Natural Running and Rotating Shoes

shoemassI pretty much just waterboarded myself with espresso, so grab the handles and hold tight.

There has been a bit of a buzz about this study, which states that it is possible that rotating different shoes when running will reduce the chance of injury.  (I’m not exactly sure what the ideal number to rotate is, but I’m pretty sure I’m covered with a couple dozen pair floating around at the ready, depending on where I am.  Probably five are used for the majority of my running.)  For the general population this is a call to purchase shit, and for the general running population (there is a  difference), it is a “Well, yeah” kind of thing.  So for people who run as part of a general fitness practice or a social outlet, this study will lead them to purchase more shoes because buying shoes is, you know, cool.  But for the runner who runs because, well, running, it will just reinforce what they’ve known for years, but never thought to quantify or qualify it because either they didn’t think to or care enough to.  For some it is an epiphany, for others it is a case of preaching to the choir.  Either way, it’s cool.

There is so much running lore that it is hard to say where or when a specific piece of information began, but much of it gets lost in time and space.  For example, it was always my understanding, as relayed from the guys in the running shops where I loitered back in the 80’s, that a long run was 90 minutes or longer.  There was no real talk about fueling, certainly not for anything less than 2 hours.  It was also my understanding that we rotated shoes for different training because it kept our legs “fresh.”  And then that we should try to run on several different surfaces each week, again to keep the legs “fresh.”  The vocabulary has changed, the topic sentence has changed, but the message is the same.

I think this also ties in somewhat to the whole “natural running” thing, whatever that is.  Since the whole minimalist thing blew up and then down, there has also been talk of “natural” running, whateverthefuck that is.  Neither of these terms was ever absolutely defined, but, no matter.  Most often when the conversation revolved around “natural” running, there were the attendant references to the Tarahumara, the Kenyans, on occasion the Navajo–basically all the people who run without needing a fucking GPS to get out the door.  So we called upon our running brethren and sistren to inspire us to injury free running at the same time we were surgically focused on our split times and on the heel heights of our footwear.  You see where this is going, don’t you?naturalrunning

Rotating our shoes might help us reduce the chance of injury because it changes the feedback, the input—the signals from the ground to the brain to the tissues—that our body gets.  Ok, cool.  But changing our shoes isn’t exactly the same as changing the surfaces that we’re using.  I mean, if all you’ve got is asphalt, then changing your shoes is the thing.  But if you can change the surfaces, that’s the way to go.  That changes the feedback much more than just changing our shoes.  And that’s what our favorite “natural” runners have been doing all this time:  They’re not running on asphalt or concrete, day in and day out.  Every step they take is different from the one before it—they’re on dirt roads and trails!  So if you’ve grown up running in the Copper Canyon, or above the Rift Valley, or around, I don’t know, Shiprock or Ganado or something, likely your body is used to the constant changes in surface and is all the better for it.

And then there’s this, which I think is even more important.  All of our natural running heroes weren’t all OCD about whether or not they were getting exactly the right mileage for the day (I just had to get the .2 to make it 10!), they hadn’t been sitting in front of Facebook or some spreadsheet all day, they weren’t worried about what heart rate zone they were running in, they weren’t concerned with their shoes, except maybe that they had them at all.  They just weren’t concerned.  Running was either transportation, or play, or perhaps had some sort of cultural, religious aspect to it, I don’t know.  We think about running as a sport, which might have something to do with it.  So it immediately becomes something that we have to log, quantify and critique.  But they weren’t all Type A about it, which I think does more damage than shoes or whatever.  The stress we hold about our training, or our pace or our footwear, will reduce our body’s ability to remain healthy infinitely more than the difference between a 4mm offset and an 8mm offset.  Or whether we ran 7:13 pace or 7:15 pace, or whatever.   Or where on the foot we touch ground.  Or whether our marathon training long runs should be 16 miles or 20 miles.  In the big picture, it simply doesn’t matter.  Until you get injured.

There are waaaaaaayy too many variables involved to make absolute statements about what will keep you healthy.  But I think that we would be more likely to reduce the number of injuries we get from running if we were a little more, I don’t know, relaxed about the whole thing.  For about 10 years, when I go for an easy run, I’ve run by time only, because I felt that it kept me from getting too squirrelly about the whole time v. distance thing.  And then at the tacit suggestion of another running shoe lover guy I know, I just quit wearing a watch on my easy days, essentially reducing the variables again by one.  Whatever the training effect, I don’t know, but it’s a fuck ton more fun that way.  Much more enjoyable.  On one occasion, I had someone bail a workout because her Garmin wasn’t charged.  I don’t even know how many people in my groups ran on days that I suggested they not run, or cross train, because they were banged up.  Or people ran too fast every day because, you know, running slow has no benefit, or, but it felt easy.

Consistency is what will make us improve, first and foremost.  And so we have to stay healthy.  Because we have to run a lot.  Maybe if we make it a practice to reduce the amount of time we are “in training” and increase the amount of time we’re “just running” we might be able to reduce the stress we hold in the body.  How do we do that?   I don’t know.  But maybe we don’t pay attention to the watch so much, or to the GPS, except only on those days when the time v. space thing is more important.  Maybe we quit looking for the perfect shoe.  Maybe we have to go so far as to tell ourselves that today, we’re just going house hunting when we run.  I don’t know, but I think if we are “running” rather than “training” then that is a better definition of “natural” running to me.  Much more than what shoes we’re wearing or not wearing, or whatever.

Rotate your shoes, change the surfaces, change your mind, hakuna matata and shit.  Go run.  


13 responses to “Natural Running and Rotating Shoes

  1. My timex watch just broke (after a number of years of trusty service) – maybe it’s a sign that I should try doing my easy runs watch free. Except then I’d probably end up on some harebrained adventure and show up 3 days later out in the wild. Hmmm.

    I actually race without a watch now. It’s amazing. I don’t freak out about going out too fast, and I don’t psyche myself out if I slow down.

    And I’ve been telling my husband for years that I need to rotate shoes – I’m not sure he believes me. I also tell him that I need to rotate work shoes (injury prevention!). Again, not sure if he believes me.

    • Tyra,

      That’s defintely a sign. Think of it as freestyling.

      And ending up out in the wild after three days doesn’t necessarily sound like a bad thing. Maybe.

      You’re absolutely right. Rotate ALL the shoes!

  2. I think I could hug you. This spoke to me in a big way. But I’m likely a minority in that! ; )

  3. I always rotate my shoes! Although I usually wait until they are like ripped or totally useless to take them out of the rotation…. that probably is not the smartest, but I guess Im cheap! 🙂

    • I’m kinda the same way with many of them, Sarah. When I get actual gravel lodged in the bottom of my foot, I begin to consider possibly shelving that shoe.

  4. If this doesn’t speak to you, you’re dead inside. Yeah, I know some will bristle at this comment for whatever reason, but just remember…”hakuna matata and shit.” Fucking brilliant.

  5. Most excellent theorizing. I guess it comes down to common sense rather than blindly following a religion, I mean training plan. Does it feel like you are getting banged up? Yeah? Well maybe you are. Does it feel like you need to take it easy? Uh huh, etc.

    I’m not that good at relaxing and just going with how i feel, but when I do my running tends to go much more smoothly.

    Keep bringing the wisdom man!


    • Thanks, Eugene. Much appreciated.
      I think it’s interesting. I find that my running is overall better–healthier and more enjoyable, when I just go for a run and freestyle it. But because I have to feel fast a couple times a week to feel like a complete human : / I put on a watch and go. It’s always an experiment, somehow.
      Take care!

  6. Pingback: Top 5 Racing Flats – The Bearded Runner·

  7. I’m pretty sure that Lydiard’s guys ran wherever and however they felt during their base work, just going by time on hilly and often offroad terrain.

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