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What changed when I changed my running shoes?

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What is the best running shoe for me? I have a neutral gait and run about 25miles per week on roads.

It’s a question I have asked myself over the many years I have been running.  I have seen an evolution in running shoes, culminating in the standard shoe most of us use with the wide cushioned forefoot and built up heel. Will my choice of shoe prevent injury? Will it make me run faster? Will they be comfortable?

There is no single “best fit” shoe but choosing one that’s right for me was originally thought to depend on biomechanics, body habitus, age and running surface. More recently evidence has emerged that my running style might be important.  Air cushioned soles in the past caused me recurrent ankle sprains, so I followed the accepted wisdom choosing a stability shoe with mid-foot torsion control. However I began to question my choice of shoe after running for a train in a pair of flat light sneakers more akin to a minimalist shoe. I found myself naturally running on my forefoot and toes with more of a bounce.

In the 1970s three pioneering sports podiatrists, working with a leading shoe manufacturer, suggested that running injuries were related to excessive impact and excessive foot motion, in particular foot pronation. This was the catalyst for the addition of cushioning and motion control in the running shoe. This increasing trend has continued for over 4 decades and has been the unquestioned accepted wisdom.

Despite all of these technological advancements in the running shoe up to 3/4 of modern runners may be injured in a given year. So is there any truth in the claim, that matching footwear to foot-type results in reduced injury?  Three large randomized controlled trials conducted in differing branches of the military have reported that matching footwear to foot type had no influence on injury.

I have decided to try a minimalist shoe which has less cushioning and is flatter from front to back. As a result I have found myself running preferentially on my toes with a forefoot strike. There was a slight aching in my arches and ankles initially (we know that forefoot running increases the loading on the ankle and mid-foot ) but this passed after few weeks and the benefits have been a lighter feeling when I run, a more balanced comfortable running cadence and improved times.

Has it been worth it? Well yes. Running now seems more comfortable….and injuries? It seems my change in shoe type has altered my running style which now feels freer, more natural and more enjoyable. But will this merely replace one set of overuse injuries with another?  The jury is still out.