In preparation for the New York City Marathon, I headed to NYSportsMed’s Athlete Performance Center a few weeks ago for an elite-level running analysis specifically designed for the everyday, uninjured athlete. They call it the “Runner’s Report Card.”
“Getting a running analysis when you’re healthy allows us to observe your natural tendencies as you run, versus when you’re injured and ‘biased’ to run a certain way,” explains Francis Diano, physical therapist and NYSportsMed running director. “We can identify inefficiencies and tendencies that could potentially lead to an injury and address them before they become a more serious issue. … As they say, prevention is better than cure.”
I was told to show up in a pair of shoes I’d been running in for a while. The first thing Diano did when I arrived was look at the bottom of my kicks. “Similar to a palm reading, a lot can be gleaned from a ‘wear reading’ of the bottom of a pair of old running shoes,” he says.
Take a look at these examples from one runner, provided by Diano, to find out what you can look for on your own shoes to potentially catch and fix any issues before they get you sidelined.
How Do You Roll?
When you look at the soles of your shoes side by side, notice which areas show more discoloration or fading. If it’s the inner segments, you’re what runners call an “over-pronator,” meaning that after your heel strikes the ground, your foot rolls inward more than it should. Over-pronators should try a shoe with a little more support, such as the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 14 ($120, brooksrunning.com).
In the case of the running shoes above, however, the wear is mostly on the outer edges of the shoes—a clear sign that their owner is a “supinator,” says Diano. “I would suggest that this runner switch to a shoe that allows the foot to roll in more.” He recommends a shoe like the Asics Gel-Nimbus 16 ($150, asicsamerica.com), “which has sufficient padding without being overly supportive or stiff, allowing for natural foot motion as it hits the ground,” says Diano.
Are You at Risk for Shin Splints?
Now, look at the tops of the shoes. Notice any wearing in the toe boxes, like in the case of the shoes above? “Oftentimes, runners who have excessive dorsiflexion [or, runners who bring their toes up towards their shins] when they run will show signs of wearing or, in some cases, a hole along the big toe to second toe area of the shoe,” says Diano. And that’s definitely something you want to correct, as it can set you up for shin splints! Try shortening your stride by taking more frequent, shorter steps to reduce the stress on the shins.
Could You Be in Blister Danger?
Check and see if there is any wearing of the material that surrounds your heels and holds them in place. Is it torn? Is there a hole? As you can see, this particular runner has those issues. It’s definitely worth checking your own kicks, too, as this is one of the most overlooked sources of foot problems, says Diano. Stretched-out, worn-down heel collars can decrease the stability of your shoes. When that happens, your feet will move around too much on a run, he says, and that’s a common source of blisters, bruised toenails, or numbness in the toes. The fix, luckily, is simple: “Untying your shoelaces before taking off your shoes is a must for every runner,” says Diano. The reasoning: Kicking your shoes off while they’re still tied stretches the heel collars and wears down the padding along the heel areas.