Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nike Frees

Prior to doing distance running for triathlon training I had never had what one would call a typical runners injury. For the better part of my life I had trained in minimal sprinters shoes; as most of the training I was doing was targeted towards getting my 40 time as low as it could go. However, once I transitioned into endurance training, got a beefier, more “technologically” advanced sneaker I started to get pains in my lower back, knees and flare ups in the joins of my toes. Maybe I was just too heavy to run for distance I thought. As my weight dropped the pain remained and I thought there was something more to it.

While reading “Born To Run,” in August I was shocked to find out that as shoe companies have advanced corrective technology in their sneakers the incidents of runners injuries (plantar fasciitis, IT Band syndrome, etc) has increased. Even more shockingly, when Nike visited Stanford University in 2001, they noticed that the Stanford track team was running in Nike’s cheapest shoe, not the one with uber technology. Vin Lananna, the legendary coach, told the Nike Reps that his athletes preferred the cheaper shoe, were faster and got injured less in them.

The research Nike performed led them to develop the Nike Frees, the shoe I am currently running in, healthier and faster than ever before. The crux of the argument is, in our physiological evolution our feet were our initial sensors for protection. Our feet have an unbelievable amount of nerve endings in them (as certain pursuits will let you know) which are made deaf through the advances in shoe technology. In other words, corrective shoe technology may have been correcting a problem that was never a problem – your feet tell your body how it should run, your body doesn’t tell your feet how they should strike.

Nike developed a shoe that provides shock absorption but lets the foot move naturally or “freeing the foot”. The sole is constructed through individual compartments that act as receptacles for the nerve endings but provide protection since we now run on pavement not dirt. Since I have been running in the Frees I have felt no knee pain, hardly any back pain and the tightness in my hamstrings and hips has all but disappeared. Additionally I am back to the form and speed I had when all I did was speed work but can maintain that stride style, cadence and pace for much longer distances than ever before (the pace thing is all about training though).  This is the shoe I also ran in for the South Carolina Half Iron.

So why am I writing all this? I’m not a doctor so I can’t say that the Frees are the solution to runner’s problems around the world. I however do know from my experience that I have run more comfortably for longer periods and at a faster pace than ever before. Sometimes getting back to the natural way of doing things is just what the doctor ordered. I can’t promise they will work for you but if you’ve tried everything else they just might be worth a try. If you do give them a try it is suggested you use them for just a half hour at a time on grass as you build the strength in your foot muscles if you haven’t done barefoot work or high intensity speed work in the past


Anonymous said...

"...your feet tell your body how it should run, your body doesn’t tell your feet how they should strike."

This made me smile. I recently had a nightmare getting fitted for new running shoes. The guy watched me on the treadmill for less that 10 seconds before declaring incredulously "you can't run like that. You'll have to see a sports physio and change your gait". I forefoot strike because I used to be a sprinter, but it's the only way I know how - I don't think about it, my feet just do it!

Since I'm fairly new to distance running, he managed to make me feel like a freak who wasn't welcome to be a distance runner (as if it were some exclusive club) until I could "do it right". Fortunately I headed straight out the door and to a far more professional shop!

Anne said...

very interesting post Ed. Thanks for writing about the shoes. Would you use them for a marathon?

Dr. William Blake said...

I am a foot doctor and a marathon runner. I too have read "Born to Run". Shoes today are sold by people or companies that want to make a sale. I cannot tell you how many times I have gone in to buy shoes and the salesperson has told me that I pronate and that I need a particular shoe. There is not much scientific evidence that today's shoes are any better than yesterday's shoes, or better than no shoes at all. It is true that the intrinsic muscles of the foot are greatly reduced in shoe-wearing cultures. This can be a major factor when it comes to foot injuries. One however should be cautious about throwing out today's technologically advanced shoes and go straight to a shoe like the Nike Free. If it has taken years to get your foot in such a "weakened" state, it can take time to adjust to a shoe that does not give the same support. Thanks for your insights and good luck with your running.

Dr. William Blake

Kim said...

I agree with the less is more theory for running shoes. I train in newtons (also very minimal) and love them! Glad you've found some that work! I'm going to take this blog and email it to one of the athletes I'm coaching. I thought it was really well written!