February 28, 2010

The Five Rules of Running Shoes. Rule One--Shoe Weight Matters

For runners, finding the right shoe is not unlike finding the perfect mate.  It can take years, even a life time.  Then you meet for the first time, maybe by chance, maybe by plan.  You date for a while, maybe because it feels right, or maybe because you're getting over a tough break-up.  Then, before you know it, you realize this is "the one".   You make arrangements to "tie the knot".  Then, years later, having tied the knot  (thousands of times with your shoe in this case), "the one" changes.  Version 6 is totally different than the version you first met! Or, heaven forbid, maybe you've changed?

Ok, enough of the perfect mate analogy.  I recently purchased, and promptly returned, three different pairs of shoes. It still feels a little strange, to walk out of a store with a brand new pair, only to walk right back in asking for an exchange or a refund.  I'm pretty sure there is a shoe for every foot, but I know every shoe is NOT for this foot!  I've run in a plethora of brands and models.  Asics, Saucony, New Balance, La Sportiva, Montrail, Mazuno, North Face, among others.  All are great brands. But over the hills and through the years, I've learned there are, for me at least, five immutable laws when it comes to running shoes.  Here is the first.  

Law Number One - Shoe Weight Matters. I never used to think much about shoe weight.  But when I start training a lot I notice it.  Since running is not much more than the application of energy (power) against gravity (resistance), its only logical that less weight equals less resistance, which equates to more efficient running.

While it might seem irrelevant to quibble over a few ounces, here's something to think about.   A runner's foot strikes the ground between 150 to 180 times a minute.  Since every stride requires a runner to lift her foot, the difference adds up quickly.  For example, if your cadence is 170, you're lifting your feet 170 times a minute, or 10,200 times an hour.  Now think of what a difference a measly two ounces could make: 2 ounces multiplied by 10,200 equals 20,400 ounces, or 1,224 pounds, lifted during an hour long run (one ounce equals 1/16th, or .06 of a pound).  Sound crazy?  Ok, maybe.  But I know from my own running that when I'm on a pair of 8 ounce racing flats, my feet feel like they barely touch the ground.   

Now for the absurd...I weigh all my shoes!  I stole my wife's food scale and have quarantined the thing for a couple of years.  This is one of the reasons I've returned so many shoes. It's easy to find information on shoe weight on the internet, but I've found a lot of it is bulls!#t.  Most advertisements for shoe weight are based on a shoe size perfect for a 7th grader.  The shoes I've purchased (size 10.5-11) are always several ounces heavier than advertised. 

What is the right shoe weight?  Much of this depends on what I'm using the shoe for.  For me, if I'm training on the roads, I want something that is average to light with a reasonable amount of cushion, but not too much.  For that I need something less than 12 ounces.  The New Balance 758, a neutral shoe that tips the scale at just over 11 ounces, has worked very well for me.  If I'm training on trails, I look for protection over cushion.  For the last couple of years I've run on Asics 2130 Trail, a great shoe weighing in at 13 ounces, but now discontinued.  The newer version, the Asics 2150 Trail, gained an ounce and is now a little hefty for me (Asics, why did you have to put weight on my 2130s?). For this I've switched to the Asics Trail Attack 6 which is somewhere around 12.7 ounces. So far so good. 

I've also been experimenting with the New Balance MT 100.  I recently ran two back to back 20 milers on some rocky, rutty terrain in these little demons.  They stood their ground and weigh in at a nimble 8 ounces.  I kicked a rock pretty hard and to my surprise they absorbed the blow well with no damage or pain to my toes.  Both the New Balance 100 and the Asics Trail Attack 6 have a rock guard built into the sole of the shoe so you don't have to worry when treading on those nasty, poky rocks on trail.

So, next time you lace up for a run, grab a food scale from the kitchen and give it a whirl.  Better yet, if you're training in heavy shoes, try something lighter.  Your feet might thank you...by barely touching the ground.

"Rule One--Shoe Weight Matters" is the first of five series of posts covering "The Five Rules of Running Shoes".  Coming soon --- Rule Two.


Michael Helton said...

Excellent write-up. I cannot weight (sic) for the other 4 rules.

Anna said...

Thank-you for the post! I am very new to running and while I want to be someone who runs, I haven't quite come to love it yet. Your posts and knowledge always inspire me. :-)

Will Cooper said...

Thanks Folks...I'll be getting the next "Rule" out soon. Stay posted.

Anne said...

I wear Asics and because I've never had any issues with them, I'm almost afraid to try anything else :) ...thanks for the rules!

Jeremy Elwell said...

I have been running in Cascadias for most of my time running. Even pulled a 50k on the streets in them without much trouble(from the shoes)...but I must say you have me intruiged as I pay no attention to weight. If a shoe looks light and nimble I tend to want to try it out...yet never do. I may rush out(within the next few months)and get me a pair of those MT100's...also had my eye on the Vibram 5-fingers to test drive....can't get much lighter than that right?

Will Cooper said...

Jeremy, the five fingers would be about as light as you'll get, but if you happen to toe a rock pretty hard, good luck. I can see using those for warm downs on grass or something. Let me know how it goes.

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