Posted by Andy Gerlach on Jul 22nd 2021

​If The Shoe Fits, Or Doesn't

A gentle reminder that small differences in equipment can make large differences in your daily enjoyment. 

I've been spending this spring and summer trying to regain some form of fitness that I had in previous decades. I have been diligently running and riding again. All in all, it has been going very well. Most weeks I have felt better than the previous one. Who could ask for more? Still, some days though, I had ackey joints after a long or hard endeavor, but nothing unexpected and nothing that did not subside with a little bit of time. I ordered two great pair of running shoes designed for the forefoot striker that I am and started alternating between them. I would wear one pair when I ran from home and one pair when I would run from my car on a more distant “adventure” location. I am a huge proponent of alternating between shoes of slightly different designs to decrease chance of overuse injuries as each shoe model allows you to rotate off your foot and leg differently.

As I upped the miles, I started having knee pain now and again. It was happening both when running and riding. But it always subsided soon thereafter, and it seemed to come on after I had crawled around the back of my daughter’s van to repair something--so wrote it off to crawling around. 

In June, I traveled to France for two weeks ran with no knee pain. "Great" I thought, "no more crawling and no more knee pain. Problem solved." I returned home and the knee pain started popping up again. Time for deeper analysis. 

On one particularly long run I analyzed the pain and realized that, as I got tired, I got lazy in my stride and started twisting during foot strike and push off. If I ran straight, pain disappeared. If I got lazy and twisted, knee pain came on. 

"Great", I thought, "just run with better form." The next day I focused on the same thing but in the second pair of shoes and discovered that it was much easier to run pain free. These shoes were very flexible just like pair 1, as my stiff flat feet like flexible shoes, but offered much more torsional rigidity than pair 1. 

This slight improvement in torsional rigidity made all the difference in aiding me in a straighter 'toe off' and to run pain free. ...And yes pair 2 were the shoes I was running in when I was completely pain free in France. 

In cycling I realized that If I tightened my shoes around my foot I would also ride pain free but if I let the shoe loose I would get sloppy in my gait and experience knee pain. I am now running and riding pain free again. After these discoveries, I've updated my gear so that now I have two pair of different running shoes that are forefoot flexible but both torsionally stiff. Now I'm alternating between them pain free.

What is the point of this long-winded message? The point is: do not underestimate slight differences in equipment. I had two great shoes that were very similar but one tiny feature made one work for me and one not work for me. If you have knee, leg, or joint pain see a shoe specialist and have your gait examined before you see a doctor. Small changes in shoes can make a huge difference.

Andy at SkiPost