We're a little less than a month away from the official start of our eight-week triathlon training program -- that means it's time to evaluate your fitness level and make sure you'll be ready to go on Day 1 of training. (For those who haven't peeked at the plan, that means you should be able to jog for 30 minutes at a time, two days a week.)
If you haven't been for a run in ages, now's the time to start working your way up to this level. And even if you have been running, it's a good time to evaluate your footwear and make sure the shoes you're wearing are keeping you comfortable and injury-free.
Walk into any running or sports store and it's enough to make you dizzy -- so many shoes, so many colors and styles, so many different price points; how do you decide? I'm not going to give you actual product recommendations, because what works for me may not work for you. But there are a few things you can do to make sure you get the best shoe for you.
Get to Know Your Feet
First things first: Go to a running or triathlon-specific store, rather than a general sporting goods or shoe store, if you have one in your area. These salespeople are trained to get you in the shoe that's going to work best for you as a runner, and many stores will even test you out on an in-store treadmill to analyze your gait and running patterns.
But even before that, there are things you can do at home to learn more about these incredible instruments that will eventually carry you across the finish line. One of those is the "wet test," which will give you a good idea whether you're an over- or under-pronator -- in other words, whether your foot rolls inward, rolls outward, or stays neutral while you walk or run. This will determine what type of support you need in your shoes.
This article suggests checking out your footprints on the bathmat after you get out of the shower; I've also done the wet test on a brown paper bag. You can even trace the outline of your foot and take it in to your running store -- chances are this isn't the first time an experienced salesperson is seeing something like this!
What About Those Barefoot Shoes?
Another thing you can learn about your running technique is whether you tend to land on your heel or your mid-sole. Sprinters and people who run barefoot tend to land lightly on the balls of their feet (but not their toes), and research has shown that this way of running is much less stressful on the body than landing hard on your heels. Take notice the next time you go for a jog, or ask a friend to watch your footfalls.
Those trendy minimalist shoes help train you to land on the balls of your feet. But the downside is that if you wear them and continue to land hard on your heels, you'll be very uncomfortable -- and at even greater risk for injury. Most traditional running shoes, on the other hand, have a built-up, cushioned heel to protect heel strikers from injury and discomfort. (How well they actually protect you, however, is a matter of much debate in the running world.)
If you've been running with no injuries or no discomfort, there's probably no reason for you to change shoes or worry about your stride. But if you've experienced injuries -- or are curious about how to switch up your running technique -- ask a salesperson about a shoe that can train you to gradually transition to mid-sole running.
Note my stress on the word gradually: Running in these shoes works entirely different muscles than walking, and you'll need to build up strength and endurance slowly. (The first time I went running in my Merrell Pace Gloves -- which I now love -- I overdid it and my calves ached for a week!)
Stick with It
Once you find the right shoe for you, you can likely continue buying the same brand and model over and over again. Because they'll change little from year to year, it cuts down on the time needed to break in a new pair. Replace shoes every 350 to 550 miles (write the date you bought them on the bottom in permanent marker so you have a good idea of how many miles you've logged), or when you notice significant or very uneven wear on the treads.
That's what I love most about running shoes: For the last four years, I've walked into my local running store and asked for the same pair of shoes every time (they're Mizunos, if you're wondering) -- no trying stuff on, no picking out a color, no decisions to be made. They even know me well enough now that they'll let me know when my shoes are going on sale, so I can stock up!
What shoe-buying conundrums have you come across in your run training? Have you found a pair that works great for you? Share your thoughts here or on our triathlon discussion board!
Amanda MacMillan is a freelance writer, currently blogging about planning an budget- and eco-friendly wedding at LeanGreenBride.com. She has completed three Olympic-distance triathlons and several half marathons, and is looking forward to her first sprint tri this fall with Team Whole Living. Her triathlon training blog runs every Thursday on Whole Living Daily.