Let me go ahead and nominate myself for Most Unpopular Opinion of the Season here. Shoe reviews. Running shoe reviews. My friends, these are only helpful if you’ve been running in the shoes for weeks or months and then post a review. A shoe review after one run is tragically unhelpful. It is the equivalent of test-driving a car on a perfect day and then being disappointed that your new car doesn’t perform well in the rain.
It happened to me. No matter how much I adore my car in every other respect, it sucks in the rain. I learned the hard way. Never again will I shop for a car on a perfectly sunny, temperate day. If I ever buy a new car again I will make sure to shop on a rainy day. In similar fashion, shoe reviews posted after one run don’t tell me how the shoes perform over time, terrain, weather, or the variables of training and racing. A one-run review definitely doesn’t tell me how the shoe’s mechanics coordinate with body mechanics, something that is generally revealed over time in the shoe.
A favorable shoe review after one run or even one week may tell the world that you’re thrilled with your new pair right out of the box. A favorable shoe review after two months of thorough use tells me that the shoe still passes muster after it has been subject to a variety of running conditions, including the conditions of the runner’s body. The running shoe graveyard is littered with cast-offs that were fantastic for two weeks but couldn’t meet the runners’ needs over time. Worse than the waste of money is the fact that few reviewers go back and update those glowing first impressions with the reality of their disappointments. Please, please, please, my friends. Wait. If your goal truly is to help other runners make an informed decision, wait.
Now I can conveniently claim that my shoe review is not a year overdue, it’s…well…generously extended for substantial analysis. Zero drop shoes. I’ve been running in them for a year now. I started rotating them in with my non-zero (4mm drop) shoes until my body adjusted to them and then finally shifted to full-on zero drop. I did like them right out of the box. I’ve liked them consistently over the trial period to see what they could take and what I could take while wearing them. After a year I’m still a believer. The biggest reason is the same reason I recommend yoga for all runners. It’s not just the improvements in flexibility, strength, and recovery (though those are all super-great); it’s the fact that yoga changes the awareness, connection and communication between the body and mind on and off the mat—most importantly, while running.
If I’ve heard one complaint from my students over the years, it’s that once you start practicing yoga you can’t stop or all your pain comes back. Yoga helps people who experience relief from chronic aches and pains stay ahead of that pain. Some of my students have even weaned themselves off of pain medication with their practice. But half measures won’t work. You have to stick with it. All it takes is a few lazy weeks of laying off your practice and all your old bugaboos start to resurface, especially with athletes.
Don’t assume that athletes aren’t just as abusive to their bodies as non-athletes. Athletes are more likely to be dismissive of the body’s distress calls, so chronic pain even among very fit, healthy people can be the result of chronic stubbornness. When the yoga falls out of the routine there’s the return of the pain, and then there is the loss of that mind/body awareness that directly relates to the causes of the pain; in short, a body in pain and a mind that just wants to escape (medicate).
So how does any of that relate to zero drop running shoes? You can read the theories regarding the advantages of zero drop running for yourself. I won’t regurgitate them all. The most poignant advantage for me over the past year is that zero drop shoes force you to run light on your feet. You cannot plod in zero drop shoes, no matter how heavy you might actually be. You can’t crash down a hill slamming hard on your heels. That giant wedge of cushion isn’t there. You can’t pound the pavement. No trudging bent over like Quasimodo on the long run, and no slamming the foot down during speed work. It’s too uncomfortable. More than that, it is difficult to make your feet cooperate without the apparatus designed to let you pound, slam, and plod. The mechanics change because the shoe (by getting out of the way) makes us pay attention to those mechanics, just like yoga.
Never in my life have I ever described my body’s motion as nimble. I’m not a gazelle. I’m a water buffalo. Zero drop shoes make me feel nimble. When my feet drop to the pavement they react like feelers. Like sensors, if you will. My feet fleetingly grip the road rather than bouncing off of it. I am aware of my foot, ankle, and leg performing rather than my shoe performing. It’s that mind/body connection again; that awareness of motion, impact, direction, now finally being felt and acknowledged. There is less separation between my brain and my feet; no buffer, they are now functioning together because they can finally communicate.
My feet are far less tender and sore after a long run. I don’t roll my ankles much anymore. All that cushion, control, and gadgetry I thought I couldn’t run without? I don’t even miss them. Zero drop theory says this is because I’ve developed my feet to function the way they were designed by nature— as hunter-gatherer feet.
However, like the yoga, I’ve found that now I can’t go back. Now that I’m all nimble and strong in the feet and ankles, stepping back into regular shoes feels like running in high heels. Body weight is pitched forward, feet landing forward of my hips, crashing down on those heels again, and then there is my recent flare-up with my patellar tendon. Coincidence that it happened after trying to rotate back in some “drop” shoes that weren’t worn out yet? Hard to say, but I went back to zero drop for my 10-miler last weekend and had nary a pain. But 1000 words is too long for a conventional shoe review and peppered with the yoga-speak this rambles too much anyway. Therefore, the preceding has been the result of my year-long zero drop study, and yes, my recommendation.
My favorite: Altra One
First runner up: Altra Intuition
This particular company gives you a 30-day test drive, after which you can return them for ANY reason, in ANY condition. No joke—run your ass off and then send them back if you don’t like them. Who does that? I can vouch for the Live Chat assistance as well. I’ve used it twice and both times found the shoe techs on the other end very attentive and helpful. Specifically, they ask you a lot of questions before giving you a shoe recommendation—both times I tried it the techs took the time to clarify my situation before giving me advice. I like that. So no need to be shy if you’ve got a plethora of issues (and who doesn’t?).
For fat chicks, skinny chicks, fast chicks, slow chicks, old chicks, young chicks, injured chicks, pregnant chicks, angry chicks, cheerful chicks, chicks who don’t do yoga, chicks who don’t do Dallas, chicks who aren’t chicks at all—it’s a paradigm shift from the feet up.