Time to Start Running?

Staying in shape this past year has not been easy. First COVID-19 hit. Gyms closed and we were sequestered at home. Then came the wet, cold, dark of winter. Now, with spring in full bloom, it may be time to get moving. Dr. Gregory Grant shares this advice on how to choose the right running shoes.

Running is a great form of exercise because it’s so easy. Almost anyone can do it. You don’t need a gym membership or elaborate equipment, just a good pair of running shoes.

That said, not any pair of athletic shoes will do. You should invest in high-quality shoes designed specifically for running. Most good running shoes cost upward of $100, which may sound expensive, but the support they provide to your feet will be well worth the investment.

If you’re just starting out, I suggest going to a shoe store with a knowledgeable staff. They may ask a number of questions: do you have a high or low arch, what type of surface will you typically be running on, and do you have a neutral gate or tend to over-pronate or over-supinate.

One good way to determine your arch is to stand on some sand. The more foot you see in the footprint, the flatter your foot tends to be. It’s not that having a high or low arch is a good or bad thing. Many people have a good arch but still have a weak foot, and they complain of the same foot- and lower-back-pain issues that someone with a flat foot does.

A weak foot does not provide any padding when the foot strikes the ground. When the heel hits, there’s no cushioning. Think of it like shocks on a car. If someone has a low arch or weak foot problem, they don’t have a shock absorber, and they tend to have lower back pain. Someone with a strong foot will not have those issues. On the other hand, if your foot tends to be really rigid, like someone with a really high arch, the shock absorbers will be too ratcheted up, so that’s not good for long distances.

Over-pronating or over-supinating

With a neutral or ideal gate, your heel strikes, then your foot comes down in a stable platform, and you push off ever so slightly from your big toe. With over-pronators, the foot rolls excessively on impact, which puts pressure on the inside of the foot. Over-pronators are susceptible to shin, arch and heel pain. Over-supinating means that when your foot hits the surface, weight transfers to the outside of your foot, causing you to push off from the toes and lateral side of the foot. Without correct shoes, over-supinators are prone to plantar fasciitis, shin pain or ankle sprains.

Starting on the right foot

I recommend that runners choose a softer surface to run on, at least in the beginning. A high school track is a great option because it’s flat and has more cushioning than hard asphalt or concrete. Trail running can also provide a softer surface. With an uneven trail surface, however, you need to train the involved muscles so you don’t end up with a sprained ankle or foot.

Overtraining is another factor that can lead to foot problems. Many people, especially beginners, tend to run too far, too fast. I encourage runners to start off slow: maybe run a half mile, or alternate running and walking. You should also take a minimum of one day’s rest between running days. On the off days you can cross train—lift weights, swim, row or ride a bike.

One more point, those running shoes—even if they are a great pair of high-quality stabilizing shoes—need to be replaced after about 400-500 miles. And that doesn’t mean relegating them to become your gardening shoes. Gardening can also be a stressful activity on your feet. If that shoe is worn out for running, it’s also worn out for gardening.

The best advice I can give to anyone experiencing foot pain is to come in early. The great thing about PacMed is we are all connected. I share notes with the primary care providers, and they share notes with me. Basically, we are all working from the same sheet of music—which benefits runners of any caliber.

Gregory Grant, DPM, FACFAS, is a podiatry specialist at our Canyon Park clinic. Call 1.888.472.2633 for an appointment.