Sunday, August 30, 2009

It's not the shoes, it's the runner

A conversation I had this morning at Super Runner's Shop in Huntington, NY and an article in today's New York Times were not connected but similar in subject. My conversation centered around a question I'd asked regarding the performance properties of shoes. I mentioned that I bought a pair of Brooks GTS 9's in April but never felt that they matched the Nike Turbulence 13's they replaced in terms of responsiveness. The person at the store said it was unlikely that a pair of running shoes would make much of a difference unless I'd switched to very lightweight trainers that lack cushioning and are made for competitive runners. The Times article "Wiggling Their Toes at the Shoe Giants" made that point a different way citing the emerging popularity of minimalist shoes that mimic the effect of running barefoot. The article mentions companies like Vibram, Feelmax and Terra Plana who have "barefoot running" style products along with Nike, who have found a growing demand for its trainer, the "Free." The article posits a view that modern running shoes do not prevent injuries or promote performance any better than when modern running shoes were introduced 40 years ago.  Later in the article is a counter argument that only biomechanically efficient runners benefit from minimal or barefoot running.

It's probably true that my Brooks have neither helped nor hindered my performance and a quick review of my pace history has confirmed that fact. Before the Brooks I averaged, overall, about a 9:10 pace and that's not far off from where I am today.  All the same I am intrigued when I read running shoe reviews that mention certain brands and models, like the Mizuno Wave series, that are supposed to be highly responsive and provide a competitive advantage. This morning I decided to attack the real problem - the runner - and headed to the track for some speed work. I started out with a brisk warm-up at 6:46/mile for a quarter mile and then did 8x200's at a little less than 6:00/mile. I finished up with an easy run at 8:54 for 1.25 miles, the pace seemed easy after all that high energy sprinting. I was happy that pushing that hard did not lead to any muscle pulls.

Would I do any better were I running with a pair of Brooks T-6's or Vibram FiveFingers Sprints? Maybe, but I have to guess that they would cause as many problems for me as they would solve.  In the meantime I'll appreciate the comfort of my Brooks  GTS 9's and Asics 1130's, the versatility of my NB 460's, the rugged capability of my Helly Hansen Trail Lizards and the energetic feel of my Adidas Trail Response 15's.

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