Running Shoes 101

It hurts and defies logic, really, to shell out $100 or more for new shoes when your current pair still looks good. You can probably get away with holding onto dress shoes a little longer but clinging to an old pair of athletic shoes too long can cost you plenty.
The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine reports that if runners don’t replace their shoes every 350 to 500 miles, they face a potential litany of injuries, including stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, shin splints and heel spurs. Exactly how long shoes will continue to provide the needed level of protection depends on individual size and weight.

Average runners pound their shoes on the ground around 700 times per mile so it doesn’t require an active imagination to see how shoes lose their shock absorption rather quickly. And once that occurs, it can change your stride and alignment, meaning pain and possible injury are just down the road.

So whether you’re a marathoner or you just like to take a spirited walk or light jog around the neighborhood, here’s what to keep in mind when you shop for new shoes:

Anatomy of a Running Shoe
The heart of running shoes is EVA, a polyurethane material that makes up the midsole, says Daniel Hortoin at Cincinnati’s Bob Ronker’s Running Spot, named the nation’s top specialty running store in 2008 by the Independent Running Retailer Association. The part of the shoe between the hard outer sole and the insole, the midsole delivers the protective spring and cushioning that keeps you running smoothly. It’s also the first part of the shoe to wear out, as its ability to rebound diminishes with miles logged. Hortoin explains that it’s the technical midsole or EVA upgrades to shoes that separate a manufacturer’s introductory model found at many big box chain stores and the higher-end shoes sold by running specialty stores. "Each brand has its specific technology and strategic placement of cushioning (like heel and forefoot gel pads)," says Hortoin, adding that plusher insoles with additional cushioning are a distinguishing characteristic of upper echelon running shoes as well.

Securing the Fit
To find the right shoe for you, Hortoin urges runners to take their old shoes with them to the store. Specialty retailers with knowledgeable sales associates will want to analyze your old shoes for clues to how you run.

"There is an ideal wear pattern we like to see that’s central as possible part in the shoe’s forefront with wear on the outside of the heel which is part of natural outward/inward roll as you run," he says. "If we see certain wear patterns that aren’t ideal, we can suggest a specific type of shoe to help correct it."

One common condition Hortoin and his colleagues at Bob Ronker’s see is excessive rolling or over-pronation, a potentially serious problem that frequently plagues runners (or walkers even) with flat feet. Pronation is the natural inward rolling of the foot as it strikes the ground, but when it’s too pronounced, it can lead to painful plantar fasciitis or long-term joint issues in knees or ankles. "If we see over-pronation patterns, we can suggest a shoe that adds stability and more rigid materials to the medial or inside to help control the motion."

Hortoin adds that when they measure feet for length and width, they look at arches because that can also dictate style and fit. "Some brands and models offer more arch support than others, and we also offer aftermarket inserts that provide additional support," he says of Bob Ronker’s, which has been selling running shoes since 1981.
Once you find a pair you like, the AAPSM suggests spending at least 10 minutes walking about the store in your new shoes and even running a block or two outside -- most good stores don’t mind. And once you make your purchase, resist the temptation to run a marathon in them, to avoid blisters and other race-day disasters. Break them in with a few short runs first to make sure they’re going to work for you.

Thickness of sports socks also can affect fit, so bring the socks you normally run in with you shopping. Synthetic fibers that wick moisture are recommended to avoid blisters.

Price Can Matter
Hortoin says that Bob Ronker’s generally stocks running shoes in the $80 to $150 range, and a pair that will work well for most runners can be found somewhere in the middle. "Price levels generally are a good indicator of quality in running shoes, and most runners should be able to get a good shoe at the $100 level."

Fit Your Bike For the Perfect Ride

Want to get more out of cycling? You’ll need to make your bike an extension of you. Here’s how.

The snow and ice have finally melted off the roads, and the wind cutting through the bike trails is morphing from stingy cold to balmy warm. And this year, you’ve decided you want to up your game on the two-wheeler from leisurely to somewhat more serious and maybe even Lance-like. Lucky for you, there’s a way to instantly improve speed, stamina and performance on a bike -- and it requires no exercise. It’s simply a matter of making a few adjustments to the handlebars and seat to get a more precise fit.

“A bike should feel like an extension of you as a rider,” says Christopher Kautz, who owns PK Cycling in the California Bay Area and also works as a professional … bike fitter.

That’s right, there are people who actually make a living customizing the settings on your bike so the cycle suits you perfectly. Their numbers are growing too, as pro cyclists and savvy recreational riders are realizing the importance -- and advantage -- of proper form and biomechanics.

Think about it: If you’re in a more powerful, aerodynamic and comfortable stance, you’ll be able to go faster and farther by using less energy, and feel less pain doing it. This concept isn’t rocket science, though the laser body measurements and fluid mechanics that fitters employ pretty much is.

Since you’re more likely a casual rider than the kind of pro who would actually need lasers aimed at the torso, all you really need is guidance on how to best set your bike yourself. Here’s how to modify your ride the DIY way:

1. Comfort is king.

“It should never hurt to sit on a bike, no matter what kind of rider you are,” says Kautz. “If your bike and body match, it definitely won’t hurt.” Some folks, though, try to soldier on -- even when they’re not fully at ease. “People sometimes tell me, ‘I can get used to this position.’ But you shouldn’t need to get used to anything.” So what’s a comfortable stance? When you’re gliding on a flat road, you shouldn’t feel any strain on your body at all -- it should relax and drape over the bike. How to achieve this? Read on.

2. Achieve optimal performance by adjusting seat height.

Proper leg extension is the initial step in maximizing power and comfort. Raise the seat enough so when you hit the bottom of a pedal stroke, you’re just barely extending that leg all the way. Craig Upton, a fitter and owner of Performance Labs in California, says people almost always ride a little too low. 

3. Don’t overreach.

If you need to stretch as far forward as possible to reach the handlebars, you may have a slightly more aerodynamic stance, but you won’t be able to steer or brake nearly as well -- or sit as comfortably. Adjust the seat forward so when you’re riding, your arms bend slightly. “Some people are timid down hills because they can’t quite reach the brakes. I’d also be hell-scared coming down a hill if I couldn’t reach the brakes,” says Upton.

4. Employ your body weight.

The biggest misconception riders have is that they should put no weight on the handlebars. “If you’ve got no weight on the front of the bike, you’ve got no steering,” says Upton. “You need some weight on the front wheel.” How much? Stand up and lean forward on a table, as if you’re reading a piece of paper there, keeping your arms slightly bent. “You know you can hold that position for a long time,” says Upton. That’s exactly the amount of weight you should have on the handlebars. To get it, just adjust the handlebar height.