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How Does Choosing Running Shoes Change As We Age?

How Does Choosing Running Shoes Change As We Age?
Heading out of transition for the run at the Eagle River Triathlon near Anchorage, Alaska.

After beginning to train for my first triathlon, I purchased a pair of running shoes from a specialty running store. I was happy with the shoes and the experience. I was also pleased to have learned through this fitting that a wider shoe (2E) is a better fit for me than is a standard width.

However, after that first purchase, I started shopping for shoes online, partly for convenience. I was working full-time and did not relish shopping during the precious hours outside of work.

Online shopping allowed me to take advantage of sale prices which I was sure could not be matched by brick & mortar businesses that sold shoes. (I am now convinced that this was wrong.)

For these purchases, I used internet resources, such as the shoe finder apps and calculators on the websites of some manufacturers, to select specific brands and models of shoes.

Questioning My Process for Selecting Running Shoes

Recently, I came upon a Silver Sneakers post titled 5 Steps to Find the Right Workout Shoes. The article included some new – at least for me – suggestions for lacing and tying running shoes based on foot shape, selecting socks, and breaking in new shoes.

The author’s information was useful. However, comments from the post’s readers were even more enlightening. The author stressed the point that shoes should be comfortable. Meanwhile, the readers highlighted how often shoes did not fit properly or were uncomfortable.

I had to stop and think about how I would go about selecting my next pair of running shoes. What was the most effective way to find them? And, did my needs in a shoe change with age?

Does Age Matter? Yes & No!

I asked Kurt Decker, an avid runner and General Manager of TC Running Company, if he has observed an effect of age on shoe selection.

While, in his experience, the age of the runner is not a specific factor in choosing a running shoe, he has seen some tweaks that runners tend to make with age. The two major changes are:

  1. Increasing the amount of cushioning in the shoe and
  2. Increasing the width of the shoe; feet tend to become wider, or splay, with age and more miles of running.

“Aging is like so much in life – it’s different for each of us.”

Terry VanderWert

The Running Store Approach to Choosing Shoes

Even before reading the SilverSneakers article, I had started to question the online tools I had used for selecting shoes.

Every time I used a particular calculator, a different model of shoe would be recommended even though I had given the same answers to the questions. Besides, how could static tests of balance and bending account for dynamic movements during running?

I decided to visit the local TC Running store to experience their fitting process. When we first met, I told the salesperson, Travis, that I was doing research for a Senior Triathletes post. As a result, he was kind enough to explain the process and shoes in detail.

Step 1: Evaluating a Current Pair of Slightly Worn Running Shoes

I have read that the wear pattern on a current pair of running shoes paints a picture of the owner’s running form. Therefore, I brought along a pair of shoes that were the most worn yet still being used for running.

Travis asked if the shoes had been used exclusively or nearly always for running (which they had been) or for other non-running activities such as walking around my home or office. Running creates a unique set of movements and stresses and, therefore, wear pattern.

He pointed out that while conventional wisdom involves inspecting the heel for its wear pattern, the more important area to inspect is across the width of the shoe under the ball of the foot. The uniform wear on my shoes pointed out that I have a fairly neutral gait and foot strike. He was also able to see a small but minimal effect of asymmetry in my ankles.

A moderately worn pair of running shoes. We used these as part of the process for choosing new running shoes.

Step 2: Checking My Gait Without Shoes

Before choosing a single pair of shoes, Travis had me walk with socks but no shoes across a hard surface. He observed my movement as I walked about 10 yards away from and then back to him.

From this, he selected three pairs of shoes based on the level of support he judged that I needed.

Step 3: Observing My Running Gait

Next, I tried on shoes from two manufacturers. The shoes represented two different technologies for support of the foot during running.

I did not try the third pair; I was not planning to purchase shoes that day and did not want to keep Travis from ‘paying customers’.

The first pair I tried were light gray Brooks Adrenaline 19 with GuideRail technology. GuideRails, new with this year’s models, provide support through, as the name implies, rails (rods) molded into the shoe on each side of its heel.

The second shoes, an olive green pair from New Balance, provide support through stiff foam along the edges of the shoe from the heel to middle of the arch.

I jogged about 10 yards away from and then back toward Travis in each of the pairs while he observed me. His conclusion was that both pairs appeared to provide the required support.

Both shoes were extremely comfortable and nice looking. They surely made me want to buy a pair, though I resisted the temptation since I didn’t need them yet.

Brick & Mortar or Online?

I am much more likely to purchase from a brick & mortar store, like TC Running Company, that specializes in running shoes than from an online store.

As near as I could tell from the discussions, the prices from TC Running are comparable to those from online sources. For the price-conscious shopper, TC Running also offers ‘last year’s’ models at discounted prices, just like the online stores.

Even if the prices were slightly higher, I would be much more confident in the selection of shoe based on a dynamic evaluation of my running form than from a static-only (at best) assessment with the online stores.

If the Shoe Fits, You Will Wear It

Most runner’s shoes are selected after trying on several pairs of shoes to find a pair that provides the balance of support, fit, and comfort. The same process for determining the right shoes is used for all ages, even if the outcome in terms of the specific shoes that are selected changes with time.

Remember: Shoes that fit properly and feel comfortable when running are much more likely to get used.

Leave Your Comments and Questions Below

Where do you buy your running shoes?

How, if at all, have you found your shoes to change with age?

Please share your thoughts below.

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What Does Science Say About Running for Seniors?

What Does Science Say About Running for Seniors?

Is running safe for seniors, defined here as those age 50 and over?  What if our joints are showing early or advanced signs of arthritis? 

This post summarizes what I learned while investigating what science has to say about running for seniors.

 

What Does the Research About Seniors and Running Tell Us?

A majority of senior triathletes come to the sport from a background of running.  However, those who have not spent their ‘before triathlon’ lives as runners face at least some level of confusion about whether they should begin running later in life.   The ‘conventional wisdom’ is that running is hard on our joints, especially those that may already show signs of age.

An internet search of the phrase ‘running vs. walking’ produced interesting and even pleasantly surprising results from academic research.  It turns out that academic research results do not support the conventional wisdom.

I must preface the following comments with the disclaimer that the physicians of some, including my wife, who have artificial knees, hips, or other joints may advise their patients against runningI am not qualified to debate this advice.

However, if your doctor has given you the ‘ok’ to run, then consider the following.

 

Running and Injuries for Seniors

A review of 400 articles which covered 15 studies based on data gathered for the same subjects over time produced the following conclusions:

A drawback of running is the relatively high risk of injury, with an incidence varying between 19% and 79% according to a review of several studies. . . . Acute running injuries are rare, consisting mainly of muscle injuries, sprain, or skin lesions (blisters and abrasions).[1]

The major conclusions from this review were that the tendency for injury is higher for those, especially men, with a history of leg injuries and that shoe inserts/orthotics should be avoided.  The authors admitted that there could be a connection between previous injury and the use of inserts.  “It is possible that runners who are more prone to injury are given orthotic/inserts earlier”.

Only one of eight studies included in the review showed that age had a significant effect on injuries.  In the one study which did show an effect, age was shown to make subjects more susceptible to overuse injuries, especially to the hamstrings and Achilles tendon.

Another report showed that the link to leg injuries is primarily related to two anatomical factors – feet with high arches (cavus feet) and unequal leg length.[2]

There is also evidence that for older runners, the loss of shock-absorbing capability can increase overuse injuries.  However, this can be countered through the use of running shoes with optimal cushioning properties and by limiting running under high impact conditions.[3]

 

The Benefits of Running Outweigh the Risks

Even if we interpret these studies to mean that older runners are more susceptible to overuse injuries, the conclusions suggest that these factors can be managed.

On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence from research to show that there are important benefits of running.

Muscular efficiency – improved ability for ‘moving young

One study[4] showed that “older runners had a 7-10% better walking economy than older walkers over the range of speeds tested . . . and had walking economy similar to young sedentary adults over a similar range of speeds”.   The researchers concluded that “Running mitigates the age-related deterioration of walking economy whereas walking for exercise appears to have minimal effect on the age-related deterioration in walking economy.”

Another study[5] concluded that older runners had modified their biomechanics to adjust for reduced strength of some muscles of the calf.  The result was more effective movement of older runners during walking as compared to their non-runner counterparts.  Researchers concluded that “runners may be able to transfer motor adaptation from running to walking even in old age.”

One other study[6] concluded similarly that “vigorous exercise, such as running, prevents the age related deterioration of muscular efficiency and, therefore, may make everyday activities easier.”  The study showed that “running economy”, which is determined primarily by the storage and release of elastic energy from the leg, is only minimally different between young runners and those over 65 years.

A senior triathlete running across the finish line of the Maple Grove Minnesota triathlon

Crossing the finish line at the Maple Grove, Minnesota triathlon

 

 

 

Weight control through running for seniors

Running has also been shown to be more effective for weight control than walking alone.  In one study[7], researchers attempted to determine if running and other exercises, including walking, would produce the same benefits in terms of weight control (BMI and waist circumference).   The conclusion was that non-running exercises could not be substituted for running to achieve the same weight loss results.

Similarly, another study[8]  showed that even though the change in BMI is strongly related to the change in energy expended for both running and walking, the change in BMI was greater for running than walking.

 

Reduced mortality from certain chronic diseases and cancers

Studies have also shown that exercise, whether running or walking, significantly reduces cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, pneumonia, influenza and other illnesses in people with diabetes. [9]   Likewise, the risk for fatal brain cancer has been shown to be reduced by both running and walking. [10]

Running has also been shown to significantly reduce mortality of breast cancer after diagnosis, whereas walking was shown to have a non-significant effect. [11]

More Running is Not Always Better?

People who are physically active have at least a 30% lower risk of death compared to those who are inactive.  However, according to conclusions of the Copenhagen City Heart Study [12], the ideal amount of exercise for improving longevity is uncertain.

Findings of the study found that light and moderate runners have lower mortality than sedentary non-runners.  On the other hand, “people who run most days of the week at a pace faster than 7 miles per hour have the same risk of death as sedentary individuals.” [13]  That’s good news for slow runners like me!

 

Running Can Be Good For Seniors

Science shows that running has a number of health benefits.   The benefits of running are generally greater than those from walking alone, especially when done in moderation.

While running is more likely to lead to injury than walking, paying attention to and minimizing conditions that lead to overuse injuries – along with strength training and stretching – will minimize the occurrence of injuries.

Remember, if you have not been running recently, start slowly (see How To Start – Or Re-Start – Running).  If you have been running, don’t increase distance or intensity too quickly.

 

 

Leave Your Comments and Questions Below

What are your thoughts about the conclusions presented here?

Has your running changed with age? If so, how?

 

References

[1] van der Worp, Maarten P., et al., “Injuries in Runners; A Systematic Review on Risk Factors and Sex Differences”, PLoS One, 2015; 10(2): e0114937.

[2] Fields, Karl B., et al., “Prevention of Running Injuries”, Current Sports Medicine Reports: May/June 2010 – Volume 9 – Issue 3 – pp 176-182.

[3] Bus S. A., “Ground reaction forces and kinematics in distance running in older-aged men”, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 Jul;35(7):1167-75.

[4] Ortega J. D., et al., “Running for exercise mitigates age-related deterioration of walking economy”, PLoS One. 2014 Nov 20;9(11):e113471.

[5] Karamanidis, K., et al., “Aging and running experience affects the gearing in the musculoskeletal system of the lower extremities while walking”, Gait & Posture, April 2007; 25(4):590-6.

[6] Beck O. N., et al., “Older Runners Retain Youthful Running Economy despite Biomechanical Differences.” Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Apr;48(4):697-704.

[7] Williams P. T., “Non-exchangeability of running vs. other exercise in their association with adiposity, and its implications for public health recommendations”, PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e36360.

[8] Williams, Paul T., “Greater Weight Loss from Running than Walking during 6.2-yr Prospective Follow-up”, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Apr; 45(4): 706–713.

[9] Williams P. T., “Reduced total and cause-specific mortality from walking and running in diabetes”, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46(5):933-9.

[10] Williams P. T., “Significantly greater reduction in breast cancer mortality from post-diagnosis running than walking”, Int J Cancer. 2014 Sep 1;135(5):1195-202.

[11] Williams P. T., “Reduced risk of brain cancer mortality from walking and running”, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46(5):927-32.

[12] Schnohr P., et al., “Dose of jogging and long-term mortality: the Copenhagen City Heart Study”, J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015 Feb 10;65(5):411-9.

[13] Greenfield, Paige, “Why Walking Is Better Than Running”, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/prevention/walking-versus-running_b_8123084.html.

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Book Review: What Hal Higdon Teaches Us About ‘Moving Young‘

by Terry VanderWert

A review of “Masters Running: a guide to running and staying fit after 40”, Hal Higdon (c2005)

Staying active as we age is key to not only a longer life but one that is more enjoyable.  93% of the 500 respondents to a survey of runners indicated that they ran in order to stay fit.  In his book “Masters Running” (Rodale Press), Hal Higdon shares his advice from a life of running to help us not only become better runners but also to decrease the inevitable effects of aging.

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How Do I Start Running for My First Triathlon?

by Terry VanderWert
How Do I Start Running for My First Triathlon?

Starting to Run for Triathlon Training

No matter if you are new to running or it has been some time since you ran, start slowly.  Follow this advice from Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, for those in her 70+ year age group.

“You don’t have to completely change your clothes and get into special gear. Get the shoes on and go out in what you have on. Just move.”

Before you know it, your fitness will improve and you will be capable of completing your first triathlon.

Follow this simple advice for training for the triathlon run.

Many people who participate in triathlon, independent of their age, come from a background of running. That was clearly not my case. I ran my first 5-k at the age of 50. The training that I had done in preparation for this race could be best described as intuition – no reading or advice from a trainer. In any case, I easily survived.

If you have been a runner for much of your life, then you can skip through this article since it is dedicated to those who have never been runners or have not been running for a number of years.   However, please check back for information in the future where lessons from experienced masters runners will be shared.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are not currently running or if your doctor has not given you permission to start running, speak with your primary care physician before doing so. My wife, who has had both knees replaced, has been told by her orthopedic surgeon that she cannot run on her new knees. She can, however, still participate in triathlon as part of a relay team.

If after consulting your doctor, you continue with your plan to start running, the following program, called the 30/30 Plan, has been defined by Hal Higdon, author of ‘Masters Running: a guide to running and staying fit after 40’ – click here for a review of this book:

“1. Walk out the door and go 15 minutes in one direction, turn around, return 15 minutes to where you started: 30 minutes total.

2. For the first 10 minutes of your workout, it is obligatory that you walk: No running!

3. For the last 5 minutes of your workout, it is obligatory that you walk; Again, no running!

4. During the middle 15 minutes of the workout, you are free to jog or run – as long as you do so easily and do not push yourself.

5. Here’s how to run during those middle 15 minutes: Jog for 30 seconds, walk until you are recovered, jog 30 seconds again. Jog, walk, Jog. Walk. Jog. Walk.

6. Once comfortable jogging and walking, adopt a 30/30 pattern. Jogging 30 seconds, walking 30 seconds, etc.

Follow this 30/30 pattern for 30 days. If you train continuously every day you can complete this is one month. If you train only every other day, it will take you 2 months. Do what your body tells you. Everyone is different in their ability to adapt to exercise. When you are beginning, it is better to do too little than too much.”

After 30 days you should be able to cover 1 to 2 miles by walking and jogging.

In preparing for her first triathlon at age 63, Sue Faulkner recalls “My first run was with my granddaughter alongside the canal, which was nice and flat. I could only manage 20 paces at a time before walking a short way, then running another 20 paces. It was a start.”  Eight weeks later she was able to run the 2.5 km distance of the triathlon.  Source: http://www.bbc.com/sport/get-inspired/28806570

It is important to not increase mileage or intensity (speed) by more than 5% per week. I have tried to do more and realized this to be true. On the other hand, in preparation for my first half marathon (13. 1 miles) last year, I learned that one can increase by small amounts each week without injury.

Before starting running, I recommend that you visit one of your local running stores (not a general purpose sports store) to review the options for shoes with people knowledgeable of the needs of runners. Most of the people working in these stores are runners. Find the correct fit (for example, I found that I needed a wide (2E) shoe width.

Brooks Adrenaline GTS15, size 13 2E

Brooks Adrenaline GTS15, size 13 2E

Also, note that you need to spend some time ‘breaking in’ these shoes, which can occur by walking or short runs. My experience is that with new shoes, the first few times that I wear them, I find an extra amount of friction between my foot and the inner sole of the shoe. This usually stops after a few miles of use.

Remember to be patient – progress consistently but modestly.

A future post will describe the importance of stretching after running and biking and a routine that I have found important for preventing injury.

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