I ran my first marathon in Brooks Glycerin 15s. I ran my first ultra marathon in Brooks Glycerin 15s. I ran my first 100 mile race in Brooks Glycerin 15s. Each of these three races were within 5 months of each other.
Moral of the story: I really do love Brooks running shoes.
But what I did not like, over those 5 months, was the beating my feet took. I wrote it off as the byproduct of many miles and hours on my feet. “This is what it’s like to be a runner,” I told myself.
I completed my first marathon, the Publix Georgia Marathon, at a much-faster-than-anticipated 8 minutes and 33 seconds per mile. I told my friend I would run the race with him as a ‘training run’ for my first ultra 3 weeks later and that I would take it easy. I was shooting for a casual sub-10-minute per mile race.
‘Taking it easy’ did not happen; I torched by legs and feet for that 8 minutes and 33 seconds per mile. Once I saw a sub-4 hour run was likely, I kept pushing.
Both of my big toe nails were black with blood after the race. I learned how to drain blood from toe nails and a couple months later, they’d fallen off.
They did, however, hang around for the blister-fest that was my first 50 mile race, the Umstead 50 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I’ll spare you the details, but my first 50 mile race in soaking wet conditions, on gravel bridle trail, in road running shoes did a number on my toes and feet.
I learned what it was like to really have some surface foot pain; my skin was raw and swollen.
None of these, though, compared to the worst offender, the Burning River 100 in Cleveland, Ohio, that same July. The interesting thing was, however, my feet really did feel fine following the race and even for a few days after.
The real problem came when I started wearing shoes again, when I went back to normal life and ditched the sandals.
It took only a few hours in normal shoes to throw my newly grown big toenail for a loop.
I’d had ingrown toenails before, but this was something else.
Coupled with two snaggly (yes, snaggly) pinky toenails, and I was wishing for sandals all day everyday.
“There must be a better way...”
I started digging around all of the ultrarunner hangouts online and discovered a not-so-new trend: zero-drop wide toe-box shoes.
No no; I need support. I need a thick heel and the speed of my Brooks. They’re built for speed!
“No, no,” I soon found, “They’re built for tiny forefeet and shortened Achilles tendons.”
That’s right; I’m drinking the Koolaid. Traditional running shoes are not good for the feet of distance runners.
I’m sold. And you should be too.
The moment I put my Altra Escalante running shoes on, I knew I’d been missing out.
That’s right: flat.
The zero-drop sole means that your forefoot and heel are the same distance from the ground and your Achilles can relax after a day in those heels you ladies have been wearing. Guys, you’re not off the hook; take care of your Achilles tendons.
It’s one of the biggest issues I had, one of my most common injuries, before switching to a zero-drop shoe.
Now my calves have found new purpose, my Achilles tendon is relaxed during my longest runs, my feet have a newfound reactive bounce to them, and my toes…oh my toes!
I can’t even put my foot into a pair of traditional, narrow running shoes anymore.
My toes are instantly crammed together in a weird, stacked pile of discomfort.
“I ran 100 miles like this!?”
It’s hard to believe.
I’m instantly reaching for my zero-drop shoes with the wide toe-box.
Ah, sweet relief.
If this late-night spiel about going against all of my preconceived notions of running shoe technology hasn’t convinced you to ditch the old and just try out the new, then your feet and Achilles and knees and hips will continue to sing their creaky song the mornings after your training runs. There’s nothing more I can do.
I will tell you, however, the safest method I found for transitioning to zero drop running shoes for your ultra marathons, marathons, 10Ks, or whatever other distance you put your feet through.
But seriously, you should run an ultra marathon.
DISCLAIMER: all information presented below is the opinion of the author and does not constitute medical advice. Wicked Trail Running and the author are not responsible for injury or death of anyone attempting to run in zero-drop shoes or those following any information on this website related to physical exercise. Consult a doctor before exercising. But don’t let him or her say “You can’t.”
Week 1: one run, no more than three miles, at an easy pace
Week 2: one run, no more than three miles, at an easy pace
Week 3: two runs, no more than three miles each, at an easy pace.
Week 4: three runs, no more than four miles, at an easy pace.
Week 5: introduce a long run, 10-15 miles, at an easy pace and do one other shorter run at an easy pace
Week 6: four runs, no more than 6 miles, at an easy pace
Week 7: all mileage in zero drop shoes at an easy pace
Week 8: transition complete! All mileage in zero drop shoes at an easy pace for the last time
Yes, I would seriously take 8 weeks to transition to a zero drop shoe.
Why? Well, patience is one of the secret weapons of an ultrarunner! And your body needs to adapt; don’t rush this process. Avoiding injury and developing a healthier gait is a primary concern with switching to zero drop shoes in the first place, so don’t rush! This is a life-long commitment; there will be plenty of time to train and push yourself out of comfort.
Before I leave you with your own Koolaid to drink, there are a few other practices I employed during my transition to keep the process smooth:
Stretching each calf for 5 minutes following my runs. This is something I do after every run, but I made sure to give it extra attention during my daily one hour stretching routine. Lengthen that Achilles and keep those calves loose! I think stretching is more important than the run itself…
Avoiding hills. Hills, when run with poor form, can have week-long annoying side effects (Achilles tendons, anyone?), so I decided to not run hills while wearing my zero-drop shoes during the transition period.
Eating intentionally. Nutrition is important.
Go out and get yourself some Altra Escalantes or Lone Peaks. You won’t regret it.
(Also, I wear the same size in my Altras as I do in Brooks…)