By “Sherpa” John Lacroix
In December 2012, I finally had this testing done on myself. I went into a local RoadRunner Sports running store, where a sales associate welcomed me into the store and immediately offered me a free gait analysis. I balked at the idea at first. Why? Because since I began running in 2004, I had yet to have something like this ever done. I’m the kind of guy who believes, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” I’ve put plenty of shoes on my feet that have hurt or simply didn’t fit right. I’ve done enough trial and error to know what size shoe fits me just right, what I’m comfortable in, and what helps me get the job done. But still…. I had to finally do it. So I agreed.
We started by having me step on a pad where my balance can be assessed by a computer. In mere seconds, a computer generated elevation map showed where I place all of my weight, which was on my heels. I already knew this. The associate asked me if I thought I had high arches, medium arches or low arches. I’ve always known I had medium arches. I didn’t need the computer generated readout to tell me so, but it begged me to ask… how many people can accurately answer that question? And, shouldn’t this “expert” be able to tell me that information? That’s why I’m here! Still.. I answered, “Medium,” and the associated confirmed my option with a touch of the screen. He then asked me what size shoe I am, to which I answered “Eight and a half.” He replied, “want to bet a dollar?” He measured my feet and loudly proclaimed for the entire store to hear that I am a 9.5 and he recommended that I wear a size 10. Now, this… just got interesting.
I got onto the treadmill and allowed the associate to assess my gait and stride. I ran, barefoot, on the treadmill and a short video was taken. I’ve worn stability shoes for years (because that’s what I’ve always been comfortable in) and guess what, after watching the video and offering his “expert” opinion, he confirmed what I all ready knew. I need a stability shoe. But I had a question. Why did he have me run on the treadmill barefoot? I think we all can agree that our strides differ between when we are barefoot or shoed. I wonder what the results would have been had I wore a pair of shoes.
I’ll admit it.. I was impressed that this associate was able to adequately determine that I have medium arches and require a stability shoe via the bells and whistle diagnosis provided in store. But I’m no size 10. In arguing the point that I wear 8.5’s, the associate asked me how many toe nails I’ve lost. To which I replied 3… ever (This is still true after 14 years of running). All three times that I’ve ever lost a toenail from running, it was from running 100 milers. The fist 2 times on a saturated course that offered no chance at dry feet. The 3rd and final time after having kicked a rock like a Pele soccer shot at Massanutten. That’s it. Still, the associate prescribed me a pair of insoles for my shoes (which I don’t need), and that I wear a size 10 shoe… Size 10. Which is a half size larger than what he measured me at and a whole 1.5 sizes larger than what I’ve worn for years, and am comfortable in.
Over the years, I started to think about how dangerous this practice actually is. And I wondered how many runners out there had received a diagnosis and prescription from their local running store only to get injured or their issues to get worse?? This frightens me, and it frightens me how much trust consumers put into the meager store associate. These associates are none of the professions I listed in the previous paragraphs. They are not qualified to give a prescription for anything. However, I can agree that the more a runner repeats the process, looking at countless gaits, strides, feet, etc.. the more of an education they get through a prolonged case study, and the more they are likely to get it right. But let’s be honest.. there aren’t a whole lot of full time running store associates at the bigger stores like Boulder Running Company and RoadRunnerSports. Most of the folks who work there are part time high school or college athletes who know about as much about stride and footwear, as Trump knows about living in poverty. So then I ask.. if they prescribe me a pair of shoes and an insert and I get hurt, can I now sue them for malpractice? The actual legal answer, might surprise you!
Check this out. In this article from February 2011, we learned that a woman was suing Sketchers with the claim that their Shape Up shoes cause hip fractures. I am more interested in the paragraph further down in the article where they discuss how Sketchers never did any research studies to see if their shoes caused injury. Funny… because they also never did a study to prove that their shoes actually cause you to get in better shape. Yet.. sales associates “prescribed” the shoes to consumers convincing them that they’ll help them “tone up” and “feel great.” Hmmm… Check THIS out! Then of course there was that whole Vibram Hullaballoo. It makes me wonder if similar suits could be brought up against companies who have created the new high cushion shoe craze, since I very much doubt that they too did any research on if their shoes caused injury. The thought that we could sue is good food for thought on the enormity of the mistakes they could be making and how it could cripple your running experience.
But this brings me back to the running stores. How the hell can a sales associate, who went to a weekend seminar on runner analysis, properly assess your running form and then decide to prescribe you a pair of shoes? I think back to when I first started running. My legs and ass always hurt from running when I first started. As did my feet, knees, hips, etc… I didn’t go to a running store for a form analysis! I went to an athletic trainer who has a degree in the study of human kinetics. There is where I got my form and gait analysis, and the prescription was not a different pair of shoes or inserts. It was exercise. It was working out in the gym to strengthen the many muscles I had neglected in my training, that in turn, cause poor running form and a whole host of ailments. AMAZING! So I ask again.. how are running store associates getting away with this?!
These thoughts all brought me back to the whole barefoot running and “minimalist” running craze that had swept across the country and perhaps beyond. If you look at the research on the Harvard website (and watch the videos), and if you read Born to Run a bit closer… it’s not running barefoot that is the focus of the studies. It’s the idea of running with a forefoot or mid foot stride and how cushioning in running shoes has caused us to be heel strikers… You know, Lazy. So why the hell was everyone buying these minimalist shoes and running barefoot expecting this to be the magical prescription that causes them to change their stride?
The real work, needs to be done in the gym and in the mind. Focus, concentration, true form analysis by a trained and educated professional followed by the strengthening of muscles which cause our poor form. Yes.. I know, running barefoot helps us strengthen muscles in the foot and leg.. but you don’t need a special shoe to get it done. This same thought process was reversed by the creators of Hoka. Two men who used to work for Salomon, but left to start Hoka; a shoe they designed in order to allow them to run on rugged trails while still heel striking. As the barefoot running craze waned and all but ended, the max cushion shoe (with zero drop) is now all the rage. I run in Altra’s on trails and Topo’s on the road. Neither shoe offers max cushioning (but man does that Altra feel much nicer on my feet). I get to the gym for ross training, and I work specifically on my weakest areas while there. A shoe will not cure your running ailments… they’re a band-aid put over the real root of the cause. Those of you getting your free advice from the part time running shoe associate are getting what you pay for.. (It’s free by the way); while those who are paying for an athletic trainer to truly analyze their gait, stride, form, strengths and weaknesses… are truly getting an education, and becoming better athletes.
Lastly, runners need to keep in mind that the individuals who design running shoes switch companies often. They often take many of their ideas, views, and nuances with them to their next shoe company. This is why the development/make-up of shoes change so often and from year to year. There are a few brands who seem to keep the same developers, or the developers are the owners, who we’d most recommend you try and stick with. Those would be Hoka, Altra, and Topo. The rest of em.. well.. Just like Pearl Izumi, they an screw ya over night. Beware.
I haven’t had a gate analysis done since that one in December 2012. I worked at the Boulder Running Company in Boulder for a short time.. but left. There are two running stores in the Front Range that HPRS works with. Runner’s High in Golden is owned and operated by Ken and Deb Pliska. Those two folks are top notch peeps with a vast depth of knowledge on shoes and running. They even got married at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, where Ken was 2nd American Male in 2004. The second store is RNK Running and Walking in Parker, co-Owned and operated by Trent Briney who once ran on the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project. You want professionals who know running, training, gait and form analysis at a running store.. these are the people to see. Be wary of the high schooler or college athlete.. they’ve a long way to go.
I asked that sales associate what kind of training he received to do what he does. He told me he attended a week long course in San Diego, which was taught by another shoe specialist who was in terrible shape, and learned the info they were teaching from their own in-store experiences. Ultimately, he admitted the computer does a majority of the work, and his prescription for what shoe to wear is based on the opinion of the running store. What shoes did he run in at the time? Moccasins. Yes… SLIPPERS! This same guy who just told me I need a size 10 stability shoe and a pair of insoles, runs in Moccasins! The next thing out his mouth? “You have to realize something, 90% of my customers are first time runners who don’t have a clue.” He’s right… so let’s feed them all a giant crock of crap.
I’m not a doctor, but I could play one on TV. I’ll analyze your running form.. and then tell you to get to the gym. Shoe’s aren’t the answer. Work is!
If you would like to explore the services of a personal trainer for a true gait, stride, and form analysis, we highly recommend the services of HPRS Director of Human Experience Hollis Lyman, through her personal (and life) training business Unlimited Force.