Sports

Running Gear: Equipment & Foot Care

When starting running as a hobby it is important to invest in a high quality pair of shoes that matches your individual needs. Generally speaking, when people run their feet can land in one of three ways; a neutral position, an over-pronation position or a supination position. A neutral position is the best, resulting in less chance of injury to the feet, ankles and legs and allows for a greater variety of show choices.

However, if you have a tendency to pronate or supinate when you run, this often cannot be helped. Pronation is the habit of rolling your foot inwards as you make contact with the ground. When we walk or run our foot needs to pronate to absorb the shock and impact from the collision between our foot and the floor.

Nonetheless many people do not pronate properly, either failing to mitigate the shock properly or exaggerate the movement too much, placing stress on their joints, tendons and muscles. Over-pronation is when the foot rolls inward too much, where as supination, also known as under-pronation, is the habit of rolling the foot outward.

Depending on whether your foot lands in a neutral position, an over-pronation position or a supination position will influence what shoes are ideal for you. If you over-pronate or supinate you will need corrective shoes that counteract your bad habit. For over-pronators you will want motion control shoes whereas for supinators you will want stability shoes. People who pronate correctly can wear regular running shoes, but also shoes with neutral cushioning or lightweight variants.

Most good running or sport stores will offer advice and guidance on the type of pronation you have and will be able to offer you the correct running shoes to purchase. Many stores will be able to test you on their running machines completely free of charge.

You will need to replace your running shoes occasionally as once they become worn; they will influence your pronation habits and may increase the chance of injury. Typically it is recommended that you replace your running shoes between every 350-500 miles. Of course this is a loose estimate and you should always apply common sense when thinking about whether you need a new pair of shoes.

A simple test to determine whether your shoes are becoming worn is to place them on a completely flat surface and see whether they tilt – if they tilt in one particular direction that suggests one side of the shoe has become worn.

You should also make an effort to maintain your shoes whilst you use them. After running in wet conditions it can be tempting to place your shoes against a radiator or in a warm place to help the dry. However doing this will cause your shoes to shrink over time, which can result in blisters and other foot problems. Likewise if you keep your shoes in a cold area, such as an outside porch, they will contract which will damage the cushioning and support build into the shoe.

The best solution is to allow your shoes to dry naturally in a dry place and invest in multiple pairs of shoes if your shoes do not dry enough between runs.

In terms of fit, running shoes with laces typically fit better and should be preferred if you are prone to blisters or have an unusual foot shape and struggle to find shoes that suit you. If you find that your joints or tendons are hurting after frequent runs you should favor rubber-soled shoes with generous amounts of cushioning which will help you absorb impact against the ground better. If the sole of your cushioned shoes feels hard after prolonged use, this is a good indicator that it might be time to buy a new pair of shoes.

When purchasing a pair of running shoes, wear the running socks you intend to wear with them. Socks will alter how the shoe fits and feels, so wearing socks that you won’t pair with those shoes might give you a bad impression of the fit. Generally speaking for running enthusiasts it is best to go a specialized running shoe store that will have members of staff trained to look at how you walk and run and the shape of your feet and then recommend a type of shoe.

In addition to shoes you should also invest in several pair of running socks. A well-fitting pair of running socks will prevent you from getting blisters; however socks also form an important role in keeping your feet dry. In particular avoid wearing cotton socks which are prone to making your feet wet and forming blisters. There are numerous different thicknesses and alternate materials available so it is best just to buy several different pairs and see which ones work for you.

Blisters can also be avoided through the use of a lubricant applied to the feet and the outside of the socks before running. Lubricants reduce the friction between your skin, the socks and the shoes, therefore reducing the overall amount of rubbing and irritation. Applying lubricant in this way had the added benefit of also keeping your feet dry, which can be useful on wet days. Vaseline works great as a lubricant but most types of petroleum jelly will also work fine.

Lubricants can also help prevent chaffing, so for especially long runs or for larger runners applying a little lubricant to the thighs and the armpits can be beneficial. Some male runners wearing loose tops and running great distances actually report chaffing against the nipples – which can also be avoided with a little grease if you are unfortunate to suffer with this problem. For people who really struggle with chaffing, applying grease to the inside of the clothes can also help.

If you’re prone to dry feet, it can be useful to frequently moisturize your feet to prevent large skin cracks from occurring which will put a stop to your running habits for at least several days. There are hundreds of different brands available – the more important factor is the method of application. Moisturize your feet after a bath and shower whilst the skin is still tender. Rub the entirety of the feet with the moisturizer until the feet have become soft and smooth to the touch.

Of course you also need to make an effort to avoid your feet from getting too wet, which is the biggest factor in causing an Athlete’s foot infection. You can keep your feet dry by allowing your shoes to dry between runs, avoiding running when the ground it too wet, never wearing the same pair of socks twice as well as investing in lightweight and waterproof socks and shoes if necessary. Some people also find it helpful to apply anti-perspirants to the feet to prevent them from sweating which is the predominant cause of moisture.

Athlete’s foot is typically spread in locker rooms and gyms in which many people who rigorously exercise encounter each other and walk across the same floor. If you are especially worried about developing Athlete’s foot you can wear flip flops or any light footwear in these public environments to limit the potential contact your foot has with the fungus in the area.

However, Athlete’s foot can be dealt with using an over-the-counter medicine available from a local pharmacist if necessary. When using fungicide to deal with Athlete’s foot it is particularly important to be consistent and disciplined with the application of your treatment as the fungus can develop a resistance to treatment and go into dormancy, only to return once you thought the problem was dealt with.

Some people may also experience swelling in their feet after they have run, due to various factors such as water movement, increased blood flow and overheating. The best solution to swelling is simply to apply cold water to your feet. For people who suffer from severe swelling you might want to purchase some Epsom salts which when added to water give it anti-swelling properties. However Epsom salts can cause your feet to become dry if used too much, so be careful.

Above and all other considerations the most important aspect to keeping your feet in good condition is realizing that prevention is better than cure and applying damage control the moment you notice a problem. It is easy to think you can simply ‘man-up’ over a small problem, but if you consistently run you are just going to make that blister, infection, swelling, etc worse. Instead of false bravado, deal with the problem at the source whilst it is still small and easily manageable. Better still, take steps to avoid getting a problem altogether through buying the right equipment and using preventative measures such as lubricant. Even though taking the initiative to prevent trouble requires a little upfront effort it will save you time and suffering in the long-term.

Finally you may also want to use specific exercise that trains your toes, feet, ankles and calves to be stronger. It takes a great deal of time for the muscles in these regions to grow enough to deal with running sizable distances multiple times in a week. You can speed up this process by selectively stressing these muscles and forcing them to grow faster. However be careful not to overdo it if your muscles are already aching. Even if you don’t push your running limits, developing strong muscles in your legs and feet can change the way your feet move whilst running, reducing the chance of injury.

The simplest exercise to practice is calf raises, an exercise where you stand upright with your feet a few inches apart and push upwards with your toes. Hold this pose for a brief moment before relaxing steadily – repeat this motion 20-30 times to build up strength in your toes and calves. For people with stronger calves and toes, you may want to rest your toes on a raised surface, such as a small bench, to increase the resistance and effort required.

You can also stretch your toes directly by sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you and pulling on your toes with your hands (or a piece of cloth if you cannot reach).

Clothes

Selecting clothes to run in is much easier than selecting a pair of running shoes. Anything that is light and relatively loose is a good choice, as your main concern is having enough freedom to move and not increasing the amount of weight you have to run with.

Nonetheless as an aspiring running enthusiast you may want to purchase some speciality running clothes which are designed to have a few perks. For example, wicker t-shirts are a type of t-shirt made especially for runners which have the magical quality of moving sweat away from your skin and to the outside of the shirt, where it will evaporate quicker. This helps keep your drier and results in less soreness. Furthermore as the sweat evaporates, moisture doesn’t weigh down the t-shirt, resulting in it being lighter.

If you are female, you will almost always want to invest in a sports-bra. Ligaments in the breast can stretch and tear whilst running, not only causing ache but also irreversible sag. Sports bras drastically reduce movement whilst you run, preventing damage and sag.

A good pair of shorts will generally suffice for clothing below the waist. If you find that your thighs chafe, your shorts may be too tight or be made of an unsuitable material, so considering sourcing a replacement.

For advanced runners, however, you might want to consider trying out a pair of running tights. Please be aware this is for both men and women! Tights can provide better warmth insulation, which is great for both winter and early morning running. However tights can also be made of wicking material and be made to be especially breathable, therefore helping you deal with sweat and airflow.

The design of running tights is also intended to help reduce chafe and irritation. Finally, tights offer a competitive edge. Tights improve how aerodynamic your legs are, which can improve your running speed and lower the amount of energy your runs require. Although it is not yet fully understood or supported, there are also small amounts of evidence to suggest that wearing tights can improve blood flow and increase the speed at which the muscles recover from exercise as a result. Therefore if you really want to take your running to the next level, tights can be essential.

If you want to keep your running practice going through winter, you are going to need to winter gear. Thermal vests and thermal underwear can help, but in most circumstances you are going to need to pay out for a running jacket which will keep you protected from the wind and cold. You will need to go to a speciality running or activity store to buy a suitable jacket as most outdoor jackets will be far too heavy and cumbersome to actually run in.

Furthermore when buying a running jacket favor bright and high visibility jackets that can help keep you safe during the evening when vehicles and pedestrians might not be able to see you. This can also apply to any wicking t-shirts you purchase.

To combat the cold you might also want to wear a simple of gloves and a beanie. Beanies are more aerodynamic than other choices such as caps and hoodies and they stay in place, even during windy days when other headwear does not.

Other Gear

Keeping a sport watch whilst you run is a great idea if you are concerned about the speed of your runs or you use time as a measurement of distance. Sports watches are generally a lighter than regular watches or a smart phone and come with specific setting for timing laps or routines. Advanced sport watches can also come with features such as calorie counters and even cross-device compatibility allowing you to upload data to a computer and track your performance in great detail.

On a similar vein a heart rate monitor can also be useful. Above and beyond the fact that measuring your heart rate is kind of cool, knowing how hard your heart is working is a good metric to evaluate how much effort you are putting into your run.

Sometimes our mood or other circumstantial factors can influence how we feel when we are running and if we are pushing ourselves enough – it is easy to deceive yourself into believing that you are doing enough, or not realizing if you are going too far! A heart rate monitor gives you an objective and unbiased measurement of just how much stress your body is under – vital for performance based running.

Some runners like to carry a source of water around with them. Generally speaking unless you are doing a particularly long run (90 minutes or more) or unless the day is especially hot, carrying water with you is unnecessary for keeping safely hydrated, although it may help increase performance.

Nonetheless if you want to carry water around with you, there are several prominent choices. A donut shaped running water bottle will allow you to keep your water bottle easily in grip, which is great for shorter runs. For longer runs, or if you want to bring alongside a few extra accessories such as a phone or your keys, you can get a ‘handheld bottle carrier’ which has a fabric based bag attached to the water bottle where you can store your vitals.

For long-distance running that may take hours or even most of the day, taking a specially designed water pack with you, which functions like a light-weight backpack with straws and attachments to drink from can be helpful. However consider that for longer organized running events water is often provided at stations along the route, so taking a water pack is often only important for longer solitary runs.

In terms of pure performance consuming a sports drink is a better choice than pure water. Sports drinks contain sugar for energy to keep you going, but also electrolyte which increases the speed at which your body absorbs water (helping you to hydrate faster). However, obviously, if you are running as a weight-loss solution these drinks are often high in calories and should be avoided.

In regards to hydration in general, it is important to keep your water consumption in mind, but unless you are greatly concerned about performance, don’t over think it either. As previously mentioned for runs that are shorter than 60-90 minutes, taking water or a form of hydration with you isn’t necessary.

Furthermore drinking too much water during exercise can be dangerous and cause a condition caused water poisoning. Water poisoning occurs when an individual consumes huge amounts of water whilst their body is deprived of sodium and electrolytes which helps the body deal with said water (electrolytes and sodium are lost during exercise).

The take-home point here is that in situations where hydration might be a genuine concern, it is often better to favour a sports drink. Also, although sometimes thirst can be deceptively strong or weak, generally your own sense of thirst is your best guide to whether you need to drink water during exercise.

Treadmills & Running

There are some important differences between running over ground and running over treadmills that you need to appreciate. Firstly, running over a treadmill is much easier than running over ground. The movement of the belt on the treadmill makes it easier to move your legs forward, effectively reducing your calorie expenditure. Therefore most runners find that their performance is better on the treadmill when compared to the outside.

Running on the treadmill also doesn’t cause your feet to harden and become more resilient, as the treadmill is specifically designed to accommodate the collision of your feet with the floor. As a result people who are used to running on treadmills may find that they struggle to run on the ground normally.

However the treadmill is often a better tool for practicing and training, allowing you to measure your performance and adjust speed and incline for better recovery levels. In particular the treadmill is fantastic for speed running and slowing down in cycles.

About the author

Dr. Arthur

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