I feel compelled to make one of my countdown series posts about shoes because I’ve changed mine since Comrades Marathon 2018 and as probably the most important piece of running kit, my thoughts / experiences may help others thinking about a change or at least settling on their most loved model.
I ran in orthotics for the first 5 odd years of my ‘serious’ running life, which I took to escalating from half-marathons up to marathon distance and my first Comrades Marathon in 2012.
After reading Christopher McDougall’s excellent “Born to Run” (a must read for any runner) and on careful reflection, I was convinced that the orthotics weren’t needed and it was only as a result of accelerating mileage too quickly in the early stages of my running, (a general fault it seems of many other runners), that I’d felt the original shin splints that had led to their suggested adoption.
So after Comrades 2012, I decided to ditch the orthotics altogether, and see if I could improve the proprioception in my feet and the strength of arguably the worlds most efficient shock absorber (the calves) and improve my running style and efficiency altogether.
And thus, I embarked on very fun and interesting move towards a lighter more neutral shoe. Rather than going the ‘full barefoot’ of the sandals of the Tarahumara tribe of the book, or Vibram five fingers that seemed to become all the rage at the time, but also led anecdotally to many stress fractures in the feet / heals and lower legs, I opted for a decidedly more measured approach.
I dialed back my mileage considerably (I’m talking back to 4-5km runs initially over many weeks) using a brand of shoe called Inov8 (which I haven’t seen in SA since) that through their range of shoes facilitate a stepped approach down to a shoe with a lower drop (see explanatory article on what drop means here – https://runnerclick.com/how-important-is-heel-toe-drop-in-shoe/ ). I took to wearing two different pairs of the fantastic Vivobarefoot brand as everyday social shoes which helped strengthen the foot and improve proprioception. I regularly did a raft of foot and calf strengthening exercises to make sure the legs got used to the new setup and I slowly worked on shortening my stride and upping my cadence to 180rpm – a method suggested through some of my research.
It was a long, methodical and measured approach that was enjoyable and left me feeling strong and ready for raceday.
Great article and link to free downloadable e-book on proprioception – Proprioception. Making Sense of Barefoot Running by Lee Saxby.
With the Inov8 I was wearing proving slightly problematic about 6 weeks out, I finally lined up at Comrades 2013 wearing a pair of Brooks Pure Cadence shoes from their excellent Pure range of more minimal / neutral shoes, then wore their Pure Grit for a Salomon Sky Run 65km outing a few months later and became a Brooks convert – see http://ultrabloke.com/brooks-shoes-running-happy-born-to-run/
Back to running
After taking an almost complete three (3) year absence from running to get really immersed in some longer cycling events, culminating in riding the ABSA Cape Epic in 2017 – http://ultrabloke.com/category/absa-cape-epic/ – I decided it was worth giving Comrades a go again and seeing if I could sneak in under 9 hours.
On return I was devastated to learn that the Pure Range had been sized down from 3 options to one solitary shoe – the Pure Flow – which just didn’t feel right when I tried it on.
So I bought a pair of On Running Cloudflow’s and put them through 600km’s of thoroughly enjoyable testing. It’s a hella va nice shoe I’ve subsequently bought a second pair of (for shorter distances), but came to the personal conclusion that it was maybe a bit of a hard ride for a 90km road race.
Always benchmarking against that amazing Pure Cadence shoe, I was looking for something with a similar drop and light feel and eventually settled on the New Balance 1500 Racer V4 with boa dial lacing system (made popular originally on Specialized cycling shoes). And what a discovery they were. Light, easy to lace up and really comfy. I was a little worried they too may be too light for 90km, and tried a pair of Hoka One One Clifton in between them and the On’s, but eventually decided that the New Balance were my most comfortable pair, eventually winning through to the prize of raceday shoes.
Despite missing my running club tent at the halfway mark and completely ballsing up my nutrition as a result, the shoes were great on the day.
New Balance 1080 v8 – My Comrades 2019 race shoe
So why the change you may ask?
Well my running in lighter shoes after almost a complete 4-year absence wasn’t completely without its issues. I did take a fairly gradual build up post-Epic (March 2017) till more serious mileage in January 2018, but again on reflection (ah the beauty of hindsight), it may have been too quick.
I developed a consistent issue with my right achilles which presented itself in the form of a persistent mild discomfort and the unnerving feeling from time to time that it might dislodge from the foot. Not a cool feeling I can tell you. This led to 5 Shockwave therapy treatments – detailed here http://ultrabloke.com/shockwave-therapy-flexibility-and-the-joyful-discovery-of-run-walk/ – and a multitude of other physio visits to treat the calf (connected to the issue).
This year I thought that maybe a slightly more supportive shoe with more cushioning might help and was at least worth the try. So after much research and as a current fan of New Balance as a brand, I eventually settled on their 1080 v8.
And what a great decision that has proven to be. It may be due to strength exercises performed or quite possibly to additional time on the legs, but the achilles issue and related calf issues have all but disappeared and despite a heavier training load this time around (which included an amazing charity run from Johannesburg to Cape Town – read about that amazing event here http://ultrabloke.com/category/mad2run-2019/) I’ve had only one maintenance visit to the physio all year.
So I can highly recommend the 1080’s. I’m on my second pair now and still really enjoying them. They feel somewhere in-between the very neutral ride of earlier described pairs and the Mizuno Wave Riders I wore for almost 5 years before that. They are light and very comfortable but with enough support and cushioning to inspire confidence to provide a good ride when that inevitable degradation in form comes at around the 70km mark in a run like Comrades.
I’m relying on them to do so.