Shoe Drop: What You Need To Know

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  • Shoe Drop: What You Need To Know

“As a distance runner, I have a favorite pair of shoes.”

Running Shoes: to drop or not to drop

-SCHEELS Running Expert: James Storm

As a distance runner, I have a favorite pair of shoes. When I found those shoes, I bought as many pairs as I could get my hands on and I wore them all into the ground. This first shoe company was my father’s favorite and hence mine. As I started studying running and learning from my mistakes, and unfortunately my injuries, I realized this company didn’t have a shoe in their line that was compatible to the way I was running now. The change in my running form and the accompanying change in shoe company and style, came through countless conversations with other runners, trial and error, and of course money.

Every time I ran more than 8-10 miles, I would get this incredible pain in my right knee. Nothing I did seemed to change this fact, until it started showing up in my left knee after 11 or 12 miles. I simply couldn’t shake the inevitable truth that if I kept running, by mile 12, I would be crying in pain and would have to spend several weeks off in recovery. That first marathon was never going to happen for me if I could not make it pain-free past 12 miles. After my 3rd half marathon, a doctor wanted to perform surgery with the consideration that I may never run again. My family doctor said I was still too heavy, needed to lose another 30-40 pounds minimum, but that I also needed to go home and head to the park for a run without shoes. My first thought was, “You mean barefoot?”. I assumed he was kidding but he wasn’t. He wanted me to call him after I was done with my shoeless adventure in the park.

Later that day, I headed out for my medical adventure. Off came the shoes and down the boulevard I headed. I made it about 50 yards before stopping and calling Dr. Doug. I shouted, “My heal never touched the ground!”. “Exactly,” replied Dr. Doug, “that’s how God built you to run, shoe companies want you to run on your heal”. After that, I never looked back and my mileage went up dramatically. A few stress fractures in each foot 6 or 8 weeks later sidelined me for a month but it was during this interim of learning to run on the front of my feet that I started talking to every runner about technique and shoes.

There are only a few ways to run when taking into account foot strike; heel or forefoot with varying degrees of each. My original shoe, same company my father favored, was a thick soled running shoe that accommodated the pounding of my heel into the pavement. By changing my form to a forefoot strike, I came down softer and didn’t need the thick heel cushioning afforded to me by those other shoes. I was now out to find a shoe that promoted my new form. My first choice: minimalist shoes.

When I say minimalist shoes, I am talking about shoes that have less of a drop from the heel to the toe than most thick soled shoes (think of a high heel shoe as a high drop and a boat or deck shoe as a low drop). This flatter shoe with less padding is probably not comfortable to those that have a heel strike running form, but for those that run with a lighter touch, something more minimalist will feel just right.

I have found a drop of no more than 8mm is where I am most comfortable (I really prefer 4mm or less, but one of my new favorite shoes has a very thin sole and an 8mm drop). When it comes to sole thickness, I get a little more assertive. I prefer thin soled shoes because I am able to log big miles day after day. I find the thicker the shoe, the more vertical oscillation (V.O. aka hop) I have per stride and that takes a lot of energy. 

The question of “if you should lower the drop in your shoes and go to a minimalist shoe” can only be answered by you and the accompanying style of running you have. I will caution you though, do not make the mistake I made and go from one end of the spectrum to the other overnight. Doing this will give you injuries, which can slow your progress. Choose a pair of shoes that have a drop midway between your new shoes and your old shoes to ease into the adjustment. Also lower your miles a bit and make an 8-12 week transition into those new shoes. Your body will be glad that you did!

Learning to have good form makes running more fun and will make you a more successful runner. Now go put on your favorite shoes and hit the trail!

 James completing the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon

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