Shoe Talk with Jimmy Williams, PT, DPT & Kate Reese of Brooklyn Running Co
With fall races in full swing, I had a chat with Kate who is the footwear buyer of Brooklyn Running Co regarding all things shoe-related. We talk about carbon-plated shoes, how/when to pick your next pair of running shoes & what the shoe-fitting process looks like at BRCo.
The Pendulum of Running Footwear
Trends in running shoes seem to swing back and forth on a never ending pendulum. Remember the book “Born to Run”? Well, after that book came the introduction of minimalism to the shoe market. Everyone remembers the 5-finger shoes, the rise of Altra & Topos and additions of minimal shoes to already well-known shoe companies. Kate & I discussed that although there are many benefits to wearing minimalist shoes with wide toe box to improve foot function, most runners were not ready for such a huge shift from their higher stack/ toe drop sneakers. This led to many bone stress injuries along with Achilles tendon/calf issues which opened the floodgates for the maximalism movement. Hoka One One has now entered the chat. They took advantage of the increase in injuries among runners and swung the pendulum to the other side with their high cushion shoe options. These seemed like a gift to many runners as more cushion = less impact, right? Well, the shoe market followed the trend and now you see that most shoe brands have several options of a high stack, maximal cushioned shoe. However, this was not the end all be all as we still have runners dealing with injuries. Then came the Rio 2016 Olympics. The top three men in that race all wore a maximal cushioning shoe that had something new, a carbon plate along with incredibly reactive foam. World records began to fall in endurance running and pretty soon, it was hard to spot someone at a race not wearing these shoes. The market once again reacted and most shoe companies have their own carbon plated long distance racing shoe. Now, you could argue that this isn’t the full pendulum swing as these still have relatively high stack height and aren’t the typical “racing flat” which was basically a thin layer of cushion with a sock like upper on top. The point that I’m making here is that running shoes are constantly changing, evolving and reacting to the market, however we still see that runners continue to be injured. Remember, our shoes are our main piece of equipment for running and in many sports, the equipment isn’t to blame for our injuries.
Tools in the Toolkit
Most runners utilize one pair of shoes for all of their runs, which as long as they are properly fitted is A-ok. But for the experienced runner or second time marathoner, Kate notes that it is a good idea to have more than one style of shoe, one as a lighter/more flexible shoe that you can wear for faster workouts such as track intervals or tempo runs and another that is more cushioned to utilize during your long & easy runs. As Kate said, “Having two shoes of different stack heights, heel to toe drops, and weights provides an optimal tool for the run that you’re heading out for.” In a study by Sun et al., 2020, researchers found that a lighter weight, more minimal shoe helped improve running economy (how efficient you are) and a more cushioned shoe helped decrease loading forces on the body. It may be time for you to have the “Two Shoe Talk” the next time you go into a running store.
Is the Carbon-Plated Shoe Worth All the Hype?
Ever since that Rio Olympics marathon, it is hard to find runners at a race not wearing a carbon-plated shoe. There have been continued studies to show how a carbon plated shoe may increase your running economy & decrease your loading forces during a race by as much as 2-3% depending on your running form/mechanics. On a personal note, I use carbon shoes to race in, however there is a high cost for using these “super shoes.” These shoes change your impact mechanics, loading forces and overall running gait which leads to faster times but you feel like a train wreck the next day and oftentimes have niggles or injuries that you hadn’t had before. These shoes serve as a purpose, to help you PR and that only works if you’re running at a certain pace threshold. For instance, these shoes may help a 3 hour marathoner go under that threshold and hit a BQ but they have less benefits for the 5 hour marathoner that is looking to shave off some time. The cost/benefit of these shoes must be put into consideration and if you’re looking to try one out before your fall marathon, now is the time to get them and try them for your next marathon paced workout to see how your body responds. Not every shoe works for every person and that goes double for these carbon plated super foam shoes.
Upcoming Marathons & Shoe Selection
With fall marathon season in full swing, the age old question arises. Which shoe should I wear for my marathon? The answer isn’t always so simple. If you have one single pair of shoes that you’ve used in your training then those would be ideal. Most runners have our “toolkit” of running shoes and have multiple options as to what they should wear. Ideally, your marathon race shoe should be the shoe that you have performed marathon pace workouts in, not necessarily the shoe you ran all of your long runs in. This is also determined by the individual’s goals where if you’re looking to finish then a more cushioned shoe may be the better choice but if you have PB or BQ aspirations then a lighter, racing shoe may be the way to go. Kate recommends that now is the time to go get a pair of shoes that you don’t already have if you’re planning on using it for the race. During the taper period of a race, it’s important to keep all variables constant, which includes running shoes. Two weeks before the race is not when you want to buy a new shoe to use for your marathon, there’s not enough time to test how the shoe feels during a marathon pace workout or how your body responds to using the new shoe. It’s just too close to the race to risk it.
What a Shoe Fitting Looks Like at Brooklyn Running Co
Brooklyn Running Company is a brick and mortar running store that specializes in not only fitting runners for their new pair of shoes but also educating customers on the sport. Kate says, “It’s part of our core philosophy to have the fit process be a collaborative conversation with the customer to educate not only about footwear & running related products but their body and the way they move.” Their evaluation includes talking about previous injuries, goals for training and then observing basic movement patterns such as walking, single leg balance, squat & mini-squat. This process allows them to fit the footwear to the person rather than trying on a random assortment of shoes. I personally had my life completely changed by an experience at a locally owned running store and fully believe that the knowledge that the employees possess goes far beyond the cost of a pair of sneakers or some apparel.