When it comes to running, choosing the correct footwear is critical
19 February 2019
In this first of six in a series of blogs from ‘the People’s Coach’, Coach Campher, he covers the practicalities of putting your best running feet forward to help make your OMTOM 2019 experience as smooth as possible. He’ll also be your coach on the ground on Race Day, so feel free to make your way to him if you’re having a bit of a running battle getting to the finish line
By: Coach Petrus Campher*
Wearing faultily fitting socks or shoes will lead to a marathon experience that’s more blister-filled than blissful. Make sure you don’t come undone like a loosely tied pair of shoelaces by following these easy to understand tips, tricks and techniques.
Strangely, most people think the topic of ‘footwear’ for runners is simply about shoes. This is not the case as you need to put some effort and smarts into selecting the right pair of socks, too!
As a result, we’ll talk about the following:
- Socks – why they’re almost as important as your shoes and how they should fit.
- Shoes – what to keep in mind when purchasing a pair that’s right for you.
- Laces – don’t get your feet in a bind.
Socks – the right pair should be snug, not sliding up and down
You may not realise it, but once you find the correct fit, it will knock your socks off. A bad pair of socks will easily undo the good that comes from a great pair of shoes. Look for these criteria:
- They must work with your shoe to provide you with good cushioning, especially in the toe and heel areas. The sock cushioning helps to absorb the impact of your weight against the surface, although there are also other factors that can affect the impact. The effect of the running motion means that the impact on your feet and joints can be up to three times your weight. So, the more padding and shock absorption, the better. It is critical to preventing injury.
- If your socks don’t fit properly and allow for too much sliding up and down, this could cause friction and lead to blisters. The opposite movement of your socks and shoe often causes blisters between your toes and the ball of your feet. It can even be so severe as to cause your toenails to fall off.
Sock materials – do they matter?
Many years back the debate was between cotton or polyester, with polyester coming later and being more expensive. Although cotton has received a bad rap in recent years given the dawn of new sock technology, many older athletes – including myself – still prefer cotton socks. In my experience coaching athletes, cotton socks tend to result in fewer blisters.
How much wear you get out of a pair of cotton socks greatly depends on how much foot movement there is when you run. This, in in turn, depends on your running style.
Polyester was always more expensive, and still is. More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better protection from chaffing and blisters, though.
Modern blends are excellent but cost can be a factor. The padding is advanced and the thread technology is designed to act like a plaster wrap that protects your joints.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours. One preference won’t suit every runner. Just make sure you start your training on the right foot by putting some effort into your sock selection.
So, what should you do if you get a blister?
Pricking the blister makes it worse. Leave the blister to heal on its own. Of course you could seek medical treatment, but if you don’t have the finance or like going to doctors, you can expect the blister to heal in a few days. You can still train with your blister and even run with it, but it does depend on where the blister is situated. If your blister is between your toe and the ball of your foot, you can still run.
If it hurts too much and you want to run, change your running style. If it’s on your arch, you’ll be forced to run on the ‘outside’ of your feet so the best is not to run. It’s fine to carry on with other training exercise though.
Footloose and fancy free – should you run barefoot?
Yes, probably! There’s zero reason to think that running barefoot will lead to injury. So, should you not have access to shoes immediately, don’t let this hold you back.
However, the modern practice is to wear a good running shoe to protect your feet and to buy a shoe that supports your running style, general gait and foot placing.
Factors to consider when you decide on your shoe purchase
- Do a foot assessment before buying your shoes. Make sure that the assessment involves analysing your walk, your slow run, your stride running, your hill running, medium run and tempo run. You should be able to do this foot assessment at the sports clothing store where you are intending to buy your running shoes, or you could invest in consulting technical experts at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA).
Be careful of where you go for your foot and shoe assessment. Make sure the assessor is knowledgeable and not merely trying to sell you a shoe. Don’t be dazzled by the cool design at the top of the shoe; what you want to look for is the mid-sole at the bottom as that’s where most of the cushioning is.
A good shoe assessor will ask you if you’re currently injured and for your injury history. They’ll also want to know where you run the most, what your goals are and how experienced you are as a runner. A less experienced runner may not have perfected a neutral gait yet, and need more protection as a result. This is why a good shoe assessor should ask these questions.
They should also be able to show you how your answers influence the type of shoe they are suggesting to you. Read up on a handful of shoe variations in the brand you like before the time, and you read up about road racing in general, such as by signing-up here for the latest in running from adidas. With a little bit of logic, you’ll then easily be able to spot if an assessor actually knows their stuff or not when making recommendations based on your personal set of circumstances.
- Don’t buy a shoe just because it’s called a cross-training shoe. That’s kind of like learning to drive on a car but expecting to pass a pilot’s flying test. I like to think of these as ‘gangster’ shoes – all this is good for is helping you run away from the track quickly when your coach is irritating you, or after a bad race! Buy a proper running shoe.
- A reputable running shoe is great, but it doesn’t always necessarily follow that the most expensive running shoe is the best shoe for you. You’ll know when you’re dealing with a good brand when they have a variety of running shoes to choose from, and can describe the running conditions the shoe is made for or give you exact details on for whom the shoe is best suited to.
- If you buy a shoe for a particular race, try to start running in it two to three months before your race. You want to aim for about 720 km in your shoes, including speedwork, come your race.
- If it were up to me, everyone would run with neutral shoes – in other words, without a bias of support on the left or right side, depending on your foot placing. A neutral gait is one in which your ankles, knees and hips all align with your arch moving from side to side only a little. The issue, then, is foot placing, not your shoe. Foot placing can be transformed with training so it stays neutral, without having to be rectified by a shoe.
Lace up properly without getting your feet into a knot
Ideally, when you buy your shoe, the in-store shoe advisor or technician should also give you some advice on how to tie your laces for a marathon. My advice is fairly simple: however you tie them, do not tie them too tightly.
- When you tighten your laces, leave slight space for foot movement. When you run on a flat surface, your foot will tend to move in all directions in your shoes.
- If your laces are too tight, you’ll minimise your foot movement and risk picking up and injury in the process.
- Some such injuries can take you out of the sport for months if not treated properly. Here we’re talking shin splints; calf injuries and injuries that can ultimately work their way up to causing lower back problems. When preventing or treating injury, always follow the kind of professional and scientific advice from a leading trusted sports medical specialist such as at SSISA.
- If your laces come loose while you’re running, tighten it the same as before – do not try and compensate by tying it more tightly this second-time round. Remember that as you’ve run, your feet have actually gone through a few phases such as being swollen and sweaty and need to ‘breathe’.
To sum up, starting off on the right foot with the correct choice of shoe and sock is critical. Not tying your laces too tightly is an important factor that is often overlooked. This is a basic given, and you should not take any shortcuts or underestimate the make-or-break impact on your run.
*Have a question for Coach Campher? We’ll get them to Coach and come back with his answers. Email email@example.com
*Don’t forget, for OMTOM 2019, Coach will be running on the ground with you should you need little #RunAsOne help getting to the finish line. You can also catch him at the Expo – details coming soon.
*Coach Petrus Campher is a community, ASA and club coach as well as a WPA technical officer. You’ll often find him training at Rondebosch Common and may have bumped into him at Vygieskraal stadium in Athlone or at a training session in Manenberg, or seen him recently at the Green Point or Parow athletics tracks.