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Boulder is widely known for its appeal to athletes. Number one on the list: running, and that’s obvious given Boulder’s many adventurous trails. What makes these runs better, however, is the large demographic present on the trails each and every day; students at the University of Colorado probably make up a generous percentage. Running is a hard sport to begin with, and running without the proper footwear is even more difficult, and maybe even painful. Whether it be beginning, continuing or restarting your running journey, you need to know the basics of running shoes to prevent getting hurt.
Everyone runs differently. Some strike the ground on the insides, some on the outsides and some run in the middle of their feet. And the same goes for where you land from your heels to your toes. The good news is that there is a way to prevent injury with a few minor changes to your form and equipment.
It’s commonly said that form is the most difficult part of running to correct. Unfortunately, that is true. Don’t despair, because the average runner usually only requires a couple things to be fixed: posture, foot strike and cadence. It starts with posture: leaning forward into each stride. Not just tilting your head forward, but keeping the spine in alignment and letting it fall ahead of you so that each foot lands directly beneath the body. When your foot lands under the body, it naturally tends to hit the ground on what is known as your “mid-foot,” the upper middle area of the foot. This method also aids your cadence, or the amount of times your feet hit the ground per minute. “Mid-foot” running should bring your cadence around the recommended 180 steps per minute. Good running form can be a challenge and should be worked at slowly to avoid new stress on the body.
This may seem redundant at first, but before you focus all of your attention on form, you should make sure that you’re running in the proper shoes with the proper insoles for your natural running form. You may ask: won’t I be changing my form in due time? Yes, you will, but some parts of your form cannot naturally be corrected, such as supination, pronation, high or low arches and/or bone deformities.
Pronation is the inward tilt of the foot on and off impact, where the inside sole of the shoe wears out. And supination is the opposite, outward tilt with outside wear. Excess of both of these can easily lead to arch pain like plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains, shin splints, Achilles tendonitis and everything from heel to back pain.
“About 80 percent of the runners that enter our store overpronate,” said Jim, a long time employee at the Boulder Running Company.
Most shoes are considered neutral, in that they are flat and are appropriate for the 20 percent of people who naturally run well. However, there are a few designs that are aimed at helping those who don’t. What people haven’t quite figured out yet is that switching from one shoe to the other isn’t an easy fix. Your body may feel better at first, but the honeymoon period is unfortunately quite short. The Boulder Running Company recognizes these problems, as Jim explained that each time new customers seeking new shoes enter the store, the employees have them run on a treadmill in a neutral shoe to see where their feet fall. From there, they can address the most important part of the shoe, the insole.
The small foam pad resting between your foot and the sole of the shoe is the insole, and can be easily switched out with other inserts that focus on problems beginning with the feet, known as orthotic inserts. These range from hard to soft, with higher to lower arches and heels. The point is that an expert can simply observe how your feet contact the ground and then match the result with the correct orthotic insert. This is best done by running store specialists and their equipment. Many collegiate and professional runners rely on inserts to get them through their long running seasons. If they are fortunate enough not to need orthotic inserts, many runners, like those on CU’s Cross Country team, will still place an additional insole (usually rubber or gel) on top of the shoe’s pre-existing insole for extra cushioning.
“Probably around 70 percent of runners who have been running a long time use orthotic inserts, because they have learned that the shoes don’t necessarily support their body,” Jim said.
Now if you go a little further, you will realize that if you are running incorrectly, you will most likely walk the same way. Thus, it can’t hurt to use orthotic inserts or insoles in your everyday shoes as well.
To get the best out of your running sport, stop by a running store and have your gait analyzed for free. Grab some orthotics to avoid and prevent any future injuries. And finally, do not over-train! That’s a sure way to damage the body regardless of the proper form, shoes or orthotic inserts. Listen to your body.