by John Schrup
Keeping you healthy is pretty much all we think about here at Rogue. Sure, we train people for a broad variety of running events and we sell running stuff for those people and those events, but often I think that we are in the health care business. We don’t prescribe pharmaceuticals, we don’t diagnose diseases, but we are in the business of keeping people healthy. And we do it in a way that goes against conventional wisdom. Beg pardon? you ask. Sit back, drink this here espresso with heavy whipping cream, and listen up, buttercup.
Please let me offer two examples. Most people, when they go to the doctor for whatever the ailment (let’s say it’s back pain or strain) will return with some meds–some weapons grade ibuprofen or some other anti-inflammatory, a muscle relaxer, an opioid if you’re lucky. But almost certainly, you’ll get some sort of medication to mitigate the pain. And that’s good, short term. But the chances are that your doctor did not even begin to look at the root cause, the genesis of the pain. He fixed the symptom, but not the real problem. And so the chance that you will experience a related injury is high. On the other side of the medical coin, the wisest doctors will find the root of the problem and offer suggestions on how to eliminate or reduce it. It might be that your new job that requires you to sit in front of a computer for eight hours a day has exacerbated already weak back muscles because you slouch, or your desk is too high, or whatever. So from a competent PT you’ll get some exercises to strengthen the muscles and a lesson on structural alignment.
To bring it back to running, and with a congruent discussion, I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has come to us for shoes after having been to the podiatrist for, say, plantar fasciitis and was prescribed custom orthotics to correct the injury. The fact is that most running stores (and doctors for that matter) don’t take the time to consider the source of the injury. They are practiced in the quick fix so they can make money off you by selling you products, whether you need them or not. And then most of the time, in a number of weeks, the pain from the PF (I won’t even get into that it probably isn’t really even PF) has gone, and the runner is again back to training. But is the problem fixed? Did the doctor (or running store) even address the tight calves or weak posterior tibialis? Did the doctor address that a tight psoas or anteriorly rotated pelvis might be closer to the root cause? Did the doctor ask about anything other than the specific discomfort? The big picture is that they aren’t looking at the big picture and they aren’t looking at you as an individual. They are trying to fit you into their model, rather than fitting a model to you.
These differences in how you, the patient, are treated is not dissimilar to how we, Rogue, look at running injuries and footwear.
Let’s not let logic and reason get in the way of a good discussion, so let’s consider a couple of things. Since the early- to mid-70’s, when the running boom began (thank you, Mr. Shorter), and as the numbers of runners has increased exponentially, both the general population and the specialty running shoe have become bigger, heavier, less flexible and bulkier. The revisionist argument is that running shoes became more cushioned and bulkier because we became bulkier, so we needed more shoe, more cushioning, more stability. That argument is, to me, similar to the argument that someone who is diagnosed with, say, high cholesterol or high blood pressure should be prescribed medications to lower those numbers but not asked to change his or her diet and/or lifestyle first. The medications can provide quick reduction in those numbers, but if the patient doesn’t change his or her diet from eating processed and sugary foods, add even light exercise to a sedentary lifestyle or adopt some semblance of play into an over-booked existence, then the problem is never actually addressed. The symptoms have been corrected, but the real problem still exists.
The same goes for running shoes. A customer comes in with shin splints or some other, generic syndrome. In the antiquated model of shoe fitting that 95% of the running stores in the country use, they plug a stability shoe or an over-the-counter orthotic under your foot and, voila!, problem corrected. With the new model of shoe fitting, we have seen, through years of observation, experimentation and implementation, a reduction in running related injury rates from treating the problem and not the symptom. We found that, almost universally, a combination of increased general fitness and a reduced reliance on footwear as a corrective implement, runners will remain injury free longer and in turn, enjoy running more. The fundamental thing to remember is that if connective tissues are weak, they can be made stronger. Most running stores don’t consider this, so it doesn’t even cross their minds that the little injury that is bugging you can be remedied without changing your shoes.
It should seem a bit strange that a running specialty store would recommend that you, the runner, rely less on your running shoes. We make money selling running shoes. But we recognize that the products we sell are only a part of the equation. Our first job, our primary concern, is to help you enjoy your running, to get your daily endorphines. We can sell you a metric ton of products to make your running more enjoyable (more funner!), but we are doing you a disservice if we don’t address the fundamental issues that will help you become a happier runner.
And so we have determined that the least amount of shoe that you are comfortable wearing is the right shoe for you. Even the major shoe companies now admit that conventional running shoes are over-built and over-engineered and obstruct the natural mechanical function of the body. It is our belief that a running shoe that fits and feels in such a way that it almost disappears on the foot, that it feels like an extension of your foot or that is intuitively most comfortable will be the shoe that benefits you the most. But that is not the entire solution. Because we train thousands of people each year, we know that spending 3 minutes per day on foot drills, seven minutes per day on general, functional strength, and a focused change in nutrition intake will make you a better runner and a healthier, happier person.
So why does most of the running shoe industry continue to push heavy, bulky, overly cushioned and stability shoes? Jack, Jack. Money. The number one selling running shoe is the Brooks Adrenaline, a moderate to high stability shoe. Brooks ain’t about to tell you that, really, you don’t need the one thing that makes them the most money. They won’t say, oops, we were mistaken. Our number one selling shoe alternates between the Brooks Launch and the Brooks Ghost, a lightweight neutral and a neutral model respectively. It is true that the sales of neutral and lightweight shoes is increasing across the country, but still the great majority of running shoes sold are stability shoes. Wisdom travels slowly, apparently. Less that 20% of the shoes we sell are stability shoes, and most often those are sold because people ask for them.
3 out of 5 of our best selling shoes are what are marketed as lightweight or performance shoes. 50% of the shoes we sell are lightweight, performance or minimalist (I #@%$ing really dislike that term). We are not chasing your dollars, because the average cost of these models is a little more than $90. Only one in ten shoes will sell are high priced, high end, luxury shoes. Why? Because you just don’t need them. If you want that, I am more than happy to sell that to you. If you really, truly believe that if you don’t wear the ASICS Kayano, you will cease to exist as a runner, then I need you to have that shoe. I am of the belief that there are some situations in which if it isn’t absolutely necessary, then it is absolutely necessary not to have it.
I can count on one hand the number of times in the past year I have seen a customer who really, truly NEEDS a stability shoe. The number of people who come in the store and who have been told by other running stores that they over-pronate or require stability shoes is absurdly high. A customer will come in and tell me that they are an over pronator and then when we look at the movement in the lower leg and foot, we see ab.so.lute.ly nothing that could be, by any stretch of the imagination considered over pronation. Nothing. Yet someone well versed in such diagnoses at another running store tells them so. Buy, you say, they put me on a treadmill and videotaped me running and, etc., etc. Well that treadmill they put you on is one of the least efficient ways to monitor mechanics. Several years ago I spoke with the head of the Nike lab, arguably the best in the world. He said that they don’t use treadmills because they don’t give an accurate representation of a runner’s mechanics. The top independent labs don’t use treadmills, they watch people run across the ground, over force plates. So why do running stores continue to use treadmills? Two words: Marketing. Tool. Say it with me…WTF?
So we’re calling bullshit. Bullshit on the idea that you need more shoe, that you need more cushioning, more stability. Bullshit on running stores that that follow conventional wisdom, that don’t believe you can do it unless you have a certain type of shoe. Bullshit on the belief that need and want are the same thing.
That is not to say that a lower profile, more flexible, lighter shoe is your magic bullet. It isn’t. You are the magic bullet. You must make yourself structurally stronger and lighter if you are really going to make headway in reducing the risk of injury. And a lighter, more flexible shoe can be a tool in allowing you to do that. You must begin to look at your running shoes as tools that allow you to do something, and are not necessary for you to do something. You must recalibrate your idea of fitness. You must resist the urge to blame your injuries on a product. You must be wise in your approach to your training. You must allow your body to function as it was designed to function. You must nourish your body and mind with food, not food products. You must defy conventional wisdom. You must take responsibility for your own body. And no matter that you’ve never even walked around your block or jumped rope, you must have the unshatterable belief in yourself as an athletic being.