Chevy Tahoe or a Mini Cooper? A tip on running shoe selection.

You are about to leave your house and have the keys to both your cars in your hand. Which do you take?

Today, you have to drive through town town to get some groceries, and then to the mall. Its a slow drive on neighborhood streets to the freeway. Your SUV is comfortable, affords a good view of the road, and has lots of room for the stuff you are going to buy. Given the fact that SUV’s account for huge number of sales in the US, the public agrees this is a logical choice.

OK – its the weekend. You are going to flee the city and head up to the cabin. Its a really twisty backcountry mountain road. Turn after turn, its hard to even maintain the posted speed limit. Do you select the SUV that ensures you need to slow down due to body roll, or do you take the sports car? The sports car is lighter, lower, and has a firmer suspension. It was designed for these very conditions. While a stiffer suspension may be less comfortable driving through the burbs, the improved “road feel” you get with the sports car helps you drive better at speed through more challenging roads.

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Time to go shoe shopping! You ask the salesman to pull two pairs of shoes for you. The first feels like a cloud at first step. It feels like you could stand around in them for hours. Your quick run test on the sidewalk in front the shop confirms that same cushy marshmallow feel during your run. Going back inside, you slip on shoe #2. It feels comfortable, but is much firmer. It didn’t grab you at first step as you walked around the store, but when you repeated your short demo run outside, it felt pretty much like the shoe wasn’t even there. The firmer feel felt a bit more responsive.

What running shoe should you buy?

Well, the marketing research is clear. People buy shoes b/c of 1) color, and 2) “first feel”. First feel is that first step you take. You know that sense of walking on a cloud…..the same feeling that made you think you could stand around in them for hours? Well, that doesn’t have anything to do with running shoe selection. Running is not standing. When you stand, you have half your body weight split between each foot. The total load on each each leg is about half your body weight. When you walk, sometimes you have two feet on the ground, and sometimes you have one foot down on the ground. So at the most, you’d have your full body weight on one leg, and at the least, it would be split between both legs. And when you are walking, your feet are on the ground for a long time. If you need to “micro-correct” your muscles to stabilize your body, you’ve got time to do so.

Running isn’t standing. And its not walking. During running, your foot is only on the ground for a very short time: The average runner moving at 7.2 mph is on the ground for only .17 seconds. Decisions on stability need to happen very very quickly, faster than you can actually think about them. And when running, there is no double leg contact. You are either sailing through the air, or in contact with a single leg. That single leg must not only support your full body weight, but about 2.5x’s your body weight.

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So what “car” do you pick? Well, lets look at hundreds of research articles on foot and ankle balance. Almost every single article says that you have a harder time balancing and stabilizing when on a cushioned surface. On marshmallow-cushy surfaces, the muscles that control your foot and ankle kick on too late and not enough to keep things under control. So if you are going to rally around a twisty mountain mountain road, the stiffer suspension on the Mini Cooper gives you better traction and feel. When running, a firmer feeling shoe provides a stiffer surface for the muscles in your foot and ankle to support your body. Said very simply: the foot works better when on a firmer surface.

So do yourself a favor. Go to the store. Try on your shoes. Obviously you’ll stand, and then walk outside or over to the treadmill. But resist the urge to make an impression on the shoe until you are actually running. Of course you should buy a pair that feels comfortable! But most of us are in shoes too soft and squishy to be running fast. Pick the right car for your drive, and the right shoe for your run. Running comfort, not walking comfort, should be key.

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20 thoughts on “Chevy Tahoe or a Mini Cooper? A tip on running shoe selection.

  1. Pingback: Jay Dicharry on Choosing a Running Shoe | Road Runner Shoes

  2. Mark Cucuzzella MD

    Jay,

    Great post and analogy. So true and i challenge readers to get in a thin and flexible walking shoe for daily wear at work and leisure. A few weeks doing this and your body responds differently and it translates to your running. for readers…try it.

    Mark Cucuzzella MD

    Reply
  3. Brad Patterson

    I just recently purchased a pair of Merrell Barefoot “life” shoes to wear all day while I am at work. I am interested to see if this improves my calf and achilles strength/flexibility; and traslates to my ability to run in a more minimal shoe – as Dr. Cucuzzella mentions in his comment on the article

    Reply
    1. an athlete's body Post author

      Thomas – agree 100%!
      Unfortunately, only 7% of people actually commute to work by bike. So make analogies, I am always stuck with the car as the common language.
      But as a daily bike commuter, I always try to rally the troops. I encourage everyone to get excited ad motivated to make a change in your lifestyle. Maybe your situation doesn’t allow you to do this daily, but start with just one a week. Before you know it, you’ll be spending less time behind the wheel

      Reply
  4. erikhorton

    Great post Jay, love the MINI vs. SUV analogy. Switching to a thinner, flatter, more “minimalist” shoe for both running and everday wear has been a great decision. My posture is better, feet are stronger, and I just feel more grounded. Plus, I recently became a new MINI owner….coincidence??

    Reply
  5. Holly Paige

    Jay–this is fantastic! I sell running shoes at a specialty running store, and I’m always having the “cushy vs. firm” conversation with my customers. Your Chevy Tahoe-Mini Cooper comparison will be a great way to steer the conversation in a new direction. Thanks!

    Reply
  6. SteveL

    I’m not expert but one comment on the transition in the shoes. It took me a year to move from typical to zero drop. At least one store I know of and do like I think they push people to fast from typical to no cushion and zero drop. Perhaps that’s the way to go but for me I had to move through the transition process with a couple different pair at 4mm and cushion to 4mm and firm cushion and just now to zero drop. When I’ve been in the stores I’ve seen the sales guys push zero drop or 4mm drop no cushion on guys my age 50+ and i just wonder how many of them ever actually end up making the switch permanently.

    Reply
    1. an athlete's body Post author

      Hi Steve –
      a few things to comment on here.
      1 – Zero drop is not the end goal for everybody, although it can be for some folks.
      2 – there is a difference between drop and the cushioning stiffness of a shoe. I’ve got 0 drop shoes with no cushion, 0 drop shoes with cushion, and shoes with drop of 3-6mm with some cushion, and others that are quite firm. And then stack height (how high the foot is from the ground) is another thing all together.

      Also – contrary to common thought, my experience has not really shown age to be a factor in running shoe prescription
      Jay

      Reply
      1. SteveL

        I figured age would be an issue. That’s interesting. Thanks for the response. By the way I have your book and I’m slowly reading through it. GREAT book! A couple of years ago I had a really bad case of Achilles tendinitis. I’ve been clear for the last couple of years and a year ago I went more minimal in my shoes. Went to 4mm drop shoes. Everything has been great up until a month ago. My left Achilles is now getting bad again and even thickening. I recently picked up my first pair of zero drop shoes Merrell Bare Access 2’s and love them but after last night’s short run of 3 miles my Achilles is killing me. So two things: Does your book cover this condition? I sure hope so. Second could moving only another 4mm down in the drop have that big an affect on this condition? Thanks for the book and the site!

      2. an athlete's body Post author

        Hi Steve-
        thanks for buying the book – glad you like it.

        The bare access 2 is a great shoe – in fact I just got a pair for myself. But I would not switch to ANY shoe that has lower drop than what you are currently in if I had an active acute case of achilles strain.
        Yes – I cover the transition process to a lower drop shoe in the book. Also, you should check out the post on this blog called “are you ready for minimal?” – I did an article and video on this for Running Times as well. Lots of good info there. Best!

      3. Chris Rees

        I aggravated both achilles early summer to the point of near rupture in July. Took till September to start any running again and bought a pair of Skechers Go Run ride Elite 2. First week was 6 miles over 3 runs including walk breaks. After about a month or so I began to settle into them and did 140 miles in December and 15 miles on Monday. For me they have been the answer – keeping me off my heels!

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  9. OlyaKU

    Reblogged this on My Blog and commented:
    Which shoes to buy. Why to go “minimal” and why to stick with traditional shoe. All explained in a simple and easy way

    Reply
  10. Jennifer

    I am working through your book and tell all my running friends about it. My 10 year old son is generally barefoot running an everything. I am trying to figure out what shoe to put him in as we start cross country. He has Nike free 3.0 now but I have to help him learn how to run in shoes. I have transitioned from a motion control to kinvara and now to new balance wt10, so I know the differences. But we are working from a different angle with him, running with shoes. Thanks for any help. Your website and book have been a wealth of information!!

    Reply

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