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Running Shoes and GPS watches: Two of the greatest yet worst things to happen to the sport of running.

What? I love my Garmin!!! How could you say that!!!

Many runners eye’s are glued to the “pace” which dictates their running.

I’m sure most of you reading this experienced the above thought. Why would I comment negatively on a GPS watch? Sure you may understand my opinion of running shoes, but really? Garmin’s now? I’m sure you will agree after your hear my thoughts.


Many of you who follow me and read my articles etc, understand my position on running shoes. They matter almost as much as the shirt on your back does when it comes to running. (I do have a lot of favorite shirts in my closet that I prefer to run in!!) As for shoes, they tend to interfere with form. I posted a picture earlier this week on Twitter that was of an early Nike Waffle Racer.

The vintage Nike Waffle Racer

So much has changed since this shoe was constructed. We have gone from a flat shoe with minimal cushion, to a rigid soled shoe with “marshmallows” on the heel placing the foot in a severely angled position. In fact the owner of this Nike (works at a speciality running shoe store) had explained to me over the years he has seen injuries such as Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis peak and diminish according to the way running shoes were being constructed.

What many runners out there fail to realize is that a running shoe should allow you run, not enable you to run. In other words, the foot has many mobile joints that need to function to allow for shock absorption and proper function. As soon as we interfere with this process by controlling or inhibiting motion, problems start to occur. As a surgeon, I perform a procedure know as a subtalar joint arthrodesis. It is basically a fusion (adhering the joint ends permanently) of the subtalar joint to prevent motion from occurring to the joint. This is reserved for end stage arthritis where any available motion is painful. When we perform these, one of the first things that we stress to the patient is that they may end up with problems elsewhere because anytime motion is inhibited in one joint, force will be placed to other areas. This can be the other joints in the foot, or many times the knee or hip. The same process, although to a smaller degree, happens when we begin inhibiting motion with running shoes and orthotics. I have seen remarkable changes in my practice when we get runners to focus on form as opposed to footwear. It is amazing to see how well the body can function and perform when we let it work the way it was designed.

Now onto the watches.

GPS Watches
The majority of my running has been done pre GPS. How did people do this? What did we base our workouts on? Time and also distance. We then figured our pace out when we finished. Get it? When we finished. Not during our run, and definitely not before it! Speed or pace was based upon how we felt. If it was a nice day and the music on our heavy Sony Walkmans was fitting, we sped up. If it was a long day and feelings of tiredness ran through our legs, we slowed down. What happens today? Most of us stare at a GPS watch and say, “I feel like crap but I should be able to maintain a 9:00 minute mile!” We push ourselves, maintain the desired “pace” and then go home and post it to Facebook. Sound familiar? Or we gauge our desired pace on what our friends pace is. “So and so runs an 8:30 pace so I should be able to!” Then there is the infamous long run on Sunday that most try to dial into race pace for 18-20 using their Garmin’s because they need to “run this fast” on race day.” Unfortunately that’s not how it works. If it were, why not mentally focus on a  5:00 mile pace and head to the Olympics? Our body’s develop and improve aerobically in response to training at an aerobic zone. This can be determined through multiple ways, but ultimately is based on age and followed by one’s heart rate. Utilizing the Maffetone method (click here for more information ) of 180-age, a 35 year old would train aerobically at 145 beats per minute. A minimum 80 percent of this persons weekly runs should be at this heart rate regardless of pace. A runner with a “poor” aerobic base should perform all of their runs in this range. When it comes time to train for a race, incorporating tempo runs and speed workouts can be added, depending on ones goal or race distance. It is important to understand that speed will develop despite the slow pace one is running. Remember, your building an aerobic base to carry you farther at a given pace. For example, any given runner may be able to run an 8:00 mile, but how far can they carry that pace? Running 8:00 miles over and over again attempting to gradually increase the amount you can do will do nothing more then burn a runner out and out at risk for overuse injury. Building a strong aerobic base instead can help one then carry that 8:00 pace over a longer distance.

So, ditch the stability running shoes, learn good form, and leave the Garmin behind and listen to your body.

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