October 15, 2010

Attack of the Inserts

San Diego Comic Con 2010; Gears of War 3 booth

“I won't suffer, be broken, get tired, or wasted 
Surrender to nothing, or give up what I
Started and stopped it, from end to beginning
A new day is coming, and I am finally free”
30 Seconds to Mars, "The Attack"

In light of the re-emergence of moderate pain in my left IT band over the last couple of weeks, I have been putting a good deal of thought into what might be causing it. Am I taking easy days following a hard day? Have I been doing a lot of speedwork (I've noticed this has been correlated to an increase in ITB pain in the past.)? Am I following the 10% rule? I also take "Recovery Weeks" every 4th week where I back off my mileage and/or intensity by about 50% to consistently give my body some active down-time. Have I been good about sticking to that self-imposed rule?  I've also been working on my form and have become very aware of posture, keeping my hips pulled underneath me, trying to land as much on my midfoot as possible, etc. etc. etc....  Aside from a slight change in how I'm landing on my foot (much less heel striking now), nothing was standing out in my head. With no real answers, I began to wonder if I'd taken on more than my body was ready for. September was an intense month and the Santa Barbara Marathon is just 3 Saturdays away. Two weeks from tomorrow!

I ranted in a previous post about new IT pain that developed after a switch from my tried and true favorite Asics Kayano 15's to the next generation, the Kayano 16's. The newer generation shoe was nothing like the 15's, so I ordered a few more pair of the 15's to have on hand for at least year as the shoe has been discontinued. I noticed in my log that I didn't indicate any pain on the days I wore the 15's and saw increasing pain on the days I ran in the 16's.  So it seemed logical to turn once again to my journal for possible answers. I believe I have found the culprit, and it is a new pair of inserts.   New as in new brand, new style and new promises of cushion and shock absorption. And I'm calling bullshit.... According to my training log, the days I have pain are the days I'm wearing the newer shoes which have the new inserts. The days I have ZERO pain are the days I run in my older shoes with the inserts I've been using for a few years now. Newer shoes have about 50 miles on them and the older ones have about 200.

Here is the insert I have used for a couple of years now. They are a Road Runner Sports brand. I can't recall the exact name or type and since it's no longer on their website, I can't provide an official description. The insert itself reads "Cushion Plus: High Performance Insoles". When I started back up running again in '07, I was 30 pounds heavier and an over-pronator with high arches. I was assigned a Stability shoe and this insert type. The back is pretty stiff and raises my heal by about 1/2 an inch. The arch, while obviously high (1 1/4 inches) is soft but does have good support. Not a lot going on up in the forefoot area, but it is lower than heel.

Meet the new inserts (in light blue). Here is the Amazon.com product description: "Women's SORBOTHANE® ULTRASOLE™ :: UltraSole™ is all about give and take. High-performance insoles for runners and walkers seeking extra cushioning and rebound. With each stride, it selflessly takes the brunt of impact and instantaneously rebounds to give back energy. The result is high performance support, foot strike protection, flexibility and cushioned comfort that sidelines pain, not the athlete".  Maybe on Opposite Day!! 
Women's Sorbothane Ultrasole
From what I can tell, there are 2 major differences between them. The RRS brand, while a little flexible in the forefoot area, maintains it's shape in a horizontal plane when I pick it up.  The Sorbothane insole is super floppy and makes a rainbow arc shape when I lift it up. Compared to the RRS brand, it has very little "structure" to it. The second difference I can see and feel is in the arch support area. While the RRS brand is somewhat stiffer, higher and very thin, the Sorbothane is low and has thick padding from the base to the top of the arch.

It's a little hard to see from this view, but the forefoot of the Sorbothane is raised slightly. However, it takes very little pressure from my finger to flatten it and it does not feel like padding. I have no idea what that's about or what it's supposed to be doing for me. This is the best picture I could get of it. Notice how flat the RRS brand is in the same spot and they appear to be more conformed to my foot.

This is what the bottom's look like. The Sorbothane's (on the left) lie perfectly flat against the surface and feel like gel. The RRS brand tilts to the right due to the arch support but has a foam feel to it. For insoles that in general make similar claims of providing support for pronators and cushioning for a smoother feel on the road, I couldn't be having a more different experience between the two.

This picture might be the most telling to me. It does appear that the older shoe with the thinner and stiffer insert is still allowing for some natural pronation, while the newer shoe with the cushiony-floppy insert is (so far) still relatively on the straight-an-arrow.

From this view, it's pretty obvious I'm riding the inside of the shoe (see black heel padding).

I'm not 100% sure what's going on with the insoles, but the Sorbothane's are going in the trash. In fact, I'm putting in the shoe's original inserts (after the marathon so my IT band is not compromised!) and see how that goes. My gut is telling me all that extra cushioning is forcing my foot into a position that is anatomically different from the way it wants to fall naturally.

I have been very interested in all the articles and blogs addressing the resurgence of barefoot running and introduction of new minimalist shoes. I visited a running shop up in Northern California last month, Forward Motion, to talk with staff whom I'd not worked with before to discuss introducing a flatter-healed shoe. After watching me walk barefoot in the store, the employee I was working with said she thought the Asics were too much shoe for me, and recommended a neutral, flatter shoe for me to try. After running in several different shoes, I ultimately chose Nike LunarGlide+ 2 because I was landing naturally on my forefoot, almost like the shoes were pushing me forward.

Considering what I'm finding out now about how all this extra cushioning may be contributing to ITB pain, I think I made a good decision. With the marathon so close, I wouldn't dare attempt a change in anything, especially a completely new shoe design. I am looking forward to testing the change - but it won't be "all Nike all the time". From what I'm learning, it's best to introduce these flatter shoes gradually so I'll start with a few miles once a week for a month or so and build from there. Can't wait to do my first real shoe review!

Has anyone else found that certain inserts hurt you more than they help you? Did you stop wearing the inserts all together and stick with the ones that came with your shoes? I'm interested in what everyone else's experiences and thoughts are on this subject!!



Greg Strosaker said...

I have never messed around with inserts, but the change you showed seems quite dramatic. It amazes me as well how much shoes change from revision to revision, not sure if manufacturers think the potential to gain new runners is worth the risk of losing existing? In general, I think runners are less sensitive to their shoes than they think, but in your case the insert change is certainly significant.

I too was using too much shoe previously and am slowly working my way down; I wrote about it on Runblogger at http://www.runblogger.com/2010/07/shifting-into-neutral-novice-shoe.html

G. E. Anderson --- said...

Interesting post, Vera!

I think you're onto something. That Sorbothane looks really thick in the front, and the fact that it's floppy means it's probably absorbing more shock than your previous shoe/insert combo.

While that may *sound* like a good thing, it may be so soft that it is allowing you to land or push off in a way that is putting strain on your ITB without your even realizing it.

Of course, I'm just speculating here, but that's my guess, for what it's worth.

As for my insoles, I have removed them from my Newtons completely, but only after gradually putting in about 60 miles barefoot so my feet could adapt. I find that not having the insoles gives me a better feel for the ground.

My other pairs of shoes (Mizuno Wave Universe and New Balance MT-100) don't have insoles, just thin sockliners.

I think a combination of more minimalist shoes, foam rolling and core/hip strengthening have helped my ITB problems a lot. Earlier this year, I could barely manage 6 miles without IT pain. I don't know what my new limit is, but it's at least 10 miles now! :)

Vera said...

Thanks to both of you for the observations and feedback! GS - I did read your blog on Peter's site previously, but I think it's time to re-visit it after this experience! GA - interesting concept around taking out the insoles completely, but I know I can't just drop them out of the picture completely without doing some damage. I agree the cushioning is a major cause of the strain, and my left ITB is usually the one that starts hurting first!

Michael E. Huang said...

Thanks for the interesting thoughts, Vera. I have noticed that more cushioning is a mixed blessing. I have run on dry sand for example and it illustrates the loss of traction encountered with softer surfaces. Toe-off lightens automatically to improve traction. The same seems to happen to me on a rubber track- it's comfy on the joints, but it feels a little too soft for maximum running economy. I know this is all subjective, which is half the problem- we don't have many objective tests for the shoe's impact on running mechanics and physiology.

Nevertheless, I am reminded that most soreness is a mark of overuse. I dislike rest periods since much of my motivation for running is unbridled ambition to push my personal limits. But my victory is in continuing uninjured. C'est la vie!

Vera said...

Your second to last sentence says it all Mike! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :-)

Michael Huang said...

I have tried the Dr. Scholl's Sport inserts in my Asics Gel Pulse 2's and my hips feel almost normal, so they may be a bit unsophisticated but they really work. I look forward to hearing your new evaluation coming up!