A Zero Drop with Neutral Stability

Choosing the right running shoe can be a challenge. The simplest solution is to head to a reputable shop. This article is more about what happens when the magic shoe doesn’t feel so magical anymore.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I came to running after being an elite cyclist for many years. Running was always in the background as a fitness building activity but it hadn’t served as my passion since I was 12 and ran cross country for a few years. No, I was a surfer and then a cyclist and now a runner with a few accolades and a lot of mistakes under his belt.

I figured a blog about picking running shoes might help others like me to avoid the same mistakes. Like I said, I came to running from cycling and as a cyclist I had been fit for my bike and my shoes so when I decided to run my first race, The Speedgoat 50, I DNFed, I went to a running store to get fit. I really didn’t want an injury.

What the shop told me after a session on the treadmill was that I needed a stability shoe. And if memory serves correctly, I think I bought a higher Asics based on their recommendations. It worked well and got me running relatively pain free until Speedgoat. But ultras are like that, you suffer and feel pain regardless unless you are an anomaly, drugged up or an elite pro who has to do very little except run, train and recover.

My hip stopped working at Speedgoat and it took some time for it to fix itself. Once it did, I found my trusty Asics, I was on the 2nd or 3rd pair by then, were not giving me the same feel as they had before Speedgoat and the time off. Lucky enough for me, a friend of mine and I did the 12 hour of something or other in Colorado and had won and what we won was a pair of Newtons each so I reached for them and gave them a spin. My hip pain was gone only to return on my next run after redonning the Asics.

This is what I believe happened and why I am sharing the story with you. We have all sorts of fascia and tendons and small muscles underneath our epidermis. Lots. And what I think happened is this. When I was a new runner, I needed a stability shoe. It was the right shoe for me to enter into running. I was not yet a runner. I only aspired to be a runner. So the stability shoe in many ways acted like training wheels when I was learning to ride a bike. It was only when I was able to ride well did the training wheels become a hindrance and threaten to cause injury. That is why they were removed.

Now, running was the same. As a novice, I needed all the help I could get to strengthen everything. Stability shoes and insoles. It was only after I had run up a few levels did I need a change. Once I changed, I was injury free again for many years. Neutral shoes with a 6-12 drop did the trick giving me just enough extra lengthening in my tendons to not cause injury. I won a few races and had a lot of fun.

So, if you are a runner who is injury prone and running with stability shoes, pick up a neutral pair and see if that solves your problem. It certainly did mine.

Now, I would be remiss not to give some attention to zero drop which is the opposite of a shoe designed for stability. They run really well but the injuries caused by them can be debilitating. Long-term, months if not a year, without running. This is not to say they are bad. They are great until injured.

Look at the history of shoes from Cowboy boots to flat to high heels. No matter the wearer’s gender, most shoes throughout history have come with a lift. A heel of some sort and from day whatever, when mom and dad pop your feet into your first pair of shoes, they have chosen for you a life in heels unless you do a lot of work to rewire your feet, your gait and your posture. 

On flat courses your shoe, stability, neutral or zero drop, doesn’t really matter that much unless you are shooting for a PR or a win. Most runners will eventually adapt to a forefront running step rarely landing on the heels.

And downhills don’t matter so much since your ankles are free and limp and you are just landing and going, allowing momentum and gravity to do much of the work. It’s on the uphills that zero drop needs extreme caution. If you are a runner used to putting your heel down while walking or running uphill, take a lot of time before using zero drops for your long runs. When you get tired, those extra millimeters that your heel needs to go to hit the ground is stretching tendons and fascia and muscles that get very little blood flow meaning slow to heal. That’s a fact.

Other than that, find shoes that fit your foot, give you limited blisters on your big runs and make you more confident on descents. If you don’t trust your shoe going downhill, buy a new shoe. Have fun. Keep running and keep the rubber side down unless doing flips of course.

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