Friday, February 7, 2014

A Bittersweet Experience Retiring My First Pair of Running Shoes

Last week, I had to retire my first pair of serious running shoes since starting this running journey in February 2013.  Before I was able to purchase that first pair of shoes in June 2013, I cycled between two older pairs of shoes.  I ran in my Merrell Trail Gloves, which were about 3 years old at the time, and I ran in a pair of Nike running shoes.  I found my feet felt the best when I ran in the Trail Gloves because of the zero drop platform.  When running in the Nike shoes, my heels and arches hurt.  I can only assume it was because of the 12mm+ drop in the Nike shoes.

For those of you unfamiliar with shoe drop, it means the difference from the heel to the ground and the forefoot to the ground.  In a zero drop shoe, the heel and forefoot are the same distance from the ground, just as if you were standing barefoot, whereas in a shoe that has a 12mm drop, the forefoot will be 12mm closer to the ground than the heel.  Traditional running shoes, casual shoes, etc., typically have 12mm or more of drop.  The greater the drop, the shorter and less “stretchy” the Achilles tendon that wraps around the heel from the back of the arch up to the calf becomes, depending on the amount of time spent in a higher drop shoe.  That is why, when someone transitions into a low or zero drop shoe, (s)he must take time to adjust to the level platform of the shoe or risk injury.  The Achilles tendon needs time to regain its stretch-ability.

I noticed when I opted to wear the Nike shoes because I wanted thicker cushioning on my feet, both my feet and body paid the price differently than when I opted for the zero drop Merrell shoes with little cushioning that had, for the most part, completely broken down due to age and having used them for walking shoes previously.  I felt pain in my feet when I wore the Nike shoes and I began to have stabbing pain in my knees when I would run.  When I would wear the Merrell shoes for a few days, the pain in my feet and knees would dissipate and I felt only some fatigue and soreness in my feet.  Though the fatigue and soreness was uncomfortable at times, it in no way compared to the pain I experienced when wearing the Nike shoes.  I stuck with the Trail Glove shoes until it became apparent I would not be able to increase mileage in them without seriously fatiguing my feet.  I decided it was time to support my desire to increase mileage and time spent on the road and trail by investing in a new pair of shoes.

In June of 2013, I made that decision and began researching different shoes.  Because of my experience in the Trail Glove shoes, I knew I wanted to continue running in zero drop shoes or shoes with a very minimal drop and I wanted to continue in a shoe with light cushioning in the midsole for a more barefoot feel.  I decided to go with the Merrell Bare Access Arc 2 running shoes.

Here they are, well used.
They had more cushioning than other Merrell shoes, such as the Vapor Glove, but were still considered a minimalist shoe.  I bought my first pair and took them out for a trial run of around 5 miles.  They were light as a feather on my feet and it felt like I was running on air, especially after putting in the mileage I had over four months time in shoes that had no cushioning other than the tread left on the outsole.  I was in heaven.

Over the next 8 months, I put roughly 600 miles on that pair of shoes.  I had no issues with the shoes.  I did experience some foot/knee discomfort, though, as changes in my running style crept in as I would tire on longer runs.  Initially, in my running experience, the first 6 miles of my runs were great.  However, because of my tendency to allow my stride to break down as I fatigued on longer runs, I would begin to heel strike.  With no extra cushioning in the heel, my heels would become quite sore when I bypassed the 6-mile mark.  Over time, though, I have learned to run longer distances comfortably in the Merrell shoes by working on maintaining a good forefoot strike throughout the run, despite fatigue.  I now run distances of over 12 miles in the Merrell shoes comfortably and enjoyably and have done so for 5 or 6 months now.

With that information, let me get back to my story of retiring that first pair of Bare Access 2’s.  Last week, I set out to run a short 5 miles after work on a beautiful evening.  I laced up my shoes and set out down the road at an easy pace.  Less than a block into the run, I felt sharp stabbing pain in my heels, even though I was not heel striking.  I shortened my stride to see if that might help, but the pain continued and worked its way across the entire underside of both feet.  I thought to myself that my feet just had to be tired from being on them at work all day.  I pushed on but nothing I did seemed to ease the jarring.  I made it a mile out and decided to head back home.  When I walked in the house, I told my husband what had happened, so we took a closer look at the shoes.  Sure enough, we could see diagonal grooves all around the outside of the shoe where the midsole is located.  In manipulating the shoe, by bending it and pressing into the midsole with my fist, and by comparing it to a relatively new pair of my husband’s Merrell Bare Access 2 shoes, I realized all cushioning was gone from shoes.  This was a first for me.  When I ran previously, I didn’t run long enough to wear through the shoes.  Time had deteriorated the midsole, not use.  This time, though, use had caused the deterioration.

There was something bittersweet about the experience.  I was saddened to have to retire such a great pair of shoes, especially with almost no visible wear present on the outsole or the upper.  Other than a worn spot on each shoe where the back of my ankle made contact with the shoe, they looked to be in near perfect shape.

Just a little wear around the back of the ankle.
Sure, there was tread loss on the bottom of the shoes, but even that was minimal.

Not too bad, really, for the mileage on these outsoles.
It was a sweet moment, though, to reflect on the previous 8 months and to realize that I had utilized them fully, that I had received so much out of one pair of shoes.  I never expected to get anywhere close to 400 miles, let alone 600, out of one pair of running shoes.  To say I got every penny out of my investment is an understatement.  Not only did I get every, last cent out of them, I gained so many things on which it is impossible to place a monetary value.  And, that, is where the bittersweet combination comes back into play.  I learned so much about myself out there on those runs while wearing those shoes.  As I put more and more miles on them, I continued to develop my foot strike pattern to keep my heels and knees protected.  To have to set them aside after so many months of training, well, it was just a bittersweet moment, looking back over those months, realizing just how far I had come and the potentials of where I am headed, as I continue this journey.

Since retiring my shoes, I selected a pair of the new Merrell Bare Access 3 shoes in bright yellow with pink accents.

My new Merrell Bare Access 3 shoes!
I received them this week and have had the opportunity to take them out for a spin on a 6-mile run.  They are every bit as comfortable as the Bare Access 2’s and they fit just as well.  They are extremely light and feel great on my feet.  I look forward to putting many more miles on this newest version in the Bare Access line of shoes and I hope that I am able to report that they are every bit as comfortable and long lasting as my last pair.  I hope to be sharing my experience around the 600-mile mark or beyond!

Do any of you remember your first pair of running shoes?  What made them special for you?