As most people know I'm somewhat of a shoe geek. You know it's a bad thing when you have more significantly pairs of shoes than your significant other...
Despite this I've never really written much about shoes despite the fact that more than one training method, weekly mileage or surface I'm fairly sure they're the primary determinant of whether I get injured or not. The better you get the more you realise running is far more about staying injury free than actually training hard.
Firstly a little bit about me and shoes... Due to a structural abnormality in a bone around my achilles I can't run in shoes which have anything other than a very soft back. It's taken years of pain and achilles problems to get to this point. Usually I'd gradually build up my running until I decided I was fit enough to try running "properly" usually involving spikes or flats or just plain different shoes. I'd tweak something soon afterwards and my achilles would get progressively painful until I had to stop running. At one point at university I was fairly sure that I'd never be able to run without some fairly intense pain around my achilles.
It always bugged me that the pain was never in the actual achilles or in the flex of my foot. It always seemed to come from a "rubbing" sensation on the back of my ankle that just made my runs a nightmare. Different physios looked at it over the years and the diagnoses varied although I perhaps should have listened better to one who said "there's nothing there that could get injured, just a bit of bone".
Anyways - after many years of pain I finally found a shoe that I seemed to be able to train in as much as I wanted and have no pain at all. That shoe? The Vaporfly. A Nike shoe that came into being after the short-lived Mayfly. Noticeably more cushioned and with a fabric upper I suddenly found myself training on a regularly basis with almost no achilles pain. I still wore other shoes for the odd run but being able to put the majority of my mileage in these shoes helped my running make a quantum leap. I knocked up a solid 6 months of training and before I knew it I was running huge PBs including a sub 70 half.
Unfortunately... I didn't realise what the issue was or why my running had improved so much. I knew that the Vaporfly suited me but I couldn't tell you how or why. The shoes gradually fell apart (special thanks to Dave Norman who gave me a pair for free that he had lying around) and despite some amateur attempts at stitching them back together I ended up racing in some Nike Zoom Streak 2s. A very nice shoe and very fast (I actually wore them for my sub 70 half - and could barely walk after!) but not great for my achilles.
Wearing them at the Green Belt Relay along the towpath near Ware and Hertford 8 miles of constantly shifting underfoot and I was in severe pain. The next day I couldn't walk when I woke up. I ended up winning a stage after hiding behind the other bloke for 7 miles because I didn't want him to see I was limping whilst I was running... I never said I was clever... My achilles had managed to hold together for one more race but it was clear that they were going to need a lot of time to recover.
This time it was even worse and I seriously started to doubt whether I'd be able to race or even run again. Finally I just looked for a pair of shoes most like the Vaporfly. I still hadn't cottoned on totally and at one point was considering the Green Silence. A very nice shoe but one with a stiff back. Finally I settled on the Kinvara. The Kinvara had a tiny bit at the back that was fixed but was mostly very loose. As I started to clock up the miles I finally realised what was happening and that only shoes with a soft back gave me any relief.
A trip to Mark Buckingham confirmed the underlying reason. A small section of bone had developed at some point (possibly from birth) that would rub on the achilles and cause bad pain if I wore any sort of hard backed shoe. This wasn't just for my running shoes but also my formal/work shoes.
The Kinvara suited me well and I started to get into fantastic shape with some very fast tempos (7 miles at 5:20mm feeling very strong stands out) and more mileage than I'd ever run before. It had taken a long while to get over the injury from Green Belt but I was now making progress. Unfortunately my winter campaign hit a road block when I finally got to Reading. The previous year I'd been sick as a dog at the start but had gradually improved. This time I was struggling from the start and despite going through halfway in a similar time where I'd been kicking on then, now I was running awfully. Blood tests a few weeks later revealed I was anaemic. I'd never run enough mileage for that to happen before. The shoes were now working but my body wasn't! It took a lot of time for my body to recover and when it finally managed to I managed to strain a ligament in my back going down an escalator!
The final "big" shoe was the Nike Free. As I recovered from the ligament I tried a pair on randomly in Nike town and I was in love. The Free Run 2 was the perfect shoe for me with a soft back and a totally flexible sole. I'd always assumed that they were no good for anything but a quick trip to the gym or for warm up drills but I swiftly realised that this shoe totally matched my stride, had a lot of cushioning and most important would flex with my heel. It took a bit of time to get completely used to them but they swiftly became my stock trainer. There were a couple of niggles to begin with (mostly around my ankles and the side of my calves which struggled with the extra stability needed) but these have gradually disappeared.
I'm now running well, finally able to get the mileage in and, whilst I may have a few niggles from time to time, these are increasingly muscular and short-lived.
It's been a long journey, involving lots of miles and lots of shoes. I'm going to review a couple of the pairs I use in the next few months and hopefully it'll help at least a couple of other people sort out their problems.