An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kinvara's -- some issues

Okay, I know, I said a little while ago that I only had one part left in shoe design, and it's still coming. I just noticed a couple things about my Kinvara's today before my run, and another at the end of my run, and I just feel a need to spout off about it.

First, I noticed that there's a spot on the outside of each foot where the outer material is wearing through. I've tied them such that the last two or three eyelets are loose. I knotted the laces under the tongue loop, and have the part below that very loose. Well, there's a "skeleton" system between the upper layers (the holed-up neoprene layer and the outer material), and the forward-most portions of that skeleton are loose. On the right shoe, this is wearing through the upper at the forward edge. On the left foot, just forward of that, where the material "folds" as I run, is also wearing through.

And I just passed the 180 mile mark in them today.

Also, as much as I went up a half-size to get forefoot room, my little toes are still being pushed sideways by the upper. The inward sweep of the toe box happens too quickly, and while the upper is wide enough where the metatarsals end, it sweeps inward immediately, pushing my little toe into the adjacent toe. Apparently this has been an issue with every shoe I've ever worn, and I'm sick of it.

Lastly, as I was finishing up my run, I was on a road surface, and I could SWEAR I could feel the lugs from the outsole on the bottom of my foot. I checked after I finished the run, and the midsole doesn't seem overly compressed, so I'm not sure what's going on with that.

180 miles, and I'm having issues, not the least of which is the upper wearing through. I've NEVER had a shoe do that so soon.

As much as I like the shoe, I don't think I'll be buying them again. What will replace them? Unknown...

(NOTE: The photo is NOT of my pair of shoes, so you can stop looking there to see where they're wearing through.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Forefoot width -- a surprise

I had a bit of a shock last night.

I don't have a wide foot. Either one of them.

Gordo on the Born to Run forum posted this chart on standard shoe widths for mens' shoes. According to the chart, a standard D width mens' shoe is made to 4.1" in width at the forefoot. So being the total shoe nerd I am, I decided to lay out the measuring tape and step on it. I measured both feet, in socks. And then I measured again. And again.

The largest I got was 4". Even. Not even the 4.1" that's considered "normal", medium, D width.

So why does it feel like my shoes are too narrow? Why am I leaving the last two (or more) lace eyelets loose? Why did my last shoe purchase (dress shoes) need to be EEE width to feel comfortable? Why are the most comfortable daily-wear shoes I have a pair of Nevados boat shoes that look like duck feet?

I can't say it's that my foot splays out, because I measured my foot under load.

I can't say that all the shoes I've ever worn are just made narrow.

I seem to have very long toes. Maybe that's the issue.

The only thing I can come up with is that the shoes, while "wide enough", are just the wrong shape. I guess it remains to be seen whether the Merrell Barefoot line, the NB Minimus line, or the offerings from Altra, will be of the "right" shape for me.

I took a picture of my feet... See for yourself. Do they look wide? I didn't think so either, but how all my shoes were feeling was leading me to believe they were. And to address some questions: The left foot has seen some issues over the years. The second toe overlaps the third as a result of the corrective surgery I had in 2008, addressing the Frieberg's Infraction in that toe. Maybe you can see the long scar over the toe joint... The two red patches over the 4th and 5th toes joints are the result of a swimming incident this past summer, where I kicked something under the water that took two very large "divets" out of my foot. They'll start to look "normal" in about a year...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

If I were a shoe designer... Part 3

Last shape, insoles and footbeds:

I like insoles in my shoes. I can't say for sure why that is, but it's just something that's worked for me throughout all my years of running. Even with the "less shoe" emphasis, I find that the insole makes a big difference "for me". And since I'm being the shoe designer here... Footbeds and insoles I guess I see as almost the same thing. The only difference might be a "footbed" could be interpreted as contour on the top surface of the midsole, which I don't think is necessary, as long as the insole is there. I don't like sharp edges on the insole. The Kinvara insole (and most of the shoes I've worn) works quite well. I see that Altra is planning to ship two insoles with their shoes. Good move on their part. The Merrells have an insole similar to the Nike Waffle Racer (which I've used), and only time will tell if that's good or not. As long as the insole is large enough that the toes don't lap over the edge, it's good.

The last shape, though, is one of those make-or-break items for most people. This is what mostly determines if a shoe will "fit" or not. It's the shape over which the shoe is made. One of the things I've been having difficulty with over the last few years is the width at the forefoot, and I hear that it's something that all the new lines are addressing. The pointed toe shoe isn't it. The big toe should have enough room to line up directly with the first metatarsal, and not be pushed into the other toes. This is what causes bunions. Even my Kinvaras that are a good half-size larger that ANY shoes I've ever worn don't fully let my big toe point straight -- I can feel the shoe upper on the edge. Also, the shape of the shoe being curved inward at the little toe is an issue for me. Years of wearing shoes that pushed my toes together are OVER! I've realized that this has been happening since I started running back in high school -- my little toes have been pushed inward, and especially on my left foot, the toe has a sharp callus from being pushed under the 4th toe. Even recently, with my decidedly average width feet, in order to get enough toe room in some "formal" shoes I bought, I had to get EEE width. Fortunately, the heel wasn't proportionately wide, so they actually fit (neglecting the heel height, which there was no way to get around).

Anyway... Width in the forefoot, not just the toes.

And one thing that I'm seeing STILL is a cutaway under the rear head of the 5th metatarsal. Why? In a midfoot landing, the entire fifth metatarsal is load bearing. When the midsole material is cut away there, that puts an edge under that load bearing bone. BAD! Merrell did this, but I think Altra kept it there (especially in the Adam) and maybe New Balance (the Minimus Trail looks to have this dialed).

One issue I didn't mention last time in the midsole section: Little to no toe spring. I'm finding that any upward curve of my toes works against me. That's not to say that the midsole/sole can't roll upward away from the ground at rest. I like how the Kinvara (and the NB Minimus Road) do this -- the actual foot bed is flat, while the toe spring (what little there is) happens via the midsole.

Next time: Uppers.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A departure for today...

I'm going to depart from my "shoe design" thoughts for a day and just give an update on what's happening with the feet and legs. Fortunately, my feet are doing fine. The emphasis on not pushing off with the calves has done wonders for keeping any symptoms of Frieberg's from showing up in my right foot. Keeping the foot as flat as possible throughout the entire gait seems to be the key here.

But... I'm having some issues with my right achilles tendon. It's quite tender, about one inch above where it attaches to the heel bone. It started a little last week, after 3 days in a row running. I took one off, riding my MTB instead, and it felt pretty good. Followed that with another 3 days in a row, higher mileage the first two, and it came on strong. The third day, I altered my stride a bit (shorter strides, higher cadence, relaxing the foot as much as possible, more of a flat-foot landing), and I made it through the run fine with minimal "pain" (wasn't really "pain", but I was aware of the tendon), but the soreness came on even more after. I found myself limping a bit, and needing several steps before it loosened up enough to be able to walk with some semblance of normalcy.

So I'm taking a few days off running, doing bike riding instead (I've been neglecting that of late, so this isn't such a bad thing), and trying some other things to see what happens. One thing I did was to go barefoot last night around the house. Surprisingly, it helped. I noticed while I was riding my stationary trainer last night that there was an imprint in my leg from the socks I'd been wearing most of the day, and it coincided almost exactly with were the point pain in my achilles. So today, I'm at work sockless, and taking my shoes off as much as I can (obviously I can't walk around that way). But the achilles is feeling better, so there may be something to the socks. Or it could just be that not running is doing it. Maybe I'll be ditching my socks... And maybe some zero-drop daily wear shoes are in order (can I make it another 3 weeks for the Merrels to get distributed?).

Other than that little niggling issue, all is going well. I've been feeling good on my long-ish runs. Form is coming with much less mind-space being taken up in maintaining it, and the 4-5 mile runs are feeling pretty effortless. Though I may be set back a bit from that with this achilles issue. Recovery should be fast.

In another vein... what's with losing the pictures from the blog? Apparently I need to not refer to stock photos from other sites and load them onto my own machine before linking them to my blog. And it's interesting what happens to the formatting between typing up the items and having them post publicly. Right/left formatting for the pictures gets lost mostly. Oh well. I'm not getting paid for this...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

If I were a shoe designer... Part 2

Working my way up the shoe, the next step is the midsole:

First, it would have a low heel-drop, 4mm or less. Sure, there's the Saucony Kinvara, a few Inov-8 models, and a few others that have that already. These also have their shortcomings. The Kinvara has a 4mm drop, but with the forefoot being perched atop lugs that are rather soft, I feel that the effective heel drop once the shoe is weighted is actually higher. GoLite has two models of zero drop, as well as Altra coming out in April, but I'm not necessarily sold that zero drop is the answer. Low drop, yes. Not that I have anything against zero drop, I just don't think that it's the ONLY way to go. I think the difference between zero and 4mm is negligible. Others, however, will disagree (most notable almost any one on the Born to Run forum). And why is this important? Two reasons: Getting the heel out of the way so you can midfoot land, and keeping the metatarsals more level with the ground (see my earlier post on Frieberg's Infraction, December 26th).

On top of that, I have a bit of a beef with the material used, and this has been so since the 1980's -- WHY are we still using EVA for running shoe midsoles? The only reason I can come up with is that the shoe companies want to build in "planned obsolescence", much the way the car companies did just after WWII -- when they cut the design life in half. EVA takes on compression-set very quickly, and the lighter the EVA (meaning more air in it), the faster it compresses. Yes, it's light, and can be cut rather than needing to be molded, so it's cheaper to use. Nike (and a very few notable exceptions) used urethane in several models, along with their Nike Air units. These things lasted a good long time. Even in the few racing shoes they made with urethane midsoles (the Mariah and the American Eagle), they LASTED. I put far more miles on the Nike Vortex (see picture at right) and the Columbia that I did on most other shoes simply because the midsoles didn't compress. So that's the HUGE difference I'd go to in a shoe -- using urethane in the midsole rather than EVA. I'd rather pay the slightly higher price for this feature more than ANY other. Maybe I'd lose my shirt making shoes that lasted so long, but I'd rather have customers that crowed my praises to the world on that one issue than sell 5 more pairs of shoes.

Heel flare is something that I've seen as non-essential. For a fore- or mid-foot landing, the heel comes down (or SHOULD come down) with a relaxed foot almost immediately after the initial strike. There is no need for a base wider than the heel itself.

Along with that, there shouldn't be a sharp edge to the bottom of the shoe on the outer edge of the forefoot. I see this in the New Balance Minimus Trail and the Merrell Barefoot shoes, and I think this is important in softening the lading on the outer edge, as well as easing the transition to the rest of the forefoot as the foot flattens.

Next up will be the footbed, insole, and last shape.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

If I were a shoe designer...

How would I design a running shoe if I had all the resources necessary available to me?Well, it wouldn't look a lot like anything on the market right now, or even the models soon to be released by Merrel, New Balance, or even Altra. As much as I'm psyched at these lines coming out in the spring, I can see shortcomings in all of them. Maybe I’m too much of a shoe geek, and maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised when I get a chance to actually try them on…

I’ll build the shoe from the ground up, in a few posts. Which means, I’ll start with…The sole...

The Vibrams (at least most of them), and the Altra Adam, have absolutely no tread. Think of a racing slick. Though for road running, it's probably not so much of a problem (shoes won't hydroplane). Slightly less traction in wet conditions, but "less" never would get to be "not enough" unless you're on something like wet paint stripes or man-hole covers or ice, in which case nothing would help. Lugs? Many of the Inov-8 line have very aggressive lugs. But once they get past just a few millimeters, they become a detriment on hard surfaces. Even on snow, it's amazing how little tread it takes, depth-wise, to get good traction.

I think it's interesting to think of Nike's originals being made on a waffle iron... what would they look like? An inverted tread. I'd think that would pack up rather easily if the inverted parts were too small. But I'd want a sole that cleared easily, tread that wasn't very deep, maybe a modified inverted waffle-like pattern. It would need to be fairly continuous. One of my beefs with the Saucony Kinvara is that the forefoot lugs on the outer edge aren't covered by carbon rubber. These are the lugs that make first contact with the ground in a forefoot or midfoot strike, and also take most of the abrasion.

Years ago, several shoe companies were using a “blown rubber” outsole to make them lighter and more cushioned. What they also did was make them MUCH less abrasion resistant. The next trend was using carbon rubber in only the high-wear areas, namely the heel for most shoes. I think this is exactly the WORNG place, especially in a shoe made for mid- and fore-foot landings, and New Balance hasn’t gotten this idea yet. Their Minimus Road shoe uses a carbon block in the heel only. I think if they added carbon rubber to the forefoot, especially along the outer edge, they would go a long way towards having a winner on their hands.

I think the coming Altra Instinct has an almost idea sole, as far as tread pattern goes. It’s hard to tell from the Altra site and the pictures whether it’s made from carbon black rubber or if it’s a grey colored material (meaning less carbon – softer). I’m also intrigued by the New Balance Minimus Trail sole, and I’ll have to reserve judgment on that one until I can try it on – I think it may not be as suited for the road.

Next, I’ll take a look at the midsole – in many ways, the “heart” of a shoe.