The Shoe Quiver

A while back, I was fortunate to attend a panel discussing shoe philosophy. The panel--which included four doctors with significant backgrounds in foot health--certainly had their own unique thoughts and beliefs, but they all arrived at two general points that could be agreed upon.

These two major takeways were that no one shoe is perfect for everyone and that a variety of shoes, or a "shoe quiver," was ideal in allowing your foot to become familiar with a variety of flexions and movements. The thought is similar to any exercise. If you work a group of muscles, they get stronger, and equally important, if you neglect a group of muscles, they get weaker. Wearing the same shoe all the time can set you up to work certain muscles while neglecting, or sheltering, others.

This concept of a "shoe quiver" was of particular interest to me, as I have been practicing this for some time now, and what the doctors descirbed seemed to hold quite true in my experience.

The protocol I have followed the past couple years with shoes has been to incorperate a variety of types of footwear that either provide a unique feature (i.e. max cushion vs. low cushion), or are designed for a specific type of training (i.e. trail vs. road or responsive vs absorbant). Personally, I use Altra Footwear because their core principles of zero drop with a variety of cushioning options and a foot-shaped toe box in all their shoes emphasize a natural foot-strike, all while keeping in mind that we often run on quite unnatural surfaces. In order to put an image in mind of what type of shoe I use for what purpose, I will point to the Altra shoes I use for these purposes. Since I like to enjoy a wide range of environments from track to road to trail, I probably use more shoes than most, but by looking at my outline below hopefully you can glean some ideas for what you might want to consider when putting together a shoe quiver that works for you.

My Quiver

Flexible with low cushion

This is the first type of shoe style I use in my running. A shoe that is flexible and has low(er) cushion will allow me to work all the little muscles in my feet and lower legs. Keeping these muscles strong is critical to my overall health and injury protection. Lots of people have to be careful when running in this type of shoe, because most people have, throughout their lives, worn lots of support on their feet. Given time and proper technique, running in this type of shoe can be eased into your program, making you much more injury-resistant in the long run.

The shoes I use to address these types of foot movements include: Superior, One, 3 SUM and... no shoes!

  • The Superior gives me an incredible amount of flexibility that allows my feet to move in multiple directions. It's a trail shoe, so it offers cushion and protection from the ground, but it feels mimimal due to the huge range it gives your foot and ankle to move.
  • You can basically crumple the One into a ball, which shows how much flexibilty it offers. Like the Superior, it has cushion, so it will protect your feet from the impact of unnatural surfaces like pavement or asphalt.
  • The 3SUM and being barefoot fall into the same basic category for me. Little to no support or cushion. Like I mentioned above, this takes time to get used to, but so does lifting a heavy weight. I sprinkle in runs and workouts with the 3SUM in order to keep my feet really strong, but don't abuse them to the extent that my legs are overworked or ruined by unnatuaral running surfaces.

Cushion

This is the type of shoe I mix into the rotation to help with unnatural running surfaces and unnatural volume. If I were just jogging occasionally on plush trails, I would likely not need much of this type of shoe, but that simply isn't the case. With big mileage weeks and often loads of those miles on pavement, I need to be cognizant that I am not doing something natural. This means introducing some cushion into my training to give my legs and feet a break from the unnatural surfaces and the higher-than-average amounts of impact one experiences when following a high-volume training programs.

When looking for flexibilty with cushion, I prefer the Torin, especially on the roads. But when I want a bit more guidance or structure to the shoe, I turn to the Paradigm on the roads and the Olympus on the trails, which are max-cushioned options. I also love these shoes for steep downhill workouts--especially on concrete, when my legs will be taking a much larger shock than when on the flats.

If I want moderate cushion with a neutral range of control, which is what I do the bulk of my miles in, I turn to the Instinct, which is what I would consider a nice in-between when looking at the extremes of flexbile vs. stiff and cushioned vs. flat. Occasionally, I will do a workout on tired legs in order to stress my body the way it will be stressed in the latter stages of an ultramarathon. These are the times in a race or workout when form can break down, and a bit of guidance from your shoe can help keep you biomechanically sound. For this type of workout, I will often throw on the Provision, which is a stability shoe with plenty of cushion. It allows me to get the needed ultra-related stress, but it helps prevent the potential injury flare up from sloppy form.

Moderate cushion with more control

As mentioned above, I love shoe fexibility to strengthen all the ranges of motion the human foot is capable of. However, if these muscles have been noticeably worked, recovery is essential to allow them to recover. In these times I prefer a shoe that is a bit more stiff. If my ankles are sore/tired, the last thing I want to do is go run on a trail or hard surface that could force my tired ankles into a roll. My go-to shoe for this is the Lone Peak on the trails and the Impulse and Provision on the roads.

The fast stuff

Typically when I am doing speedwork, my legs are at least moderately recoverd, so I am not quite as concerned with additional support or cushion. I am more interested in the shoe's lightness and/or responsiveness. I want my feet to feel light when doing fast repeats, and I don't want my legs to feel like they are losing energy into the cushion of my shoe.

For these types of workouts I prefer the One, 3 SUM, and Impulse. The One if I am looking for a really light option, the 3 SUM if I want high amounts of response, and the Impulse if I want moderate response, light feel, and some protection--the perfect tempo run shoe in my opinion.