Sole Man: Why You Should Have A Quiver Of Running Shoes

Rotating through multiple pairs of shoes for specific workouts can help you become a stronger runner and help you run workouts more effectively. Photo: Brian Metzler

Do you run in the same shoes every day or do you rotate through different pairs?

Because I’m lucky enough to test out a lot of pairs of running shoes every year, I get asked all the time what my favorite model is.

The simple answer is that I really don’t have one. Seriously.

There are a lot of shoes I like a lot, but I can never narrow it down to just one specific favorite, or even a few. It’s mostly because I’ve always been an advocate of having a personal rotation of many shoes—a quiver of sorts. If your training has a lot of variety—varying surfaces, distances, speeds and types of workouts—you’ll find there isn’t one shoe for every job. Instead, I prefer to have a specific shoe for each of the many different types of runs I do. And, more to the point, I loathe running in the “wrong” shoe.

That’s definitely not a suggestion that runners should go out and buy several pairs of shoes at a time, but more about having an understanding of how important it is to match a pair of shoes for the specific type of running you’re doing or the terrain you’ll be running on. Elite level runners do this all the time—typically running in different shoes for long runs, recovery runs, tempo runs, speed workouts and races—but the benefits are the same for recreational runners too. It’s partly about having the optimal proprioceptive interaction with the ground—the ability for your brain to sense the ground and allow the rest of your body to react accordingly—and partly about what you prefer (the cushioning, shape, height off the ground and weight of shoes, for example) for various kinds of running.

For example, if I do a long, slowish run on hard roads and smooth, hard-packed trails, I prefer a lightweight, well-cushioned trainer that might (or might not) offer a little bit of stability. (It depends on the terrain and depends on how I’m feeling or how hard I’ve run recently.) But if I’m doing a more performance-oriented progression run or tempo run, I’ll chose a lightweight but slightly more energetic trainer with a little less cushioning.

I’m ever more finicky about matching my shoes on the trails. No two trails are the same; trail surfaces vary even among rocky, rooty routes. Sometimes you need a lot of traction, sometimes you need very little. Sometimes you need underfoot or sidewall protection (or both) and sometimes you don’t. (But the moment you feel a rock poking through the bottom of your foot or you scrape the lateral side of your foot is too late to discover you should be running in a shoe with a flexible rock plate or a reinforced sidewall.) If I run longer on trails, I prefer slightly more cushioning, especially if there are longer or steeper downhill sections.

Another benefit to having a rotation of shoes, I believe, is that it allows me to ever-so-slightly alter my gait and foot-placement pattern. Instead of having my foot hit the ground the same way on every stride on every run, I’m mixing things up enough to build the micromuscles in my feet, ankles, lower legs and even hips just a twinge more. And hopefully that’s something that contributes to becoming a stronger and more agile runner in the long run. There’s also a study that suggests if you rotate your shoes, you’ll be less prone to overuse injuries.

RELATED: How Often Should I Replace My Running Shoes?

How can you build a quiver of running shoes? Here are some suggestions:

— Don’t wait to buy your next pair of shoes until after your current trainers are completely dead. If you offset your purchases and hold on to your existing shoes longer, you can start to rotate two (or three) pairs of shoes.

— Avoid running your shoes into the ground by wearing them to mow the lawn or for non-running activities. You’ll be able to extend the life of your shoes and revert to your old favorites in the back of your closet while they still have life in them.

— If you do plan to buy two pairs at the same time, ask your local running shop for a slight discount on the second pair. (You can also look for sales, either closeouts at running stores or online stores, but my advice is to only buy discounted models if you already know how they fit and perform on your feet.)

— Make an effort to vary the surfaces you run on during any given week and wear appropriate shoes. Mix things up by running on paved roads, gravel roads, dirt paths, rocky trails, concrete bike paths or a track.

— Be sure you don’t run in a single pair of running shoes too long. If a shoe is completely worn out, it could increase your odds of developing overuse injuries.

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