I was in Tallahassee, FL, for the Lydiard Coaching Certificate Clinic a few weekends ago. There, I had rather a heated discussion on shoes with a couple of participants. Well, one of them was an employee of a running specialty store…! ;o) The topic: “Do we need extra space at the tip of the shoe?”
Over the past few years, I got to know 2 individuals from Japan. One is a physical therapists whose blog covers a lot about picking the right shoes…quite extensively. Another guy goes by “Shoes Master” on his twitter and goes in depth on how to choose the “Cinderella shoes (as he puts it)” for your running. This guy actually goes around the country, lecturing how to pick the right shoes for running. I’ve talked to some of the participants there and they all say; “Wow! Never thought of it this way — it’s as if a scale had come off from my eyes…!” His uncle opened the first ever running specialty store in Japan back in the 1980s; one of the first people to bring famous American runners like Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, Lisa Waidenbuck (now Rainsburger), etc. In fact, I fondly remember, when I went back to Japan after finishing my college in Washington State and had a job in Nagoya, the fourth largest city in Japan, and had an odd-hours for my work (noon to 9PM). So during the day, I hang around that store, Jog Kojima, all the time. Both of them have a rather unique concept of shoes, most of which most people think are not so-called “conventional” wisdom, but happens to be very similar to what I’ve learnt from Arthur Lydiard.
Straight forward, Lydiard always said: “If the shoe really fits, you don’t need the thumb width at the end of the shoe…” I’ve tried it, ended up getting blisters (:-D) – that was when I didn’t quite get what Lydiard meant by “well-fitted shoes”. Lydiard made shoes with Converse back in 1980s. The first model was called Equinox. They were beautiful shoes and, even to this day, one of my all-time favorite shoes. As I moved on to be more “minimalist”, I enjoyed some of Nike racing flats during that period. Air Edge and American Eagle were my favorites. Surprisingly, and sadly for me, they all of a sudden changed the last in late 1980s and now the “shape” of these racing shoes changed – though the shape of my feet stayed the same… Interestingly, by the time Air Mariah and Duelist came out, I couldn’t even wear them for walking around!! It was all because of the shape of these shoes.
Shoes are, without doubt and I’m sure nobody argues, THE most important equipment the runners can have. It is still quite fresh in our memories when Galen Rupp dropped out of a mile race because his spike shoes were hurting his feet. I’ve written a blog a few years back about Ethiopia’s Debaba’s spike shoes, when she won the gold medal in 10000m, seemingly twisting her feet around and I almost wanted to hide my eyes watching it!! She won the race anyway, but – and I’m not necessarily saying I was right about this but… – she had Kinesio Tape on her leg on the same side in 5000m a few days later. Ill-fitted shoes can not only slow you down but also invite injuries. This, actually, is exactly the point of this other Japanese guy, Dr. Yuuji Kondo of Wakaba Institute in Shizuoka, Japan. It’s not just a shape, he points out. If the shoe functions incorrectly, your feet will be twisted around, and the percussion of those “wrong movements” will cause undue pressures on your ankle, knees, hips and spine.
One of the MOST important things about getting the right-fitted shoes is the SHAPE and SIZE of the shoes. Lydiard always said that “It’s not you who pronates or supinates; it’s the shoe…” He went on by saying the foot being “banana-shape”. “If you put a banana-shape foot in a straight-shape shoe, parts of the foot (mainly the heel and/or base of the big toe and/or base of the little toe – in other words, the edges of the boomerang-shape foot) will be pushed out, and hang over the edge of the shoe…” Suppose your “curve” through the heel–little toe–big toe doesn’t quite fit in the shape of the shoe…what would be the most common approach people take? Yes, get a size…or two bigger!! I’ve done it myself…in the earlier days! You already had an idea of which shoe you want to purchase and went to the store only to find out the shoe didn’t quite fit… “But I want these shoes because these are the same model so-and-so were wearing when he/she won such-and-such marathon…!” Sounds familiar? So they get over-sized shoes. Moreover, 90% of running store’s so-called “shoe specialists” would recommend you to get “a thumb width extra space at the end of the shoes…” In other words, over-sized shoes.
The Shoes Master, Professor Norio Nomura, says that there is a big difference between an old lady slipping an over-sized slipper (shoes) on her feet and go to a convenient store on the corner to buy a carton of milk and trying to find the most well-fitted snug shoes to seek “high performance”. You want snug shoes that you can generate power all the way through the tip of your shoes – yes, you ARE looking for Cinderella’s perfectly-fitted-slipper-like shoes for YOUR feet; not because some famous runner wore them at the Olympics (of course, as most of know, most probably those guys are getting custom-made shoes anyway…).Had anybody thought about why we need this “thumb width” at the tip of the shoe? In the olden-days, the toe box of the shoe wasn’t quite 3-dimentional. It may have had reinforcement but it ran up and down straight into the tip of the shoe…this actually “flattens” the toe box (image above). If the tip of our toes look like the tip of a shovel, this would be fine. But most of us have toes that are 3-dimentional. The only way we can solve this was to “have a thumb width extra space at the end of the shoe.” In fact, Kenji Kimihara, one of the Japanese marathon greats in the 1960s and 70s (8th in 1964 Tokyo Olympics marathon, silver medal in 1968 Mexico City Olympics, 5th in 1972 Munich Olympics, also 1966 Boston Marathon champion), said that, when he got the brand new shoes, he would dip them in the water and wore them to make them snug (the olden days’ shoes were made of canvas material that shrunk somewhat when wet). Invariably the tip of the big toe gets too tight so he would intentionally cut a small piece to create a “pressure release” hole (image left). This is because the toe box of the old shoes were not 3-dimentional (although, these shoes are not too bad at all with a “U” shape reinforcement trying to make it like a “box” which, considering the era, quite revolutionary. Yup, that’s the work of Onitsuka-Tiger!!). Yet, he preferred snug fit. Why? It’s because, as Arthur Lydiard had explained, “even the slowest runners would ‘kick’ at the end of the toes – this is why you have plastic teeth at the end of the spike shoes…” Suppose you have this extra “flabby” area, an inch and all, at the end of the shoe where you need the good traction, what do you think would happen??? If you want to throw a baseball as fast as you can, do you want a glove with inch or so of extra flab at the tip of your finger? You can’t even transfer the utmost power into the ball, can you? But THAT is exactly what most people are doing by wearing over-sized shoes.
Professor Nomura would ask you if you know the actual measurement of your foot. I measured my own foot as instructed. I got 26.8cm. I wear US size 9.5, which is 27.5cm. “That’s okay,” he told me. “You wear ASICS Tarther which is in a category of racing shoes with a curved last. That’s equivalent of 27.0 for ‘regular’ running shoes,” he confirmed with me. Someone with 26.8cm foot, he says, most probably wears size 28.0cm shoes, if not 28.5cm (US size 10.0 or 10.5). “You get the insole out and measure it,” he says. “You’ll find out the 28.0cm shoe actually has 29.0cm insole. This is because shoe manufacturers actually already make the shoe one size (1cm) bigger to begin with!!” This makes perfect sense to me: I always felt that, if we DO in fact need an inch extra, why don’t they manufacture the shoe an inch bigger to begin with and sell 28.5cm shoes as the shoes for 27.5cm person!? Well, apparently they already do. Then the question is: then why do we have to add another inch on the top of that? I checked my size 9.5 (27.5cm) Tarther and its insole was actually measured as 28.0cm (“racing” flats). So that’s approximately 1cm (1.2cm) extra over my foot’s actual measurement. Personally, this sounds perfect because I believe, when your toes flex (Windlass Mechanism), your toes slide forward slightly so, yes, you DO need just a little bit of extra space and the shoe manufacturer is correct to provide this extra “hidden” space. But when I measured my other “regular” running shoe (size 10, or 28.0cm), its insole was 29.0cm. So it’s already actually more than 2cm bigger than my actual foot measurement. I’d bet most shoe store people would suggest I get even a half to one full size bigger (10.5 to 11). Now we’re talking about 3-4cm (an inch and a quarter or more) extra space!! So what happens if you wear those “over-sized” shoes? The actual fact is; I cannot even run in the size 10 of the “regular” running shoes – they feel so big and I don’t feel “stable”. According to Professor Nomura, two of my favorite shoes, ASICS Tarther and Sortie are both “racing flats” so it’s sizing, 27.5cm, is actually 27.0cm for “regular” running shoes. So the actual measurement of insole is 28.0cm. So with the actual measurement of my foot being 26.8cm, I’m managing the 1.2cm of extra space. “That’s as good as you can get,” he approves. “But you should be able to try a half size smaller!! (9.0 or 27.0cm)” In fact, I do have one pair; I wear them without socks. But I’m perfectly happy with size 9.5, or 27.5cm!
So how do you find the right size shoes? Professor Nomura suggest, first, you measure your own foot. “It is amazing,” he says, “that almost 99% of people have no clue what the actual measurement of their feet but say, ‘Oh, my shoe size is 27.0cm…’ How can they even say that?” True that! Of course, US or Europe is a bit weird. I actually have NO idea what those sizing system mean–does size 9.5 mean it’s 9.5 inches? I don’t think so. And what about the European sizing system? I don’t understand why we don’t just use metric and cm… Well, that’s another story! ;o) But most shoes have all those different sizing at the back of the tongue. So measure your feet in centimeters (cm) and use cm sizing also. Round it UP and get the nearest bigger size. So, in my case, 26.8cm so get a shoe with 27.0cm size. “They would feel a bit tight,” he says. “That’s fine. So get a half a size (0.5cm) bigger. Now you’ll see how ‘comfortable’ THAT size feels!!” This is very important, he says. You want to realize how this tightest fit feel like; but not too tight. Make sure you tie your shoe lace and get the feel of that size. Now go back to your “original” size. You will invariably realize how ridiculously over-sized that feels!!
So here’s what I’ve personally found out over the years. These “regular” shoes are the ones I “slip on” for “walking around”. So, yes, I actually do wear these to “slip on to go to the near-by convenient store”!! ;o) And these are size 10.0. Almost invariably, with these “slip-on” shoes, I get the inside the heel part of these shoes “rubbed away” (image on the left). Why? This is because these shoes are over-sized and my foot slides in and out every time I move my feet (particularly if the shoe is not flexible). If this happens too often, you’ll get blisters on your heel or, even worse, bursitis on your Achilles from constant rubbing. Interestingly, this never happens with my Tarther. Also, over-sized shoe means your foot will slide back and forth (because it can). This creates jamming at the tip of the shoe. Most people think they get black toenails because the shoe is too tight. The actual fact is; you’ll get black toenails if your shoe is too big and your foot slides around back and forth with the toes jamming in each step you take. This is particularly true if you are forcing yourself to land on your toes, or mid-foot, as many people try these days because that’s the “in-thing” without working on moving your legs in a circular motion – the REAL reason why you would land mid-foot/fore-foot. So many people pride themselves for having many black or lost toenails as if it’s the sign of their hard work=lots of running. The actual fact is; it shows nothing more than their ignorance to how to choose the right shoes.
Of course, those who wear over-sized shoes, trying to avoid this “sliding” back and forth, would tie their shoes way too tight. This creates other problems. Had any problem on the top of your foot? How about a Neuroma? There’s a reason why Lydiard came up with this “Lydiard Lacing System” because this would take pressure off. As most know, we have 26 bones and 33 joints in our foot…107 ligaments!! There’s a reason why we have so many bones and joints. You are wearing over-sized shoes but, in concept, you are creating infamous Chinese lotus feet by bundling your feet way too tight. These are actually all “percussions” of wearing over-sized shoes.
An interesting “test” (wasn’t so much of a “research”) was done by an equivalent of BBC in Japan, NHK, a few years back. They had one group of people who wore rather tight shoes; the other group with what they perceive as “comfortable” shoes; i.e. over-sized shoes. Both groups were asked to climb up a mountain (I don’t think it was Mt. Fuji but…). It turned out that the group with tighter (snug) shoes had much easier time going up. They showed the X-ray view of their foot inside the shoes. They found out that, if the shoes were over-sized, their arch would flattened because their feet have too much room to stretch out; whereas, the group with more snug shoes kept their arches in place to function as they are supposed to function.
Lydiard always preferred this “banana-shaped” shoes. I wouldn’t go as far because, let’s face it, there are people with narrower and more straight feet. In fact, when I had a chance to talk with Geoff Smith, twice Boston Marathon champion, who wore Arthur’s Converse Equinox, I asked him about them. “I didn’t like them,” he said. “They were too curved!!” ;o) When you trace your feet and check the “shape” of your own feet; and then check the shape of the shoes, you can invariably see the pattern. I’ve seen this side-by-side picture of 2 Nike shoes on internet and the title of this was “Advancement of Shoes” (images above with green and red lines and yellow dots added later by me). Yes, if you take a quick look; you can tell the one on the left (original Nike Waffle Racer), it’s a very simple built. On the other hand, the one of the right, much more recent model, seemingly has lots of “features”. But when I place MY footprint over it (green lines), the olden-day’s model would fit my foot perfectly (yup, good ol’ Bill Bowerman had it right!!) whereas the newer model is, well, I don’t know what the shape of this is–certainly NOT my foot!! Even the flex grooves don’t quite match where my foot actually flexes (red line). And certainly where my pressure-point on the heel indicates (yellow dots), if I wore these, I would most probably “pronate” (remember what Lydiard used to always say: “It’s not you who pronate or supinate; it’s the shoe…”). And THAT is why these “modern” shoes have thick bulky heel-cup, sometimes double and triple reinforced heel-cup to prevent your heel from rolling medially. This invariably stiffens the shoe waaaay too much, creating all sorts of other problems like Plantar Fasciitis or, as indicated earlier, all the rubbing of the heel. This is most certainly NOT necessary IF the shoe is shaped correctly. As far as I’m concerned, this is far from “advancement”. On the contrary, it is in fact “RE-gression” of athletic shoes. Perhaps “advancement” of marketing (looks) only…
Along with the shape of the over-all shoe (mainly, the shape of the mid-sole of the shoe), the shape and construction of the forefoot is also very important for anti-black-toenail. Lydiard called this “over-sprung” (I don’t know where he got this term…). Basically, the forefoot part of the shoe should NOT be flattened. It has to be 3 dimensional and maintain “box” and have a certain “curve” to match the curve of your foot; not just this “banana-shape” deal but the curve around the toe-box area (what Arthur termed “over-sprung”) and also across the forefoot – according to Dr. Kondo. If all these are constructed correctly and the shape of the shoe fits the shape of your foot, then it is hardly necessary to have so much extra space at the end of your foot.
“But your feet swell up,” most people would argue. “How much would you think your feet swell up?” Professor Nomura argues back. “Do you really think your feet would swell up by an inch length-wise? Then it should swell by an inch width-wise as well… Do you really think your feet swell up THAT much?” Besides, he continues, what good would it do if your shoe fits perfectly AFTER your run is done? Here’s a little experiment you can do; when you get on a plane, take one shoe off and keep the other shoe on. The foot without a shoe would swell up a little so, when you try to put back your shoe, it feels a little tight (but you can still easily put it back on). But the foot that stayed in a shoe shouldn’t feel any extra tightness. Why? Because the swelling is caused by extra fluid build-up. It will NOT add an inch in length and, certainly, it won’t make it THAT uncomfortable if you kept the shoe on. “Some people say it’s best to purchase the shoes in the evening because, from all the standing and walking around, your feet in the evening are swollen up,” Professor Nomura continues. “How many races are run in the evening? What good would it do if the shoe fits after all the day’s work is over?” Personally, it makes perfect sense to me…!
There are a lot of “gimmicks” out there. There are seemingly wonderful materials and weaving methods out there. But, to me, if the “shape” doesn’t look right to fit my foot, I wouldn’t even consider them!! In my previous blog, I mentioned ASICS Tarther. Lydiard used to say: “If they come up with the shoes right in the first place, they wouldn’t need to come up with new shoes every year!” I’ve been wearing ASICS Tarther since the first time they came up with them back in early 1980s. Particularly in the last 2 decades or so, their basic “built” hadn’t changed at all! This means; I understand the color, maybe a little bit of upper and maybe treads could change a bit year to year; but I KNOW I can trust them. Interestingly, both Dr. Kondo and Professor Nomura love ASICS. “They are as perfect as can be,” Mr. Nomura says. Dr. Kondo also thinks it’s a lot more than the measurements where most of us don’t even pay attention to. I told him I’m a minimalist and I always wear ASICS Tarther. “Did you know the forefoot-heel drop of Tarther is actually bigger than ‘regular’ jogging shoes?” he had told me. He said “regular” jogging shoes has the drop of about 12-15mm. “That of Tarther is 17mm…” That was bit of an eye-opening to me. “But it’s not just the numbers. If you measure the difference between the heel and the base of the little toe; and then compare that with the difference of the heel and the base of the big toe…” Actually, it got too complicated for me at that point. This guy is quite brilliant. We are planning on inviting him to our “Lydiard Summit” we are working on putting together in Boulder, CO, this fall. “You see, it’s not just those numbers; but how those numbers play in the scheme of how your feet and legs and whole body move…” He showed me some pictures of a runner running with pronation. “Now, see, if he wears the shoes that prevent his feet from pronating…” Actually, the result was worse! “You see, because now his feet can no longer pronate, something else needs to be twisted over…” This is so true. Far too many people today just jump to an easy answer; forefoot landing is the key…or barefoot running is the key…stopping pronation is the key to prevent injuries… The truth of the fact is; those are nothing but just a part of a “tree”. Trying to get those “parts” disappear is nothing more than “tampering”. We really need to look at the forest called the whole body movement. After all these years, I’m still very much a student. There is so much more still to learn…
Arthur had always been a big fan of ASICS (since the days of Onitsuka Tiger). They had been “supporting” us but it is not because they came to us. We approached them because I knew Arthur liked them and “approved” their shoes. And they had become Arthur’s “last” shoe sponsor when he came to his 2004 final US lecture tour. He also liked Mizuno and adidas… He was also a fan of Brooks in the 1990s and he was quite big on their racing shoes when he came to Japan in 1991. Brooks, along with Larry Eder’s “American Track & Field” magazine, sponsored his lecture tour in 1999 (Lorraine Moller also won the bronze medal in 1992 Olympic marathon wearing Brooks shoes). There are good shoes out there. All we need is to find our own Cinderella shoes. And if you have to get them a thumb-width bigger at the end of the shoes, chances are; they are not the ones.