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How Many Pairs?

When I worked at a running store in Boston, I was surprised how many customers came in to replace their one pair of shoes, often way beyond worn. Without wanting to come on as hard sell, I would generally ask if they might consider a second pair of shoes.

And that conversation might lead to another question: How many pairs are enough?

As with most things, it depends. Do you run just on roads, just trails, both? How many days a week do you run? How far? Do you race a lot and/or do regular speed workouts? Are you a bigger or smaller person? Is your gait light to the ground or do you tend to strike hard?

Most customers wanted an answer, not more questions. OK! 

Simplistically, for most runners I would suggest three pairs. The main pair is the regular trainer.

Something with a basic amount of cushion, such as a Brooks Ghost or Saucony Ride for neutral runners or an Asics 2000 or Saucony Guide for those needing some support. Fit is crucial and that’s why trying on various brands and models at a specialty running store with a knowledgeable salesperson is good. Like our lovely sponsor Ski Rack!

The second pair could be a newer model of the same shoe or a similar fit of another brand

(preferred). The aim is to give the running body a break from the same old, same old. Also, alternating shoes gives them a chance to air out. Not to be an alarmist but there are fungi lurking in our shoes! Above all, never (never!) let any pair of shoes get too worn. Many customers coming in with tattered shoes complained of achy knees and feet. There is a connection! For some runners, shoes lose their resiliency after 200-250 miles. For others it’s more. Rely on feel, not some arbitrary mileage or passage of time.

For the third pair consider racing flats or light trainers. These can be used for racing and maybe once a week laced up for faster tempo runs or speed workouts. It’s fun to run fast! And lighter shoes will help do that! 

So that’s the basic guideline for road/path/track running. Three indeed! Now if you mix in some trail running, it’s good to have a shoe intended for that purpose. Trail shoes usually have deeper and firmer soles, so when running over stones one can avoid bruises and better traverse uneven terrain. If trails are your main venue, then a second pair, as noted above for road shoes, is suggested. 

So, this is one view on that pervasive shoe question. Above all, please remember⏤ don’t run in shoes past their prime!

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Our Brains on the Run!

It’s old news that moderate to intense exercise is good for our hearts, muscles. skeleton, and lungs. Running is particularly good since it’s weight-bearing and stresses the joints.  Some feel that it creates wear and tear, but the research is clear that a reasonable training load combined with strength-training, regular stretching, adequate recovery, builds cartilage at joint surfaces rather than wearing it away. This is due, in part, to nutrients being drawn into our joint capsules from physical activity.  Otherwise, the avascular (no blood vessels) cartilage is left to fend for itself and it’s not a fair fight.  

But what’s happening above our necks when we run? Does running benefit our brains? The American College of Sports Medicine published a paper in October 2018 entitled Exercise Protective Effects on the Brain. The article noted that without consistent, moderately intense exercise, there is a body-wide increase in low-grade inflammation as we age. There are several mechanisms in play, but one key effect is that inflammation reduces circulation to the brain, which in turn results in brain cell death. This is, essentially, brain aging, and we don’t have to wait to get into our later years for this to happen. It can begin early in adult life.

While the brain only accounts for 2% of our body weight, it uses about 25% of our energy.  However, unlike muscles it has no energy reserves – it draws in real time! So, it’s no surprise that elevating our heart rate results in more blood flowing to the brain. No wonder we can have eureka moments while on the run! Without regular exercise, the data indicates over time total brain size decreases, in particular the hippocampus, the site of memory function.  

The good news is that research shows vigorous exercise, (with running near the top of the list!) can mitigate, reverse, and at least hold at bay brain cell loss. In addition, there is strong evidence that vigorous exercise helps us sleep better while increasing memory, attention, and overall executive function.

We probably don’t really need more reasons to run than we already have.  Most of us feel the intrinsic benefits in our daily lives, but it doesn’t hurt to know there are clinical reasons why we feel good, not only when we run but also in the hours that follow. If our brain could talk (and maybe it does to some of us!) it might thank us for taking it along on those heady runs!