by Jacob Greski
One of the only requirements one needs to be a runner, regardless of their speed, distance or time, is a pair of running shoes. A high quality running shoe can do wonders for your running and therefore overall health. The right pair of shoes can help you reach your highest goals or break your personal records. Despite this, I would claim that a majority of runners suffer from some type of running-related injury, including myself. As a fit associate at Fleet Feet Albany I see all sorts of injuries such as plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, runner’s knee, IT band syndrome, and many more. I am also a student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Russell Sage College, giving me a unique perspective on these injuries while working at Fleet Feet Albany. Some of these customers are not always runners, nevertheless they are hoping that a good pair of shoes will relieve their pain and improve their lives.
I serve Fleet Feet customers on a daily basis who were referred to the store by their physician or physical therapist. Usually, they are seeking a shoe that will relieve their pain, provide ankle or arch support, or a good training shoe to get back into running following an injury. Maybe a customer recently had major surgery and their PT recommended Fleet Feet to find a proper pair of shoes. Perhaps they’ve had a nagging injury for a while and are hoping a good pair of shoes is what they need. Regardless of their reason, I am eager and determined to help find the best shoes for them. As a future physical therapist, I want to provide the best care possible to anyone with pain or injury, even if that’s simply finding them the right pair of shoes. These shoes may only be part of the solution when it comes to addressing running-related injury. Through my experiences at Fleet Feet and knowledge as a student physical therapist, I’ve come to realize the importance of physical therapy to stay a healthy runner.
One’s feet are one of the most important body parts we use while running. Therefore, the type of shoe one uses to run is an extremely important decision. The foot moves three dimensionally during the running cycle. All of the foot’s muscles, bones, and ligaments move in a specific pattern. You can almost imagine it as a dance, with everyone’s feet needing to dance a little differently for the most efficient running form. If the bones, muscles, tendons and nerves within a foot are the dancers, then running shoes act as the stage on which the dancers perform. Some dancers may be big and strong, others may be weakened or injured and need a little more support from the shoes. Some shoes provide a softer and cushioned stage, while some are a little thinner and flexible. Some stages are meant for walking, daily running, or for race day. A stage that is too big or small may lead to a poor dancing performance and those dancers might end up becoming injured over time. Shoes can also impact the positioning of the knees, hips, and even back and either cause problems or alleviate them, depending on the type of shoes.
This analogy I have used reveals how many variables are taken into account when determining the right pair of shoes. When someone asks me at Fleet Feet, “What’s the best shoe you offer?” I cannot answer that question directly for them. I can narrow down the best possible choices for them, however. Their feet are the ones that determine which shoes are best. When a customer tries on shoes they love but cannot explain why, I think of this as the combination of the foot and shoe creating this beautiful and elegant dance while running or walking. All of the parts of the foot are moving the way they should, and the shoe is doing its job as a stage to facilitate that movement.
While spending time in physical therapy clinics, Fleet Feet and proper footwear has been brought up as well as the importance of proper shoes. The PT I was studying under spoke about how she often refers her patients to Fleet Feet, which is something I plan to do as a therapist. As I previously mentioned, running shoes can do great things, but they often cannot be a complete cure to one’s pain or injury. The injury may be too severe or complicated to be fixed by getting a new pair of shoes, and so this is where the expertise of a physical therapist is needed. It is encouraging to hear customers say they go to PT, as this will ultimately address the root of their health issues. However, my fellow co-workers and I will provide the best service to ensure customers walk out of our doors with a better pair of shoes than they walked in with.
Choosing the correct shoes impacted my performance in the Electric City 5-Miler this March. With the ongoing snowstorm, I brought two pairs of shoes with me to the race: a racing pair designed for road races that were much faster than the pair of everyday training shoes I warmed up in. There was a thin layer of snow starting to accumulate before the gun went off, so I went to see how my racing shoes would respond to the slippery conditions. After a few minutes I quickly realized my racing shoes had little to no traction in the snow and competing in them that day was not an option. Switching to my trainers offered better traction, realizing I needed to sacrifice some speed in order to stay on my feet during the race.
The gun went off with about a half inch of snow on the ground, and the wind aggressively blew snow into my sunglasses. I started off in third place, which I would go on to finish in, and quickly realized my choice of shoes put me at an advantage. I hung onto the top 2 for the first half, who I noticed were wearing the same racing shoes I decided to not wear. Because of my increased traction, whenever we came across a particularly snowy patch of road I closed in on the leaders, who I could tell were struggling to keep their footing. However, in patches where the road was clear I found myself losing ground and struggling to keep up. This fading and surging went on for the first couple of miles, which I found amusing at the time, seeing how a snowstorm can completely change the tactics of a race.
I fell off from the leaders and was alone the last half of the race, which is when the snowstorm really presented a challenge. Being local to the area, I knew the course very well and expected strong winds at miles 3 and 4. This is when my choice of shoes greatly paid off. As my legs fatigued, I used the extra traction I had to maintain the pace. Going by Collins Park and across the Western Gateway Bridge, I braced myself against the wind and hung on for dear life. With a half mile to go and running on empty, I fell going into a hairpin turn and found myself face down in the snow covered road. I stood up relatively quickly and sprinted as best I could the rest of the way for third, a place I was satisfied with.
While no one wants to fall during a race, I honestly expected to wipe out a few more times than I did. Reflecting after the race, I realized the shoes I chose were one of the reasons why I raced well. Despite being a technically slower pair of shoes compared to my racers, I chose the fastest pair of shoes for the snowy conditions.
My race is another example of how choosing the right shoes can impact one’s running. For me it was my racing performance in unusual racing conditions. However, one’s foot and ultimately whole body health can be impacted by a pair of running shoes. As important as choosing the right shoes can be, addressing running injuries can best be treated while working with a physical therapist.
Jake has kindly agreed to be a frequent contributor to The Pace Setter. His background as an elite runner, running shoe specialist, and student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Russell Sage College, makes him uniquely qualified to write columns that our readers will benefit from greatly.
Thanks, Jake for coming onboard.
Links to Relevant Pace Setter Articles
Owed to the Foot
Road to Running Shoes