Tuesday, January 23, 2018

How I Run in Cheap Shoes (without getting injured!)

Starting in my late 30s, I spent a lot of money on expensive running shoes, and I got injured in each of them, even with custom orthotic inserts. Now I spend as little as three dollars on cheap, plain shoes, and I wear them forever (as you can see by the image above!), and I haven’t been injured since. How do I manage that?
Back when I had recurring running injuries, I felt the need to investigate my own contribution to my injuries. Was my technique off? Were my feet flexible and strong enough? Did I transition gradually to new shoes? Was my calf-to-shin muscle strength properly balanced? After years of working with other athletes and their injuries, I came to understand that technique flaws or muscle imbalances can lead to typical sports injuries. I simply applied that understanding to myself.

Here’s an Illustration:

Imagine if you had the perfect pair of running shoes. You go to the local high school track everyday and jog counter clockwise for thirty minutes. After a few months, in the same perfect shoes, you switch directions and start jogging thirty minutes in the clockwise direction. Chances are, you’re going to get injured. Your feet and knees and hips aren’t used to leaning in the new direction in order to go clockwise. You’ve done nothing to prepare your body for stresses other than jogging in your original direction. It wasn’t the shoes that caused the injury, because they're perfect; it was the new stresses.

Not sure you believe me? Here are a couple of recent articles investigating the relationship, or lack thereof, between injuries and shoes:



Nowadays, I use the following strategies to make my feet, shins, knees, and hips fend off injuries no matter what shoes I wear:

  • On slow runs or walks, I’ll get off the road and onto the bumpy, lumpy shoulder.
  • I switch sides of the road now and then, first leaning to the right, then leaning to the left.
  • I often go out for walks on the dirt roads scattered with rocks and dotted with potholes.
  • Once or twice per week I do a series of stabilization exercises: side shuffles, leaps, and the like.
  • To transition to a new pair of shoes, I’ll wear the new shoes for half a mile, then my old shoes for two-and-a-half miles. A week later I’ll wear the new shoes for one mile, then my old shoes for two miles. And so forth. It’s a slow transition, no sudden stresses.
  • I do hip strengthening exercises I learned in physical therapy. Just a couple of sets each day keeps my pesky hip from complaining.
  • If I need to up my mileage (like when I was training for a Marathon), I gradually increase my mileage. Again, no sudden stresses.
  • I walk around barefooted a lot. This keeps my feet flexible and stronger than they would be otherwise.
  • I regularly check my technique. I used to run “like a duck,” as my cross country coach in sixth grade said. Now I have straighter strides with more of a mid-foot plant.  I also had to train my recovering foot to swing forward and not in a sideways arc. It helped to get feedback from my running buddy. It also helped when Dear Husband videoed me so I could see what I was doing.
  • And when my feet are feeling stiff, I’ll give myself a nice foot massage!

Don't Give Up!

My purpose in telling you my injury-to-success journey isn't a "you should do it, too" talk. It's more like, if you're experiencing injury, especially this time of year when you may have a New Year's Resolution to exercise more, don't give up. If a new pair of shoes doesn't help, maybe seeing a physical therapist will. If walking on the left side of the road always hurts your right hip, maybe you should try walking on the right side. If jogging makes your ankles hurt, maybe you should back off on your distance for now. Dear Husband likes to tell the story of when he started running. He could only go a quarter of a mile when he first started out!

Now for those three-dollar shoes:


A thrift store find, comfy and in great condition!

Ever since Amy Dacyczyn interviewed Dr. Donald Greer for the Tightwad Gazette, I haven’t worried about wearing someone else’s used shoes. Dr. Greer, Department of Dermatology Professor Emeritus at Louisiana State University, assured Ms. Dacyczyn that it’s highly unlikely a person can catch athlete’s foot from a used shoe. I won’t buy a used shoe with funny wear patterns or a stinky odor, but I’ll buy a slightly used shoe without hesitation if it fits my needs.

Make this day even better! Consider:


  • When it’s cold out and you still want to go for a walk or a jog, those mesh-top exercise shoes are cold! Every time you swing a foot forward, the cold air goes right through the mesh and chills your toes.:-( DH and I combat that breezy chill by taping the toes of our shoes. It works!

An inexpensive, quick way to keep your toes warmer.


17 comments:

  1. Lots of great information. It's terrific you are maintaining an athletic lifestyle. Tightwad Gazette resonates with me in so many ways also.

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    1. I don't keep many books around after I've read them, but I still have Tightwad Gazette III on my shelf. Thanks for stopping by.:-)

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  2. I'm not someone who exercises but my boys are active. They grow to fast to get new sneakers. We get them at the Goodwill. The boys like it because they get to pick out their own shoes there. As long as my kids wear comfortable shoes they don't care where I buy them.

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    1. The Goodwill rocks, doesn't it?! We have one near our house. Sometimes I call it "my boutique.":-) Thanks for commenting!

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    2. That's what I call my store too. Lol!

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  3. My exercise doesn't require fancy shoes. I can usually pick up some on sale, as long as there is arch support, I'm good. Good article!

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    1. I enjoy reading your hilarious and sometimes serious/deep posts about going to the gym. Glad you liked the article.

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  4. I used to have plantar fasciitis & switched my shoes to zero drop/minimalist shoes. (No more pain!) Even though I look at thrift shops, I am never able to find this type of shoe. Wish I could!
    I, also, walk around barefoot alot, in the uneven yard, along the side of the road, & on stone/dirt roads (with shoes).
    Linda

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    1. I've seen several people go through this exact process both for plantar fasciitis and big toe problems. A minimalist shoe was the answer for them. I live in a more rural area, so it's not unusual to see folks outside barefooted tending to gardens and whatnot. But I imagine bare feet in the city would attract a lot of puzzled looks! Thanks for commenting!

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  5. Gradual changes are so key - and something at which so many fail.

    Great post, P!

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    1. Gradual, I agree, especially as we get older.:-) Thanks for commenting!

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  6. For some who goes to thrift stores often, I've never bought shoes there. I'll check the thrift store first when I need another pair. I rarely buy shoes though. :)

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    1. I know from your blog that you are an excellent thrift store shopper, Nil. You're simply focused more on things like furniture and linens rather than shoes! Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. I'm with you on the cheap shoes; my last pair cost £9 in a sale and they've lasted forever :-)

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    1. I had to do the conversion: it's about 12 or 13 US dollars. Yes, that is inexpensive, nice find! Thanks for stopping by, Rachel.:-)

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  8. Thanks for the good post! I have both bunions, and bunionettes, so expensive tennis shoes are a no-no. They don't have the right arch support, or the right space - so I tend to go to either Walmart or Kmart, and pick up a pair for under $20. Never thought of looking at a thrift store though, (even though I LOVE thrift stores!!) May have to try that the next time I need a new pair!

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    1. Bunions and bunionettes, no fun.:-( It's pretty cool that cheap shoes work better for you than expensive shoes! Thanks for commenting.:-)

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