I am always on the hunt for the best running shoe. It’s a little obsession of mine.
Why it matters so much to me is that a few years back I chose a super cushioned running shoe that impacted my foot’s ability to support itself and the arches of my feet began to weaken and fall which contributed to knee pain during my runs. Now I don’t think it was solely the shoe’s fault, I think it was that I wore that same runner for all my daily activities.
Thankfully I went to a physiotherapist when my knee pain first began who informed me of my fallen arches and I immediately began to fix it. How I fixed it is further down this article.
For years and years I was loyal to the Asics Kayano, which is a huge stability shoe. I have run many races in various versions of this make and model. Never failed me. I then switched to the Altra Torin a couple of years ago and used it for everything: standing on the gym floor for hours on end, teaching fitness classes, personal training clients, strength training, walking the dog, and running. I still think it’s probably an excellent shoe, but not for all the different physical activities I was using it for.
After that visit with the physio I began to do more Pilates, especially reformer work as there is an amazing footwork series at the beginning of most reformer sessions that is perfect for strengthening feet and ankles. I also began my hunt for better shoes for me that allow my feet to be supported, but are flexible enough to allow my feet to work and stay strong.
I switched to the New Balance Minimus, which is a minimalist shoe, for teaching fitness classes and personal training, and I chose the Hoka Clifton for my running shoe. This switch, plus all my foot strengthening activities (lots of toe squishes with a towel plus Pilates foot work) healed my fallen arches issue.
But my knee pain in my left knee persisted, much to my dismay. So I researched and discovered the idea of proper running form. Before this, I accepted the mainstream idea that everyone had their own unique running form and you just needed the correct shoe for your certain style of running and you would be all set.
But that doesn’t really make sense, does it? I wouldn’t teach other physical activities that way. I don’t teach Pilates and strength training that way. If I see a client moving in a way that I know would cause an overuse injury, I would immediately help them find better form. Not perfect, but better, this is an important distinction, as perfection doesn’t exist…but that is another blog post for another day.
I began to try the method of running I coach today and it solved my knee pain. As long as I keep the focus on correct running form (especially not heel striking and shortening my stride to allow forefoot strike) my knee pain doesn’t re-surface. As soon as I get a little lazy and heel strike, pain in my knee and hip persist.
But this article is about my journey of running shoes so let’s begin.
A quick history of shoes: oldest known shoes are 9000 years old. From then to about 100 years ago, shoes were designed for two purposes: protect from the elements and provide some traction. In the 70s and 80s when running started to become popular, common overuse injuries popped up. Shoe companies began to develop running shoes to help with the running form issues, like heel striking and over pronation/supination of the foot. But really, running shoes can’t make up for incorrect running form…we need to fix this issue first, like my flat feet and my over striding.
I mentioned the Asics Kayano. I used this solid shoe for years and years. Provides lots of comfort and advanced support and stability. I don’t recommend it though, because it has a large heel and it’s hard to forefoot strike in it.
The Altra Torin has a massive sole so it provides lots of cushioning. It’s a zero drop, meaning the drop from the heel to the toe is level. It’s good for pavement running, but not trail running. I would only recommend this runner for those who get super sore feet from running.
The New Balance Minimus is one of my favourites. I love this runner. I wear it mainly for personal training and strength training. I have gradually built up the strength in my feet to walk, hike, and run short distances on trails with this runner. I am on my third pair. Love it.
The Hoka Clifton is another one of my favourites for running. It has a huge sole and is super cushiony. It has a 5mm drop, meaning the heel is 5mm higher than the toe box, which is about half of regular runners. The way the sole is curved allows me to feel a rolling effect on the foot, which I like. I don’t run in these often anymore because the extra cushion gives blisters on the balls of my feet. Sad, but true. It’s a common complaint when I read other reviewers. However, my sister has these and doesn’t get blisters, and is enjoying using them.
The Inov-8 Bare-XF is very minimal in its design. For me, almost too minimal. If I am not mindful, my foot slams into the ground and I feel massive jarring in my joints. There is a thin layer of sole with no support. I don’t mind it as I only use this runner for teaching low impact fitness classes indoors and personal training, but I find the toe box squashes my toes and I feel pinching in them, which is uncomfortable.
The Altra Escalante is a newer runner for me. I like it, it’s springy. I find it’s a good choice for pavement and cement, but not for trails. I find its cushion makes me wobbly when running on trails and my ankles work overtime to help stay stabilized.
The Altra Lone Peak is a very new runner for me. Just used it once this morning. Loved it on my favourite Fort to Fort trail. It has some serious traction that really helped me motor on my run on dirt. I also enjoy Altra’s wider toe box. I am not sure yet, but I felt like my toes got a bit sensitive from the spikes on sole, almost like they were poking through. But I need more trail runs to make sure.
I purchased the Xero Prio online, it hasn’t arrived yet. I worry it’s going to feel like the Invo-8 runner I have, but I noticed online the Prio seems to have a wider toe box, like Altra’s. I will update this article as soon as I have run in it a few times.
Bottom line: a running shoe is not going to minimize your chance of injury. Only you can do that, by focusing on your running form and only very gradually adding mileage and speed for your body to adapt. But a running shoe can lead to poor running form, like if the heel is too high it could lead to heel striking. Or in my case, the shoe had too much cushion and I wore it for too long, which caused my foot to become weak.