The Heel to Toe Drop Debate……

I’m not very adventurous in my running shoes purchases for the sole reason that not a lot of shoes fit my foot.  I have a very narrow heel so my heel slips out of the heel cup of most shoes.  For years, I have trained in Saucony and raced short distances in Nike for this very reason.   Over the last couple of years, the minimalist shoes have made an appearance and while not all runners have jumped on the band wagon, the minimalist movement has affected most of us.  I’m not interested in entering the debate as to which is better, traditional or minimalist running shoes, however you can go HERE or HERE if you would like more information.

I’m all about funky colors and cool looking shoes but I first and foremost, choose shoes based on fit and feel.  I like a shoe with some guts and a little cushion. Yes, I basically want to walk on clouds.  If I feel a stone thru the bottom of my shoe while running, I won’t wear them again which is why I shop at Running for Kicks because they will take my shoes back after I run/race in them if for WHATEVER reason I do not like them. 

This spring, the minimalist movement affected my running shoe, the Saucony Guide 5.  Saucony moved their entire collection from the traditional 12 mm heel to toe drop to an 8 mm drop.    Saucony Guide 5 pictured below.

Sauc Guide 5       Sauc Guide 5a

To say the least I was nervous. Although I was excited about them being 1.5 oz lighter, I was nervous about the change in the heel to toe drop.  In actuality, I never really noticed a difference in the drop but loved the new fit, lightness and style cushion.   Click on the green link, if you are interested in a full review and comparison of the Saucony Guide 4 vs 5.

 Me_Schubert Woods_bridge_5-13-12      Saucony Guide 5_pink_ocean                 

For people like me who forefoot strike, the lower drop is ideal.  We have less shoe that we weren’t using anyhow to haul around.  This never was an issue when I didn’t have other options know any better but last night, I went to purchase a new pair of lightweight shoes for 5K races and we went thru the entire fit process again and I tried on a large variety of shoes.  Although, I like to have a pair of shoes specifically for shorter races, I can’t go to “race flats” because I’m not fast enough my current state of injury/recovery is not conducive to shoes without cushion and support.  

You may wonder why I need a pair of “racing” shoes since I’m not really that fast and that would be a great question.  For me, “race” shoes are like a frame of mind.  You slip them on when you want to run fast and only when you want to run fast.    It’s more mental in my opinion than physical.  It’s a break from the normal training regime, a special day and it requires a fast pair of shoes.  Yes, shoes CAN make you run faster but only if you BELIEVE.   🙂   Retired racing shoes, Nike Lunar Flys.

So last night as I was going thru the lightweight shoes that would work for me, one of the shoes I tried was a lightweight trainer which still had the 12 mm drop.  While the shoe looked really cool is a very popular brand, I felt like I was going to fall on my face.  The heel was noticeably higher than the forefoot and all the cushion was in the heel without any much under the ball of the foot.  It didn’t feel good to stand in those shoes and running was worse.  I was a bit surprised the larger drop was so noticeable.  I wonder if it was just a difference between my normal brand and that one, or if a minute 4 mm difference is really that noticeable to my feet?  Or did my injury play a role?  I could actually feel the tear site pull from heel to toe imbalance when I was running in those shoes.  Not good for my tender foot.

The next two pair I tried had a 4 mm drop and I was instantly nervous about those thinking this was TOO close to minimalist for my body type.  I was concerned less drop equaled less protection/cushion.  I was wrong.  Both shoes were adequately cushioned in the forefoot where I strike, they both fit like a glove and were light on my feet.   They made me FEEL light and fast, like I was ready to run with the wind!  So my new 5K race shoes are….

Brooks Pure Cadence 

Brooks Pure Cadence, a lightweight shoe with cushioning and light stability.  And…..my heel doesn’t slip!  I’ve never ran in Brooks before but I’m loving the fit and feel of this shoe.  They will make their run debut at the Hyundai Hope on Wheels 5K at the Chicago Half Marathon on Sunday, September 9th.  More on the race day feel/fit later! 

I encourage you to go to a local running store that will take the time to talk with you about your needs, concerns, injury history and then fit you accordingly.  Find a store that encourages you to run in all the shoes they have in your size/foot type either on a treadmill or the sidewalk outside the store.  Don’t be shy to run in the shoes during the fit session because you need something that feels good on the run, not in the store.  A good running shoe store will also allow you to return shoes that you do not like, even after you have ran in them.  If you buy your shoes at a store where you and your kids do not feel comfortable, talk to the local run clubs and find out where their runners buy shoes, you will probably even find a club discount floating around.  Running shoes are an integral part of your health and training and a good store wants to help you.   

Are you a minimalist runner?  Can you tell the difference in the heel toe drop just by trying on a shoe?  Do you have specific shoes for racing?

** Happy Running ** Amanda – TooTallFritz ** amanda@tootallfritz.com

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13 thoughts on “The Heel to Toe Drop Debate……

    • I’ll only be racing in them so it won’t be the same for me. I need to use trainers for base miles. I read that they last for about 250 to 300 miles. If you are a person who can get 500 miles out of a pair of shoes, then these would wear quickly for you. I only get 300 miles on a pair of trainers so these won’t be much different other than I’ll use them less.

  1. I’ve been curious about the Brooks Pure shoes since they came out. I think after the marathon, when I’m ready to rotate in a new pair, I might try them out at RFK and see what my feet think. I’ve had a lot of luck with Brooks Adrenalines, so I’m a big Brooks fan.

    • The different Pure shoes have different levels of support. The Candence has the more than the others. I’m wearing them today at work and just love they way they feel. They also cup my heels which is good and I “feel” like my foot is supported at the tear sight. To be honest, they give way more support than I anticipated. However, Mel told me I can’t run more than the 3.1 distance in them b/c of my injury.

  2. I just ordered a pair of Altra’s thart have the heel and toe at the same level. I like to have alot of room for my toes and forefoot. The altra’s claim to have a roomy front. I’ll let you know how they feel once I get running in them. I use to run in a Saucony until I started having issues with the black sole wearing out REALLY QUICKLY. I run in a men’s asic right now because I love the roomy feeling.

  3. I’m still hesitant to go towards the minimalist movement…and still run on “cushy” shoes….my race shoes are newest (least amt of miles) of the shoes (i have 3 pairs of the same model) I train in.

  4. A minimalist runner? LOL…I am just a runner, but my science/educational background has me paying close attention to the “debate” you cite. Don’t intend to debate on the subject, but in its simplest terms…if one wants to be a barefoot or minimalist runner, well it is a long road of gradual and consistent training to get the feet conditioned/strengthened to handle and adjust to the differences in biomechanics to that form of running. You can’t live you whole life in shoes then expect to run barefoot or in minimal shoes without a long and gradual progression…just like you can’t go from couch to running a 5k, half-marathon or marathon without a lot of hard training and adjustment.

    With that in mind, going to shoes with a lower or lessor heel to toe drop has its advantages. The problem with the high heel thickness is that it tends to promote heel-striking, and from what I understand, it is more natural and preferable to have the fore-foot or at least ball of foot hit first, followed just slightly behind by the heel. The thicker and higher the heel, the more tendency you will have to heel-strike and that is not necessarily so good in terms of issues and injuries affecting the feet and both lower and upper legs.

    The 8mm to 4mm drop seem to be reasonable compromise for those of you running long distance. You can do the minimalist or 4mm or less drop shoes for shorter races, but you still have to practice and condition the feet gradually to run in these (i.e. if you are going to them the first time).

    Don’t necessarily focus on thickness of the heel in terms of cushioning because there has been many changes in components and how they are structured to give relatively the same cushioning effect with less material. The downside of this with the newer configured cushioning recipes is that the shoes may not last as long before their cushioning and elasticity degrade. Pay close attention to how the shoes feel on impact and push-off.

    Many of the new generation shoes that are both lighter and less with heel to toe drop have re-designed components, layering and structure to provide nice cushioning, but at same time providing greater flexibility that allow more efficient running from footstrike to pushoff. That’s what you want…greater flexibility while retaining the cushioning. You don’t need a tremendous amount of cushioning when racing 5k or less distances. When running and/or training for half-marathon and marathon races….you definitely want to feel cushioning at that heel and forefoot ball, as well as some support for the under arch.

    My two favorite shoes are Kinvara (Saucony? for shorter to half-marathon) and Nike Air Pegasus for half to full marathon distance and/or training. If you want to go minimalist…then you must prepare yourself to probably several years of gradual adjustment. End of debate!

    Maybe I will win a prize for this post? LOL!

  5. I’m in the market for a new pair of shoes, and i LOVED my saucony 4s (and was worried about the heel drop in the 5s, especially after having a stress fracture in my heel). Your review was helpful to read.

  6. Love the Brooks pure line. I have the Pure Flows and sometimes think they are too cushiony, but not too cushiony for long runs. 😉 I switched from the “traditional” shoe years ago and loved it. My first pair were the Saucony Kinvara, when they first came out. You may like those shoes too. I like having less shoe to pick up and a more natural heel to toe drop. I couldn’t go back.

    • I have to wear trainers for long runs b/c of the injury but can go lighter for race shoes. I did try the Kinvara’s a while ago but they were first generation and a little to thin in the forefoot for my liking. I need to try them again when I’m all healed up.

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