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SHOES MAY BE THE BIGGEST RESTRICTION TO EFFICIENT RUNNING – OR THE BEST ASSISTANCE


Why is Eluid Kipchoge the man ‘most likely to’… break 2 hours?

The one aspect that differentiates him from many other runners is his running efficiency – everything just seems to be going forward (or backwards) with minimal side movement or action.

I am sure we don’t get to see all the training, but I am confident that many will be to maintain and further enhance his style and efficiency.

The key to all of this comes with the adoption of a natural running style and that relies on balance / symmetry of the (body) structure, and of course shoes;

While Kipchoge doesn’t have to be concerned, (thanks to Nike), about the provision and cost of shoes, the average South African runner is being hammered by:

  • the weak Rand,
  • A biased marketing theme for running shoes
  • Limited option of styles (and sizes)
  • Poor understanding of transition techniques from ‘jogging type shoes’ to natural running styles.

Feet are the correct running tools:

In previous articles and some very extensive discussions I have put forward the concept that we were born with the correct running tools – feet! – but that industrialisation and development require us to wear shoes for two purposes:

  • Protection from thorns, glass, nails and other sharp objects
  • Provide some cushioning because of the hardness, (and roughness), of the modern surfaces such as Tar, Concrete, Tiles, Track etc.

Shoes types that will help your transition to a natural style:

In order to allow you to run with a near natural style a shoe therefore needs to be:

  • Flexible to allow the foot to move and act in the same manner as it would were you not wearing the shoe
  • Provide the above protection and cushioning to satisfy these modern needs
  • Be as light and unrestrictive as possible.

Some runners are concerned that lightweight shoes are going to wear out faster than ‘more stable / heavier / sturdy / control’ shoes:

This is not normally the case: If anything, the reverse can be true…. Those more ‘substantial’ shoes can change the running style and mechanics which then initiates a different, and exacerbated wear pattern:

The challenge:

The real challenge for many runners is to make the transition back to a true ‘natural running style’

NOTE I am NOT promoting barefoot running, but rather learning to move in the naturally intended motion.

 Having spent many years in shoes that enforce a heel-strike and torsional movement along the length of the foot, you cannot expect to make the change to a lower heel and more flexible shoe overnight, or even go for a 10k, 5k or even 3k run without your muscles, joints and tendons complaining.

Train Your Feet and legs:

The fact is that you will be using different muscles, or muscles in a different way, so you need to ensure they are given a chance to get ‘fit’.

This is achieved by doing drill work over short 30 metre repeats, and wearing shoes that will assist the gradual progression from where you are now to the more natural style:

Respect the fact that you will have the cardiovascular fitness to go forever, but these muscles are little better than if you had spent the last year relaxing on the couch!!

Walk in the shoes, then ease into the shoes over a period of time and by focusing on the newer (old natural actually) style you can run faster, but for shorter periods. (This and some drills are covered in other articles on  www.coachnorrie.co.za)

 A Diversity of Shoes to consider:

There are a number of shoes and models that will assist this transition but below are two manufacturers and models at different price points that are unquestionably suitable to commence the transition:

Maxed Marathon Racer:  price R499.

The entire Maxed range is sold only through Mr Price Sports and comes in at anything between R250 and R500.

Marathon Racer:

The Marathon Racer, (the review shoe), has gained popularity over the last  2-3 years as the Maxed Elite comrades team have used this shoe for Comrades and earned a number of  top places and gold medals.

If anything this has destroyed the myth that the shoe is not for  distance, although it must be kept in mind that these elite are a) considerably lighter than many  runners, b) have efficient running  styles which means the  wear is less, and c) probably  have regular  access to replacement shoes.

I would also like to turn that around for the beginner and the average club runner: The shoes are light and flexible which makes them most suitable for working on a transition to a more effective running style.

The pricing is such that it’s a small investment that will allow you to work on the style without breaking the bank and has the endurance to more than cover the couple of months that should be spent working on style.

The Marathon Racer is, as can be seen in the photo, exceptionally similar to the Nike Lunar racer that proved very popular around 2014 / 15.

The blocked outer sole provides hard wearing rubber in key areas while utilising the mid sole material in the areas where wear is minimised (when using a good style).

A key here is that if you are wearing the white portions of the outer-sole out then it’s an indication of a less / poor natural style.

The outer sole is quite a broad footprint which adds to the stability of the whole shoe. This is of course a replica of the Nike, and my feel is that the toe box on the Maxed racer is actually slightly wider / more spacious that the Nike. A good move.

The Maxed material such as the upper and mid-sole are less sophisticated compared with the Nike and this is most obvious in things like the lacing yoke and tongue, but some runners will be happier with the open mesh upper, as  the Nike fly-wire  upper was too hard for some users, and some runners found that the support sections in the toe box on the initial version, irritated the small toe.

I still had my Nike Lunar racers, which is testament to the longevity or the shoe, and so had runs in both on two consecutive days:

In terms of running in the new Maxed racer and old Nike racers, the greatest differences were in the midsole, which on the maxed seems to be a higher stack height with about a  10-11mm difference in drop from heel to ball of foot.

The Nike drop was only 7mm which means it was easier to maintain a forefoot / midfoot strike, and the ‘lunarlite’ midsole material was more flexible lighter and more cushioned than the EVA of the Maxed shoe. This is probably why there had to be a greater height of midsole.

That said this can be good for style transitions as this is a less dramatic step for runners who are currently in significantly more rigid, 13mm drop shoes.

 

The point is that for a very affordable investment you get a shoes that has the flexibility to allow a reasonable feel for the desired style change without the sort of aggressive change in drop that can increase the risk of calf and Achilles problems.

All in all a shoe well worth consideration for those interested in short races, park runs and those who wish to graduate towards a more natural running style.

Marathon Trainer: R499

It is worth noting that there is a sister shoe in the Maxed range: The Marathon racer ironically makes use of a more ‘curved’ last which will normally provide greater flexibility and indeed the forefoot flex is exceptional.

However, by using a full-length rubber outer-sole from the shank of the shoe under the medial arch the shoe has greater torsional and flex resistance towards the rear of the shoe.

Again, the drop is around 11mm and with the EVA midsole coming higher than the foot bed in the heel there is more control in the heel cup.

If you have been put into rigid ‘control’ shoes with a high drop  13-14mm drop, or have rigid rear orthotics, this shoe may be a better transitional option while  you get used to the mid-foot landing of natural running:

Go a Degree Beyond:

361 – is one degree more than full circle and a relatively new brand on the South African market – but certainly not new to the sports market and indeed have sponsored many of the teams to Rio 2016 Olympics.

The Chinese brand currently have a range of around 8 models in their range including an out and out racer, a trail shoe, three support shoes and three neutral trainers.

Interestingly and importantly in this context ALL shoes have a drop of 9mm of less making them more suitable for natural running.

New models will be on the shelf in the last quarter of the year and that includes a stripped out racer and another trail shoe.

Also important in the economic climate is the price point which is current pricing which ranges (logically) from R1800 for the racers to around R2500 for the top end training models.

361 Phantom:

The review model was a shoes described as being a versatile neutral everyday trainer combining comfort and support:

After running in it for a few weeks and around  70-90km I would endorse that “it is what it says on the box’

The 361 range and the Phantom – interestingly spelt as Fantom in one document – has an open multiple grid-like block outer with only the hard-wearing ball of foot and heel tipped with rubber points.

 

In all this block design creates seven potential flex grooves along the full length of the outer and ensures the shoe can bend at any point although obviously the shoe has some torsional stiffness from the medial arch to the heel.

From the first wearing I certainly enjoyed the flex in the shoe and as with any shoe this became better as it midsole adapted to my own specific point of bend.

The point is that this is not a racer, but more what many would call a racer trainer.

The mid sole is constructed from ‘Quikfoam’ which is 361’s EVA lightweight rubber blend that is claimed to have a consistency of comfort, energy return and cushioning throughout the life of the shoe.

This ‘Quikfoam wraps up the outer slightly higher than the base last which means the innersole and the foot are held comfortably in position.

The innersole is also made from ‘Quikfoam’ which lets you see and even monitor how it performs. It is not unusual for innersoles to collapse and take up the impression of the points of impact after only a few kms of running – this was not the case with the 361 innersole.

Even at the end of the test period I was unable to detect any indention from the ball of foot or heel. This increased my confidence in the mid sole material and suggested this will have a greater overall lifespan for the shoe, while still providing a good level of cushioning and comfort.

Moving to the upper, the interesting and relatively tight weave of the upper, combined with internal instep support means the foot is held in a cradle around the medial arch.  There is less to the upper in the toe box which is a good thing as it assists with breathing.

There is cuff cushioning around the heel and Achilles plus fairly significant strength in the heel cup.

This all adds to provide significant comfort in the shoe, and a 14-position lacing yoke allows for a total variation of lacing options that ensure the shoe can fit snugly and lace tension can be altered. (just don’t use the standard criss-cross lacing or the benefits of this innovative feature will be negated) _ see lacing in the photo.

The tongue has a loop mid length and two slots at the top which allow the laces to be threaded through and thus ensures the tongue ‘stays put’ as they have appropriately named the system

The shoe does perform as a trainer, but the 9mm drop and high flex of the outer make it feel and respond as a racer when picking up speed and my natural preference then would be to strip out some of the comfort from the middle and back of the upper.

I think that such a move is purely my personal preference for a lighter, more stripped-down feel, but most runners will enjoy the comfort of the shoe.

This is certainly a shoe that can handle the long-distance run and a comrades / oceans journey without necessarily feeling the hours on the road.

That said this is not the energy absorbing, marshmallow cushioning, but rather a firm protection that allows your foot force to be transferred to the road such that you are still propelled forward as you drive back into the tar.

The phantom will shortly be available in the shops and I would certainly suggest this as good option and worth trying on. It is also a great option for the person moving from heel striking to a natural style but wanting something for the longer distance running.

Having had my first experience of 361 I am not keen to look at the new Feisu, which is a more minimal speed shoe and comes in 80grams lighter at just on 200grams.