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Running FAQ's - For new and experience runners.

Running Shoes

What is pronation?

Pronation is natural inward rolling movement of your foot as it starts to support your body weight. Some pronation is a good thing since it absorbs some of the impact when you run. People who have flat feet tend to pronate a lot (over-pronate) and therefor need motion control shoes. People with high arches tend to under-pronate. This means that the rolling motion is not absorbing much impact so they need more cushioning.  [top]


What is the difference between over-pronation, under-pronation, and supination?

As mentioned above, some pronation is a good thing. However, some people pronate too much, or over-pronate. This means that their foot rolls too much to the inside. Too much pronation can lead to injuries, so if you over-pronate you will want shoes that limit some of that inward roll. Look for "stability" shoes if you over-pronate a little. Go for "motion control" shoes if you over-pronate a lot. Under-pronation is common in people with high arches. It means that your foot doesn't roll inward enough. Since these people don't have much shock absorbing roll in their stride, they generally need more cushioned shoes. Supination is the outward rolling of the foot. It generally happens at the end of your stride, after heel lifts up off the ground.   [top]


How do I tell if I over-pronate?

There are a number of ways to tell if you over pronate when you run. The first thing to do is look at your feet. If you have a flat or low arch, then there is a good chance that you over-pronate. Check your arch by getting your barefoot wet and then step on something where you can see your footprint. If most of your foot touches the floor, including the inner part of your arch, and makes a print then you have flat feet and you will most likely over-pronate and need motion control shoes. If only half of the outer part of your arch makes a print, then you probably have a normal arch and should try support shoes. If only a thin part of your outer arch makes a print on the floor, then you have a high arch and should lean towards cushioned shoes.

Another way to tell is to have someone try to slip coins under your arch as you stand on a hard floor. If they can't easily fit a dime under your arch, then you are probably flat footed and over-pronate; if they can get a nickel to easily disappear, then you have a normal arch and probably over-pronate slightly. If a quarter disappears, then you have a high arch and probably under-pronate.

If you have an old pair of running shoes then you should look at the wear pattern. If you over-pronate a lot, the inside of your shoe will me worn down, sometimes almost crushed if you have been wearing inappropriate shoes. The shoes of a mild over-pronator will show less wear on the inside, but will will show more wear on the inside than on the outside. Someone who under-pronates will show wear mostly on the outside of their shoe.  [top]


How many miles should I put on a pair of running shoes before I replace them?

Another personal preference. How far you run on a pair of shoes before you retire them depends on three variables: how much of a risk taker you are, your budget for running shoes, and your bio-mechanics. If you don't want to risk injuring yourself and don't mind spending money on running shoes, the replace them every 300 miles. If you have a limited budget, don't mind taking a few risks, are blessed with excellent bio-mechanics, and rarely suffer from running injuries, then you might consider running as much as 500 miles in a pair of shoes. Some people run well over 500 miles in their shoes, but doing so is quite risky. Running is not an expensive sport, so if you can, play it safe and retire you shoes after 300 miles.  [top]


How do I determine which pair of shoes is best for me?

Notice that this question does not ask "What is the best running shoe?" It asks how one might go about finding the best running shoe "for me". The distinction is important. The best running shoe for you will probably not be the best running shoe for your running buddy. (If you haven't already done so, read the FAQ on pronation.)

Finding the running shoe that is best for you takes time. Well, sorry, but few people find the perfect running shoe right out of the box. Lets assume that you already know that people who under-pronate generally need cushioned shoes, people who over-pronate slightly generally need support shoes, and people who over-pronate a lot tend to need motion control shoes. And lets also assume you know which of these three categories describe you.

Once you have determined the category of shoes that are most appropriate for the way you run, you now need to choose a brand, and from within a brand, a specific shoe. Choosing a brand is mostly a matter of fit. Some brands will be better for people with narrow feet, others for people with wide feet. Some brands offer multiple widths on some of their shoe lines.

Most brands also offer multiple shoes within each category. Don't assume that the more expensive ones are better. The expensive shoes are more expensive because they contain more gadgets, gels, and other stuff, and they generally contain more of these things to handle the stresses of heavier runners. And these more expensive shoes also tend to be heavier shoes. So unless you are a heavier runner, don't go for the heavy shoes. They will only make your feet heavier and your wallet lighter.  [top]



Running Technique and Training

Is there a correct or best way to run?

Yes! But the question is really a trick question. Two better questions are "Is running technique a variable in running efficiency?" and "What is the best running technique for me?"

Lets answer the second question first. When you run you will naturally settle into the most efficient stride for your body. Generally, beginning runners will begin their running carrier as heel strikers. That means that they land on their heels and roll to their forefoot before toeing off. This is especially true of heavier and older runners. For a beginning runner, this may be the most efficient technique, given their weight, strength, and flexibility. If someone who naturally runs by landing on their heels tries to manipulate their stride so that they always run by landing on their forefoot, they will not be getting the most out of their existing body structure. They may also quickly injure themselves since they probably don't have the conditioning necessary to land on their forefoot.

As runners get stronger, faster, develop flexibility, and gain experience, these same runners, however, may start landing on their mid-food or forefoot. (Even people who land on their forefoot immediately lower their heels, so don't read this to say forefoot strikers stay on their toes: only the strongest and fastest sprinters do that.) This shift from being a heel striker to a mid-food or forefoot striker is a natural shift that occurs overtime because the body gets stronger and adapts to find the most efficient stride.

The above two paragraphs imply that some running techniques are more efficient than others, and that mid-food or forefoot striking is more efficient than the heel strike. That brings us to the first question, and the answer is "yes", running technique is a variable in running efficiency. A detailed discussion of running stride efficiency is beyond the scope of this FAQ, so if you wish to learn more, you should read Explosive Running, by Michael Yessis, Ph.D and Programmed to Run by Thomas Miller. Both these excellent books describe in great detail how you can increase the efficiency of your stride. You will also find a discussion of running form in Gordon Pirie's book Running Fast and Injury Free, which is available as a free download at The Gordon Pirie Resource Center. Pirie's book contains a lot of bluster and bragging, but at least read the section on running form. The short answer is that landing on your mid-food or forefoot is more efficient than landing on your heel and that short quick strides (approximately 180 steps per minute) are more efficient than longer strides.

One final word on running stride. As you move towards increasing the efficiency of your stride, make any changes slowly. Rapidly changing your stride will most likely lead to an injury.   [top]

How can I best improve the efficiency of my running stride?

So you want to improve the efficiency of your stride. Well, be prepared to take your time. If you are trying to move from being a heel striker to being a forefoot or mid-food striker, you need to let your body adapt to this change in stride. (Given that a mid-foot or forefoot strike is more efficient than a heel strike, it doesn't make any sense to move the other direction.) Many people who start out as heel strikers just discover one day, after putting in years of training, that they are now mid-foot or forefoot strikers. As they ran more, they got faster and their body adapted. If you want to help things along, then you should first read one or all of the books mentioned above in the previous FAQ, and then gradually build in some segments where you run as described in those books. Start by concentrating on your technique during your speed work or during strides. As you get comfortable with that, you can work your new efficient technique into your longer runs. But take it easy and don't force the changes or you will injure yourself.

You can also try running barefoot or with lightweight racing flats. Many running shoes these days are overbuilt and almost force people into being heel strikers. So remove all that heel cushioning and you will quickly learn to run more efficiently. But as always, start slowly! Gradually build up the amount of barefoot and racing flat miles or you will injure yourself. If you are going to start running barefoot, then look to do only a couple hundred yards a week at first, and run most of that on grass if you can. For more on barefoot running, visit www.runningbarefoot.org or read the barefoot running chapter in Explosive Running.   [top]

Why is a mid-foot or forefoot strike more efficient than a heel strike?

If you are landing on your heels, then you are probably landing when your foot is out in front of your body. If your foot is out in front of your body when it lands then it is absorbing your forward momentum. As has been said by others, you are essentially putting on the breaks with every step. For a more detailed discussion, see Explosive Racing or Programmed to Run.   [top]

How fast, or slow, should my long runs be?

It depends. What? You were expecting another more precise answer? How about 7:23.04 per mile? Yes that applies to everybody. Well OK, not everybody and not every long run. How fast you run during your long runs depends on a variety of variables.

For one, how new are you to running. If you are new to running then your long runs should be slow...nice and easy and slow. The purpose of these long runs is to allow your body to build endurance, so don't worry about your pace. You might even want to consider leaving your watch at home if you are constantly worrying about your pace. If you run these too fast when you are early in your career, then you will injure yourself. If you have been running for a couple of years and don't have a history of injuries, then you have a more flexibility.

The pace of your long runs also depends on the distance for which you are training. Ironically, the shorter your goal race, the slower you can run your long runs. If you are training for a 5K, then you have probably built in lots of repetitions, intervals, and tempo runs into your training schedule, so take it easy on your long run. If you are training for the marathon, then the long run is more important. Run some of these at close to your goal pace and some miles at your goal pace.

Finally, where you are in your training program will also dictate how fast you should run your long runs. If you are 20 weeks out from your goal marathon, then take it easy. But as you approach your goal marathon, you will want to build in some miles at your marathon pace.   [top]

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