Shoes: A post-injury review

After breaking my ankle in January, I've slowly but surely made my way back into running. Now that I've reached 20-mile runs, 50-mile weeks, and a new half marathon PB, I thought it was a good time to take a look at shoes: what has worked well? And what hasn't?

Honourable mention: Asics Novablast

I have a different take on most of the shoes mentioned here, but not the Asics Novablast. Before I was injured, I thought it didn't live up to the hype - it was slightly uncomfortable, and while very responsive, it felt "sloppy"; it took attention and discipline for the shoe's response to actually be turned into forward momentum. Also, the 10mm drop (on the high side for my liking) feels more like 12-14mm.

So why the honourable mention?

Quite simply, because these shoes helped me make my way back into running again. When I tried to re-start running with any other shoe, I'd make it five or ten steps and have to stop. With its enormous cushioning and high drop, the Novablast ensured my fragile ankle with its limited range of motion could keep chugging along with acceptable levels of pain.

Now that I'm close to normal again, I'm back to not enjoying the Novablast experience. But these were worth their weight in gold (or more!) on the road to recovery.

Trending upwards: Brook Hyperion Elite 2

Brooks Hyperion Elite 2

These were a very comfortable speedy shoe before the injury. They remain a very comfortable speedy shoe after the injury.

The difference is that it was hard to find shoes that I can run fast-and-long in without pain. A lot of the go-to shoes simply weren't cutting it. While the Hyperion Elite 2 is certainly not in the top tier of racing shoes, I've been slipping them on every time I want to run fast and pain free - whether that's a tempo run, a fast parkrun, or a long run with some marathon pace thrown in.

While the shoe is perhaps not worth the £210 price tag, it has turned into the shoe I am most likely to reach for when the description of the run doesn't include the word "easy".

Trending downward: Nike Vaporfly Next% and Zoom Fly 3

I'm pretty sure the Vaporfly Next% is the fastest shoe in the world. The Zoom Fly 3 is an excellent companion shoe, as it has the exact same geometry, but is a bit sturdier, heavier, and has cheaper foam in it.

I logged a lot of miles in these two shoes pre-injury - my (pre-injury) PBs were all in a Vaporfly, and the Zoom Fly 3 were in heavy rotation.

Post-injury? I ran once in the Zoom Fly 3, and found it painful and uncomfortable. I ran twice in the Vaporfly Next% and was left limping both times.

Generally speaking, I'm having to slowly increase the load on the muscles and tendons to get them back to their previous strength, and still don't have full flexibility in my right ankle. I'm guessing that something about the way these shoes make me a more efficient runner simply loads those muscles beyond their capability and/or requires flexibility that's still not there.

Either way, my go-to race shoes are not currently go-to. Maybe next year?

Trending upward: Saucony Endorphin Shift

The Endorphin Shift was a bit boring for me, pre-injury. Too fast for easy days. Too big and soft for long or fast stuff. It rarely got brought out.

Now? It's my main long run shoe.

I used to use a combination of the Zoom Fly 3, Tempo Next%, and Kinvara to get through my long runs. But coming back from an injury has caused me to slow down a bit, and my need for extra cushion makes the Shift that much more attractive.

So while I haven't made any conscious shift here, a continual stream of "I'm not going to run that fast" and "I need more cushioning than that" has meant that I keep reaching for the Endorphin Shift on long run days.

Staying level: Saucony Triumph

I had a bad first experience with the Saucony Triumph, and then didn't wear them for about half a year. And then, in late 2019, I gave them a second chance. Soon after, they were THE easy and recovery day shoe for me.

In the early days of recovery, I couldn't wear them - I couldn't run in anything but the Novablast - but by the time I could run 30 minutes consecutively, these were my number one shoe again.

I record more miles in the Triumph than anything else. Did before the injury. Do now.

Trending upwards: Nike Alphafly Next%

What a change.

Before the injury, I thought the Alphafly were an expensive mistake. I'd bought them as the "successor" of the Vaporfly Next%, and was immediately disappointed. They were simply too big and clunky. The Vaporfly disappear on your feet and propel you forwards. The Alphafly were fast, but they were boats.

Post-injury me thinks they're the most wonderful racing shoe in the world. Whatever is causing massive pain when I run in the Vaporfly Next% doesn't happen here. I can get in a rhythm at a decent pace and hold it - as my new, shiny half marathon PB can attest.

While I'm still terrified at getting a flat mid-race, the Alphafly is now my race shoe of choice.

Overall view

It seems completely mad, in the end.

In 2020, I ran six races - three real races, two virtual races, and one club event "race".

All the real races were in Vaporfly. The other three were in Alphafly, Vaporfly, and Adidas Adios.

In 2021, I have run four races - two in the Brooks Hyperion Elite 2, and two in the Alphafly.

Anecdotally (because I can't be bothered to get the data from Strava and crunch it), my biggest mileage eaters of 2020 would have been:

  • Saucony Kinvara
  • Adidas Boston
  • Saucony Triumph
  • Nike Zoom Fly 3
  • Nike Tempo Next% (at least, towards the end of the year once this was added)

In 2021, they have been:

  • Asics Novablast (mostly during recovery)
  • Saucony Triumph
  • Saucony Endorphin Shift
  • Brooks Hyperion Elite 2

If I had to add a fifth, we would include the Kinvara on the 2021 list as well, but in reality it's those four that I reach four - plus the Alphafly on race day.

It's strange to think that I must run entirely differently now, given that my shoe choice has changed so much with this injury. But it must be true.

Have your shoe choices ever made a wild leap? Why and how? Let me know in the comments.

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