Today is April Fools Day 2013, and will either mark the day I look back at as the start of the next phase of my running life, or the day I will look back at and see that the biggest April Fool was me.
I’ve decided to make an honest go of phasing out my orthotics.
(WARNING: Only running geeks will appreciate this post!)
A little background info. I started wearing my custom orthotics for trail running back in the fall of 2011, just before my first trail marathon. I had gotten them from the podiatrist solely because I wanted to be able to run in trail specific running shoes. My severe over-pronation had forced me into the aptly named Brooks Beasts road running shoes. Categorized as “Motion Control” shoes, the Beast uses a massive posting system to keep the runner from pronating. These shoes, and only these shoes, kept me pain free while running. They got me to my first 5k, my first 10k, my first half-marathon and my first full marathon (Boston 2011). They took good care of me and got me running happy when I never thought that was a possibility. I will never sneer at those shoes, because they literally changed my life.
Unfortunately, they make sucky trail shoes.
Undoubtably, the biggest, heaviest, clunkiest shoes on the market, the Beasts suck up and retain 5 times their weight in water. They have very little grip. (they’re not supposed too!) They have no built in protection against common trail hazards such as sharp rocks (again, it’s not a trail shoe). Like in most of life’s endeavors, in running there is usually a right tool for the right job. A few months into my trail running life, I knew that my beloved Beasts were simply the wrong tool for the job, but because of my history with foot and leg pain I was afraid to run in any other shoes. Frustrated, I just kept running in the Beasts. The real problem was that there were no Motion Control trail shoes on the market. (I would learn much later that there is a very good reason for this).
At a trail race in the summer of 2011, I ended up chatting with a couple of other runners about feet. One of the guys was wearing custom orthotics to correct his over-pronation problems. His podiatrist, maybe not-so-conicidentally, was a sponsor of the race we had just run. I was intrigued, and so immediately upon arriving back home, called to make an appointment.
flash sequence…. START October 2011 –> I had custom orthotics made and very quickly adapted to them. –> I ran my first trail marathon with them in the November of 2011. –> I got a number for the 2012 Boston Marathon and decided to use the orthotics in road shoes rather than go back to the Beasts. –> I got a RAGING case of Plantar Fasciitis in the left foot. (The one that typically gives me trouble.) –> I went back to Beasts on the road while continuing to use my orthotics on the trail. Plantar Fasciitis quickly subsided and healed. –> I ran my first trail Ultra-Marathon in my orthotics in May 2012, followed by several more Ultras including the Stone Cat 50 Miler in November 2012. –> CURRENT DAY April 1st, 2013.
This past winter, I decided not to avoid the snowy trails. Truth be told, I just don’t want to run on the roads any more than I have to. So unless there was more than 6 inches of new snow, I was running trails. Unfortunately, the model of trail shoe that I’ve been using for the last 15 months, the Brooks Cascadia, have very little in the way of treads. They slip and slide quite a bit in the snow and as a result, I was starting to get frequent minor injuries. My search for a more aggressive trail shoe led me to the Inov8 Roclite 295. One of the more robust shoes in the Inov8 line, the 295 has a 9mm drop (compared to most of the other models’ 0mm or 3mm drops). It is also a little more rigid than the rest of the Inov8’s. So even though they were technically a “minimalist” style shoe, I felt confident they would be ok for me.
They turned out to be more than ok. After a very brief acclimation period with some achilles soreness (which I was told to expect), I quickly upped my mileage in the Inov8 shoes and they became my every day trail shoe. Even when there was no snow, I found myself choosing them.
We had a very snowy February in New England this year. Stubbornly refusing to resort to roads, I spent a lot of time running deep snow trails. As a result, my orthotics took a beating. The leather upper, which sits over the carbon fiber orthotic device, has come almost completely separated. Furthermore, the layers of padding have pulled apart leaving the entire footbed looking like a jumbled mess. I now need to be very careful that I properly place the orthotic in the shoe because it no longer wants to sit right. An email thread with the manufacturer informed me that any repairs that I may want to have done would have to be ordered through my podiatrist. (can you say copay??) Furthermore, a 2-4 week wait for my repaired/resurfaced orthotics could be expected. A wait time that doesn’t exactly work with the 8 races (5 of them Ultras) that I’m registered for in the next 3 months.
Desperate, I started thinking about other possible solutions.
I had been noticing lately that because the natural stride adjustments I needed to make on the trails, and because of the smaller heel to toe drop on my Inov8’s, my stride had been getting shorter and had become more of a mid foot stride than the heel striking that I’ve always done in the past. During the process of being analyzed for my orthotics, I learned that although I am VERY flat footed, my pronation is due to my heel rolling inwards as I move through my foot strike. My orthotics, therefor, were designed with a deep, posted heel cup to prevent this roll from occurring. If I could manage to keep my stride on the mid-foot, or even move it more towards the forefoot, I would be able to avoid the heel roll entirely and thus avoid pronating.
No pronating means no orthotics.
As a first step on this road, I decided to “step down” to mass produced, softer orthotics made by Superfeet. (I went with the Orange model.) For the last 3 weeks, I have been using them on shorter runs in place of my customs. They definitely have a lot more give to them, and force me to focus heavily on my stride. If I get lazy and start leaning back towards my heels too much, I immediately start feeling the familiar pulling strain on the inside of my heel. As soon as I correct my stride, however, my feet feel great! This past week, I ran 14 technical miles in the Orange orthotics. My feet felt a little “tired” afterwards, but no pain and no limping!
As winter has let up over the last couple of weeks, and the snow has melted, I have found myself running on dry trails. Of course I’m elated for the good weather and gorgeous running conditions, but I’ve discovered a flaw in my new found friends, the Inov8 295’s. The very aggressive lug design causes me to get snagged up on dry roots and even more so on dry rocks. I needed a less aggressive shoe. Of course my first instinct was to just go back to my trusty Cascadias. But what about my new found mid-foot strike? If dropping down from an 11mm drop on the Cascadias to a 9mm drop on the Inov8 made that much of a difference, what would happen if I dropped down to a 6mm or 4mm shoe? Shoes that are MADE to encourage a mid foot strike. Maybe this would be just the boost forward onto my midfoot that I would need to get away from my orthotics for good! So in classic “me” fashion, I spent 3 or 4 days scouring the internet and lurking in REI figuring out which shoe to go for. I was hoping for another Inov8 model since I’ve had so much luck with them. Unfortunately, the only shoes that fit my need for a less aggressive tread were also tighter fitting and more contoured along the toes. Since I’m already having a little issue with my toes pushing against the shoe while descending, it looked like Inov8 was not going to be an option.
So I kept searching, and suddenly there it was. From my old friend Brooks. The Pure Grit 2.
So this afternoon, April Fools Day 2013, I bought my first pair of Minimalist shoes and took them for a 6 mile test spin. (with the Orange Superfeet). The run went very well and I didn’t feel any pain. I could immediately feel the shoes “urging” me to stay on my midfoot. I could just feel the wrongness when I leaned back on my heels. In proper stride, my legs felt a little odd here and there, but nothing that felt “wrong”. All in all, I am extremely encouraged by this first run in the PureGrits. I know that I will need to wean myself into these shoes for my longer runs, and will probably still have to use my custom orthotics for at least some of the miles of the two Ultras that I have coming up in April, but I really think I may be on my way to getting out of my orthotics.
Or maybe on my way to injury and regret.
Only time will tell.