel striker, hunched over, loud slapping of the feet onto the pavement. I’ve changed from these bad habits into a mid-foot, run tall, quiet landing, minimal up and down bouncing runner. Now, in various online forums in which I’m a member, e.g. Fitocracy, whenever someone asks about shoes, I still recommend going to a specialty running store, and maybe getting fitted. But that they should take their advice with a grain of salt since I’m a reformed “gotta wear a motion control shoe” runner, into someone who’s making a gradual stepdown into something very minimal. =) Apologies for the long tome, but after reading your post, I just had to reply with my own experience.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks for sharing this, always love reading this kind of story. It’s all about finding what works and what makes running most enjoyable. Hope the running continues to go well!
      Sent from my iPad

  2. SapphoAndGrits says:

    I have suspected for a long time that most “shoe fitting” protocols at running stores are totally subjective. I threw away the “bricks” I was told for years I needed, and have had zero injuries and more efficient running since I did so.

    Good post.

  3. Ken Skier says:

    Great article!

  4. also, again, nice article, i will continue to read as well, i love your posts

    keep on writing, and i’ll keep reading

  5. Well said! I’ll be forwarding this article to the next person who asks me about running shoes.

  6. Love the post Pete! The sad thing about this is that even though the science exists and the research has been done, most (other) shoe stores won’t change their non-evidence based “fit process”.

    People like Jay Dicharry are still relative unknowns to most running store employees–the people who are supposed to be the experts on what customers really actually need; what’s going to “fix” their feet.

    That may be half the trouble right there: shoe fitters (and customers) thinking of themselves as shamen (and shawomen) instead of amateur scientists who are required to use evidence to prove their conculsions. We’re still in the dark ages in some regards… Keep preaching the good word, and we’ll keep fitting shoes the right way out here in small town West Virginia!

  7. Great post! My husband has been sidelined by plantar faciaits, he went to the local running store last summer and purchased a pair of Brooks, stability shoes, on the recommendation of the store clerk. Even though I have been trying to convince him that they were not necessary, even the physical therapist told him they were designed to fix problems that he does not have. Our daughter Sarah (Runfargirl) attended your seminar last year and has suggested to my husband to start reading your recommendations. My question, will you be doing a seminar in the near future? Would love to attend, and bring my husband.

  8. kind of off topic, but on topic as i’m a student, i’m thinking of writing a research paper on minimalism vs Maximalism in my writing class, i was wondering if you could offer some help as to where i could look to find the studies and articles about this sort of thing, internet, books, journals, magazines, anything, if you can’t then that’s fine

    thank you!

    • Pete Larson says:

      I have all of the references from my book linked on http://www.treadlightlybook.com, so you can look there as a start. Google Scholar is also an easy way to search for references. What aspect of the debate do you plan to focus on?
      Sent from my iPad

      • mainly minimalism vs shod, i’m on the side of pro minimalism, but i plan to focus on what minimalism brings, why it’s better than restrictive footwear…and of course present the other side,
        going into anatomy, ancestors to podiatrists, arch support and all that
        5000 words won’t be easy, but this is a topic i could really get into, i just have to decide if there’s enough information to be a good persuasive research paper
        the main problem being the non minimalist side not necessarily having a strong argument
        also, a lot of it not being common knowledge, it may turn into a lot of “documenting” in the essay

        should i just shoot you an email to kind of get all of it across?

  9. Christian Eriksson says:

    And that is why we will keep on reading. Thanks for writing this blog Peter, and may this year give you the much needed time to write even more excellent articles and shoe reviews! (Wish I could support you by buying shoes from your “partners”, but they usually refuse to send New Balance overseas.)

  10. Eric Narcisi says:

    I’m flat-footed and pronate and have always been told I need bulky shoes. I remember going into a certain reputable running shop in the area in an attempt to buy Vibrams. The guy spent his time trying to talk me out of buying them instead of listening to what I do, what I want and what I need. I’m an experienced and competitive runner, but even if I wasn’t the whole experience still would’ve been insulting. I bought the shoes anyway that day, mainly because I didn’t want to waste my time looking for another store and running the risk of the same encounter.

  11. István Szűcs says:

    It’s a great post! Thanks! I love your posts. I’m a beginner barefoot-style running and I think, your way is the right way for injury-free running.

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