In Search of the Mythical Perfect Running Shoe

from Amazon.com

Like most runners, I have shoes stuffed in the closet, under my bureau, in boxes out in the garage and have given away shoes to the neighbor, Goodwill and found other creative ways to get rid of perfectly good shoes, because they just didn’t feel right to me after I had been running in them for a while.

Just so I could continue my search for that perfect running shoe.

TheWife thinks I am crazy and have a running shoe obsession and you know something she might be right.

Running shoes are either the greatest thing or the bain of a runner’s existence and it depends on who you are talking to and what camp they sit in. For me it depends on what state of injury I am at.

I do know that like many runners, I have spent a small fortune while trying to find that mythical and illusive perfect shoe.

Although I may have come close a few times.
Strangely enough, I really have not developed a “brand” loyalty when it comes to running shoes. I have still buy running shoes that I want and it doesn’t really matter what brand of shoe they are.

As I have grown older, I am finding that I like lightweight shoes, low profile, without too many motion control features and that are reasonably priced, cushioned feel is a plus (but that can be taken care by a different insole). For several years, the “pros” have continuously recommended and tried to put me into the heavy duty motion control shoes that also just happen to have a hefty price tag. However, I always seem to come back to the old credo – “less can be more” and try to go with what I like.

Below are the different running shoe companies that I have tried and a quick description of some that I really liked.

Disclaimer Alert:  I was selected to be a Brooks Wear Tester in October 2011, however, I have not received any Brooks product to evaluate or wear test at the time of this post.

I have tried running shoes from Avia, Converse, Etonic, Mizuno, North Face, Pony, Puma, Skaja and Teva at least once, but those companies were mostly just a one time buy/try and I have not gone back to them again.

Adidas

Adidas had one of those near mythical perfect shoes as far as I am concerned – the Adidas Marathon Trainers with the Dillinger Web. They were a low profile, a lightweight shoe with just enough cushioning for me. I learned that you had to take out the board last and put a different insert into the shoe to make them more flexible and comfortable, but these were my favorite shoes of all time.

I have had three pair of these shoes and each pair lasted well past the 500 mile mark.  I have been looking for another pair for several years and have yet to find a pair and unfortunately probably won’t.

Hey Adidas do you have any size 8, hidden in a warehouse someplace?

Asics

Asics were my second pair of running shoes, the old Blue Tigers were a great shoe and I wore them for Cross Country and Track in high school, when I wasn’t wearing spikes.

Screen shot from http://www.racedaynutrition.com/?p=341

I started wearing the Kayano 11and really loved the shoe, while it is considered a motion control shoe, but it felt lighter than most and I put a lot of miles on this model over a two year period.

I found a special deal where I was able to pick up 3 pair of them for $50 each (the Kayano 13 was on the shelves), so I have had a total of 4 pair of the Kayano. The shoes changed and I didn’t have access to those great deals and this shoe priced itself out of my price range.

Brooks Running

Disclaimer Again:  I was selected to be a Brooks Wear Tester in October 2011, however, I have not received any Brooks product to evaluate or wear test at the time of this post. Hopefully, they will send some cool shoes that need to be wear tested by an old runner returning after injury.

Screen shot-click on image for site

I bought pair of Villanova in 1977 and ran in them until 1979. They were relatively simple, very light and I didn’t stop running in them until my foot came out through the side of one them. I am not sure how many miles they had on them when I finally replaced them, but have a feeling it was probably a lot, lot more than they now recommend for running shoes.

The only other pair of Brooks shoes that I have run in were the Brooks Ravenna – I was starting to make my comeback to running in October 2009 and went down to Portland and of all the shoes that I tried on that day, the Revenna was the one that met my needs. I ran in them until I hurt my knee in February 2010 (15-20 miles a week), they were good and comfortable shoes.

I still don’t know what happened to those shoes, maybe they will show up in one of the boxes I put in storage in the overhead? Unless they went away, when we gave a bunch of stuff to Goodwill before my operation in May – when we were pretty sure I would never be running again with the original diagnosis that I had been given. Thankfully it didn’t work out that way!

Earth Shoes

Earth Shoes have a negative heel to toe rise. I had been wearing the Earth Lazer for a work shoe with great success (5 pairs), so I picked up a pair of Earth Rocket running shoes thinking they would be the “answer”. They require a lot of running in them to get used to the lack of a heel, with calf strain/pain until you build up the muscle. They force forefoot running and your calves will let you know you are abusing them – severely.

I still have them and run in them from time to time and they quickly remind me why I do not enjoy the Rockets. However, if I would go ahead and commit to running in them for 3-4 weeks like I did for a month one time, I have a feeling they would help me change my running style back to forefoot running pretty quickly. However, they are heavy and feel clunky when running in them and they just take the enjoyment out of running for me. They sit under my dresser for the day, when I decide that I want to go “all in” on this shoe.

New Balance

Disclaimer – I was selected as a New Balance wear tester back in 2003 or 2004 (I think) and wear tested one pair of shoes (which I returned to them) and never heard back from them again.

I have run in a lot of New Balance running shoes through the years and until a few years ago had been mostly happy with them. They historically have a lot of room in the toe box, are comfortable and don’t bother my knees.

Click for shoe website

The pair that I probably liked best from NB was the 670 that I had during 1984, they felt like I was running in my bedroom slippers. They were a little heavy, but I was running mainly on the powerlines at the time and they protected my feet really well and I wore them until they wore out on me.

I almost always tried on a pair of NB shoes, when I go shoe shopping (after all many of them are made in Maine), but other shoes I try, feel better than the NB do.

However, if my present shoes don’t work the NB Trail Minimus have really piqued my curiosity and might be enough to get me back into New Balance shoes.

Nike

I have probably run in more Nike running shoes than any other shoe company. They have a nice selection of shoes targeted for the middle of the pack runner, that are more moderately priced, in addition to their higher end models.

My Nike shoes were the Waffle Traingers, Yankees, Equators, Pegasus (4 times), Odyssey, Nike Sock Racer (yes the Yellow BumbleBee shoe), Air Flo (which I still have and ran in for a while this fall), and Air Presto (3 times), which I also ran in this fall.

Nike Air Presto

I really liked fit and feel of the Air Presto, they were light, encouraged forefoot striking and I still have these red ones (they are my last pair).

My most recent Nikes were the Nike Dual Fusion. I chose them after my surgery as a pair of shoes that were well-cushioned with a bit of stability. Although I didn’t run in them all that much I did walk many miles in them and they helped me through my healing process, but were not what I was looking for in my running shoe now that I am running more.

Saucony

After Nike, I believe that I have run in Saucony shoes more than any other brand. I started with the Jazz, which caused problems with my ankles and even though I loved them, I couldn’t run in them.

I ran in the Dixons the summer before the ’83 Marine Corps Marathon, but after 250 miles they began to bother my knees and I had to get a different pair of shoes a month before the marathon. No I couldn’t find another pair of Dixons at the time, even though I tried.

Saucony Peregrines 2011

In the early 2000’s I ran almost exclusively in Saucony Hurricanes and was very happy with them. However, the prices began to creep up and eventually were costing $120 plus for a pair of shoes, which was too much for me at that time,

Plus they closed down the Saucony outlet store up in Bangor, which I would go up and see what great shoes I could get on the cheap.

I have had a couple of mid level Saucony’s while I was injured and tried to run a few times anyway (more than a couple but don’t tell my wife or the doctor that) – but they were more for walking than running.

When I decided to start running more again and needed new shoes, after doing a lot of researching and trying on a few pair of shoes, I decided on Saucony Peregrines, see my post on them.

The reality is that

I have run in literally hundreds of running shoes and have learned a lot about straight lasts, curved lasts, semi-curved lasts, uppers, insoles, midsoles, outsoles, blown rubber, hard rubber, velcro, laces/no laces, BOA lacing, pronation, supination, flat feet, high arches, motion control, dual density, EVA, Dillinger Web, racing flat, light weight trainers, track shoes and all so many other “techno buzz words” that have been used to describe running shoes over the last 40 years.

The movement towards more natural and minimal running that many companies are beginning to go towards (or is it back to) is a good thing in my opinion as long as the pendulum doesn’t swing too far. For a while the shoes that the running companies were producing, felt as though I was running in heavy high heels.

It seemed that I was always getting injured in spite of the claims of the companies of how much better the shoes were at preventing injuries, running shoe reviews or the sales staff at the shoe companies, where I have bought shoes, claimed that I needed to run in and how much better they were from…the past. While some of the materials might be better, were the designs any better – sometimes I wonder?

Want to Try Them

About the only style of shoe that I have not tried is a pair of the Vibram Five Finger shoes. I don’t quite dare to fork over a $100 for a pair, that much money for something so radical in design scares me away. Besides TheWife would kill me.

It would be nice to someday win a pair in a give-away to see how they work or find a really, really cheap pair some place. If anyone has an old pair of size 7.5 to 8 that are sitting in their closet because you didn’t like them let’s talk.

Yes I am that cheap, washing machines work wonders with these shoes I am told.

My Favorites

Out of all the shoes that I have run in, which shoes approached that mythical perfect running shoe for me?

  1. Adidas Marathon Trainer with the Dellinger Web
  2. Brooks Villanova
  3. Saucony Hurricane 5
  4. Asics Gel Kayano 11
  5. Nike Air Presto
As I said in the short reviews, the Adidas Marathon Trainer with the Dillinger Web has been the closest to that mythical perfect shoe for me, but unfortunately, they no longer make them and that doesn’t do me any good now. I have tried several times to find them, but can’t.
The Hurricanes and Kayano are still made, but are not the same and are motion control/stability shoes, not the lightweight kicks I am looking for. Brooks Villanova and Nike Air Presto are no longer made.  So I am still searching for my perfect shoe.
The Saucony Peregrines are close to fitting into the favorites category, but they need about another 200 miles of great running to ensure their place in this group of shoes and then I would have to buy them a couple of more times and want to keep running in them for a while for them to be my perfect shoe. At least I can run in them, which is a good start.

Finding Pot of Gold

The problem with running shoes to me, is that it is like trying to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and it is a different rainbow for every runner. What works great for someone else, doesn’t work at all for you. Therefore, we keep searching and chasing, always looking for that magic shoe that is going to let us run injury free for big mileage training.

My questions for you are?

  • Are you loyal to a certain brand of running shoes? Why?
  • What do you look for when you buy a pair of running shoes?
  • Which running shoe is your favorite running shoe of all-time?

Now wear (I know where) is that damn new shoe review for the 2012 running shoes!!!!!  😉 See you outside running.