Sunday, November 30, 2008

Where the rubber meets the road

Usually I look forward to winter running. This year, I seem to be a little less enthusiastic that usual. I think after the 1/2 marathon next week, I will need to back off a bit. I think this has a lot to do with having issues with shoes.

For many years, I have been fortunate to be able to depend on the Asics GT line to provide a fairly stable progression of shoes. The last 2 models tho have not provided the same level of performance for me as they have in the past. That coupled with getting a bit older, has made running a little more of a chore than in the past.

I have to wonder why the shoe companies bring out new models every year. I know that they say there are improvements and I don't have a problem with that. However, when the improvements change the characteristics of the shoe, I think that they are doing a disservice to those of us who depend on a shoe that does not vary much in its running characteristics from year to year. Since I go through 2-3 pairs a year as do many runners I know, it is not like they need to get us to throw away to old and buy new just for the sake of a new model.

I generally point to shoes when friends have compaints about feet, knees or hips as the first place to look for the problem. I have many times given this advice but I forgot to think about it myself since I was so use to the GT line being dependable. When I finally realized that I was probably having a shoe issue, I hit myself in the head for not heading my own advice.

To test my hypothesis that the shoe was the problem, I took out an old pair of Asics from the '80 era. They were brand new, still in the box. When I ran in them, I was struck at how different they felt when compared to the newer Asics. The pair I had was the Epirus, the last of the non-gel Asics before they move to the GT series and gel. I felt like I was running on a cloud, the shoes were light and responsive. I remember now how I would refer to them as my "magic" shoes (eat you hat..err heart out, john kerry) since putting them on in the later stages of a 50 or 100 mile race seemed to help to improve my pace by 30 sec or more per mile.

Based on this, I compared the GT 2130 with the Epirus and was amazed at how wide the forefoot of the shoes had become. I guess over time, in the interest of stability, the base of the shoe has widened. This lead me to trying a "performance" training shoe and these felt similar in that they were more responsive and lighter however, they did not seem to last as long 300 miles vs 500 miles.

So what am I trying to say here? First, look to your shoes if you start having problems. It may be that they have finally worn out. If you just got them, maybe they are not the right ones...
Second, stick with one that works for you. If you know that a model you like is being changes or discontinued, buy a couple extra pairs to help while trying the new models. Mixing the old and new could help you determine if the new performs the same way without a major breakdown. (I bought about 10 pairs of the Epirus in those days). Lastly, don't get caught up in the hype about a new shoe or what someone else likes ... your foot may be different. I did notice while researching changes to the GT line, that a lot of runners who had used the GT series for a long time were complaining about the 2120 and 2130 models but I did not just take their word for it.


Peter N. Jones said...

I'd agree about the shoes. I used to run in Asics, but then they changed the interior foot last and I had to switch brands. The same happens each year now with my Adiddas... but I just buy 3 pairs in advance so at least I know I will have some that still work. Just change the color - not the mold.

Farrunner said...

Hi Peter,

I like your thinking about 3 pairs. This is kind of what I did with the Epirus...altho that was a dozen or so shoes and I still have 2 pairs. One I just started using and one new pair just incase I want to race hard again...

I wish there were a set of hard data that could describe the characteristics of a shoe so a comparison could be made between shoes. I could even see it useful if I could go to the local running store and run on the treadmill and get a reading of the shoes so I could see if they were getting out of "true" and know to buy a new pair.

There was an attempt to perform tests on shoes back in the early 80's but I do not recall it being that useful. I think now with the technology that exists, better and more detailed data could be generated even to the individual level.