Are my cheap running shoes hurting me?
October 21, 2013 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I use throwback Saucony Jazz as my primary running shoes. They're inexpensive, seem to have adequate cushioning, are light, and are free of unwanted motion control features. But no one else runs seriously in these shoes, and they're marketed for walking around and fashion. Is there something about the construction that makes them significantly inferior to more expensive running shoes?

As far as I can tell, the Jazz, like most more current running shoes, uses EVA foam for the primary midfoot and heel cushioning. Are there different grades or types of EVA? Any studies that evaluate different shoes' resistance to compression over time? I think that people at one point used the Jazz regularly for running. Has the construction quality gone down since then?

By way of background, I'm a pretty neutral runner, no serious injury problems, currently logging around 30-40 miles per week, hoping to bump that up a bit this winter. I don't notice any problems with my shoes but I get some funny looks in the running club. I really don't want to pay $100 for shoes when I'm current paying $40. I just want the most simple running shoe possible.

posted by bepe to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What are your symptoms?
posted by ftm at 11:40 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're fine, then there's probably no problem. Folks run in all sorts of things: performance sneakers, cross trainers, barefoot, even these stupid things. If you feel ok, you're probably ok.

It sounds like your biggest issue is that people look at you funny. People look at me funny sometimes, too. It's ok.
posted by phunniemee at 11:46 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

They may be fine for you! Don't borrow $60 of trouble.

I know what shoes I need because of the injuries I've gotten in the wrong shoes. I need a ton of cushioning (thanks, metatarsal stress fracture!) and having the appropriate holes for the marathon loop makes a difference to me as well. Plus I'm a relentless forefoot striker, and if I get more than 250 miles (I KNOW) out of a pair of fancier, more cushiony shoes, I consider myself lucky.

If these work for you, you don't get hurt and you feel good, more power to you! I'm jealous. F the haters.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:49 AM on October 21, 2013

Response by poster: What are your symptoms?

None, as far as I can tell.

But I've never been too adept at telling when my running shoes are worn out. And my concern is maybe better phrased as "will these running shoes only be effective at cushioning for 100 miles because they are crap, which is why no one runs in them except me?"
posted by bepe at 11:59 AM on October 21, 2013

In the book "Born To Run" the author makes the claim several times that expensive running shoes actually do MORE damage to your feet than el-cheapo models. His evidence is mostly anecdotal, but there were far, far fewer (reported) running injuries back in the 60's and 70's when all they had was basically a laced up piece of foam - as opposed to now where it seems 'runners' and their fancy shoes are always reporting injuries.

Feet can take abuse, they get persnickety with the more technology you throw at them, he argues.

Anyway, I've been running for years and years and have a lovely $80 shoe (the previous years Brooks Adrenaline, fwiw) that just works for me. I've tried $40 ones, I've tried $140 ones.

It's not the tech, it's how it fits on your foot, is what I've found. So, IMHO non-expert opinion, if this particular shoe is giving you trouble, switch it up, but don't pay attention to price.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 12:01 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If they work for you, I think that's fine. I used to wear generic running shoes and ended up all sorts of injured before I finally switched. But if you're not injured, who cares what other people think?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:02 PM on October 21, 2013

A, ah, friend of mine once got bursitis in both knees because a running shoe salesman talked them into top-of-the-line motion control running shoes. Upgrading to hypothetically "ideal" running shoes is a much better way to get injured than sticking with a shoe that's already working for you.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

As for the wear issue -- you could try buying a new pair (at $40, I'm envious!). Switch between the new and old pairs and see if there's any difference. If there is, maybe you need to switch more often. If there isn't, hey, you're one of the lucky ones who gets to run in older shoes.
posted by pie ninja at 12:10 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm in the camp of "if they work for you then it is fine". With that said, it is quite possible that a casual shoe might wear itself out more than a purpose designed shoe. Case in point, try playing serious tennis in running shoes and your shoes will be shredded in no time flat. A point in your favor is that running in relatively straight lines probably doesn't put a lot of unexpected stress on a shoe like playing tennis does on a running shoe.
posted by mmascolino at 12:12 PM on October 21, 2013

I've found that with running equipment, requirements vary with your individual body and the amount of running you do. I need my special-snowflake running shoes or my feet start hurting; some people run in casual shoes just fine.

I would caution that running is hard on your joints, and running in inadequate footwear can take its toll on your knees and ankles over the years. Whether your shoes count as inadequate is up for debate; there's enough dissension among runners over cushioned vs. minimalist shoes. So if your shoes work for you, keep wearing them, but keep an eye out for creaky joints or injuries.

Plus some runners are running shoe geeks/snobs. I tend to look longingly at runners' new-hotness shoes, and I confess that if I saw someone running in Jazz, I'd assume it was because they weren't well-versed in running shoes. But that's my problem and you can tell me to shut up.

As for replacing them: my guide is usually either noticeable wear on the treads or "hmm, I can't remember the last time I bought shoes." Sometimes I misjudge and retire a pair of shoes too early, so I often keep my retired pair around just in case they've still got some life in them. It's kind of imprecise. I'd recommend getting a backup pair of shoes and trying them on after you've run 100 miles in your current pair, and if there's no noticeable difference try again after another 100 miles. Brand new shoes tend to feel markedly different from dead shoes, but there's a lot of middle ground.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:15 PM on October 21, 2013

If you have no symptoms, I probably wouldn't worry. I have high arches and I liked buying Nike sneakers that looked cool, and I love those retro New Balance sneakers that are more lifestyle ones than for running. But eventually I was getting shin splints and even back pain. I got a pair of Brooks sneakers and I have to say, when I took the time to actually try a few pairs on in the store, I realized those cheap sneakers I was buying provided no support at all. They seemed cushiony, until I compared them to the Brooks ones, which seemed to hold my feet more in place and more protected.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:58 PM on October 21, 2013

Best answer: If they're not hurting you, they're fine. I'd replace them when the tread starts to wear down or at not more than X miles. Here's a NYT article about running shoe life. I'd apply the same principles to the shoes you're wearing.
posted by cnc at 12:59 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all for the answers!

I have to admit, I'm still hoping to find some data on what makes footwear "inadequate." Runners love quantification, it would seem odd if the quality of running shoes was completely left to personal feel. I have looked for this kind of data without success. There must be numbers out there somewhere nailing down EVA's resistance to compression, relationship to foam density, how that changes over time, etc. And then I could tie it back to these specific shoes.
posted by bepe at 1:02 PM on October 21, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you, cnc! Great article. I will try to find a version of that German research paper.
posted by bepe at 1:09 PM on October 21, 2013

I read some articles on this at some point - I wanted to see if there was actually any scholarly research about what shoes prevent injury or makes it more likely. Because Reebok makes it sound like there is a bit team of people investigating just this. I can't cite sources, but everything I read said essentially, no, it does not matter what is on your feet.
posted by mermily at 2:20 PM on October 21, 2013

In my experience, training methods have always had more of an impact on injury than any show - and I've run in everything from racing flats to super padded motion control sneakers. Increasing distance and/or speed to quickly gives me injuries. Keeping increases low and slow (i.e incremental) keeps me healthy.

I would caution that running is hard on your joints, and running in inadequate footwear can take its toll on your knees and ankles over the years.

The actual research consensus is literally the opposite of this:
"Pretty much every study that looks at runners and knee problems, whether it's a multi-decade longitudinal study or a massive cross-sectional study, has found that runners have no elevated risk of knee osteoarthritis and perhaps even have lower risk (likely due to running's role in minimizing weight gain). I've written about this many times (including a detailed look in my book), and the evidence is pretty robust -- for the most part.
posted by smoke at 2:28 PM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

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