What I’ve Learnt from Arthur Lydiard About Running Shoes

Arthur was one of the biggest, and the pickiest, running shoe critics. But many people didn’t quite get what he was talking about. Here’s what I’ve learnt from him (and this is by far the longest).

Earlier last spring, there was the front cover of Running Times (I believe it was the April issue) had the image that resembled the famous cover picture of one-time best-seller book “The Complete Book on Running” by Jim Fixx. On the cover for both of them the runners were wearing Onitsuka Tiger Marap. They were also my first ever serious running shoes when I was 13-year-old. They were the best marathon shoes back in the late 1960s – early 70s. History’s first sub-2:10 marathon was run by Australia’s Derek Clayton in 1967 wearing these Marap. It is a little known fact but ASICS (back then Onitsuka Tiger as some people still fondly remember) might have been Abebe Bikila’s first racing shoes because he liked the prototype Marap so much, when he came to Lake Biwa Marathon in 1962—Abebe said that it was as if he was running barefoot! Unfortunately, the agreement was already made by other shoe company (probably one of the first of “shoe contracts”) with this Barefoot Emperor so that he never had a chance to run in Marap in the official competition. (*Interestingly, Bill Rodgers just told me that the late Mr. Onitsuka, the founder of ASICS who passed away a few years ago, had donated, from his will, $1 million to an Ethiopian children group in honor of Abebe Bikila.)

In a way, those olden-days’ Marap didn’t go much further when Japan’s legendary marathon runner, Toshihiko Seko, came around in late 1970s and early 1980s. When you look at Seko’s favorite shoes, that’s not much different from Clayton’s shoes in the 1960s. That’s not necessarily a bad thing however. In fact, it actually shows how “right” they were from the get-go. When you look at the athletic shoe industry, the dominant figure of 1960s and even in the early 1970s had to be adidas with a few exceptions from their arch-rival (literally their brother-company), Puma, and early-days Reebok. Track events were dominated by the shoes with 3-stripes…except for marathons. Here’s the list of Olympic marathon medalists from 1960 Olympics and what they wore:

When you consider number of athletes these shoe companies actually “sponsor” these days, the results would get an even more interesting perspective. In 1976 Montreal Olympics saw the first Nike running shoes and they were worn by Don Kardong who missed the bronze medal by mere 3 seconds (otherwise, he could have been the first Nike runner to have won the Olympic medal!!) as well as the local favorite, Jerome Drayton, in the 6th place. As for ASICS, interestingly, they started out as a basketball shoes manufacturer in the 1950s (probably a little known fact) and then moved on to make pretty darn good wrestling shoes (anybody remembers “Vision Quest”?); but it is quite clear that they excelled in marathon shoes even before days when their now-signature lines were even established. “Japanese are marathon runners,” Arthur always said, “and they don’t like losing toe nails or getting blisters any more than you or I do and they know how to build the shoes.”

Something to be noted is the fact that world’s best marathon runners picked ASICS (Tiger) shoes during the time when shoe company sponsor, or employment, was almost non-existence. They all came to Fukuoka Marathon in December, tried Tiger (ASICS) shoes and stuck with them. Mike Ryun of New Zealand was the first inaugural Fukuoka Marathon champion in 1966 and he went on and won the Olympic bronze medal in Mexico City in Marap. That was also “almost” the case with Bill Rodgers. He made the breakthrough at Boston in 1975 in a pair of Nike shoes he received from Prefontine as a gift; finished 3rd at Fukuoka in Ohbori that year and Ohbori ever since. He captured other 3 victories at Boston as well as ALL New York City Marathon victories in these Ohbori racing shoes. Of course that was the beginning of “professional” running era and he DID pick up some cash (nothing compared to what it is today though) but he also said, of Ohbori, “Of course I loved my ASICS shoes (beyond sponsorship); I always tell new runners to find the shoe they “love”; as there is a feeling of confidence with shoes that work just right for you time and again…” Another interesting story is that of Lasse Viren of Finland. When he won his 3rd gold medal in 10000m in Montreal, he took off his ASICS spike shoes and raised them above his head and ran around the victory lap…and got scolded by the officials. Many people thought; “How much did he get paid to do that?” The actual fact is; apparently there was no cash involved and he did what he did for the quality of the shoes as well as the service they provided—they literally stayed up all-night and adjusted his shoes to his request before the final—to show his gratitude.

Ohbori was pretty much “Frank Shorter Special” model. He won his unprecedented 4-consecutive Fukuoka marathon crown, back when Fukuoka was THE marathon world championships, in the prototype Ohbori. They actually wanted to put his name on it but, at that time, it was not allowed by IAAF so they named the shoes after the small lake in Fukuoka where runners did their final check-up runs on this 2km loop around this lake. These were upgraded version of Marap which later became Sortie. Sortie’s debut was Beppu Marathon early spring of 1978. The winner, Shigeru Soh, despite strong headwind, clocked sub-15 minutes 5k split all the way till 25k—absolutely unheard of back then—and ran the history’s second fastest time, the new Japanese national and Asian record, of 2:09:05. Shigeru wore original Marap, much like the ones Seko favored at his prime, but his twin brother, Takeshi Soh, wore this new prototype shoes to finish second in 2:11. Later he claimed that, had he not wore them then, the name of the shoes may not have been “SO-rtie”!

I opened up a few blog entries ago with Arthur’s criticism toward so-called “modern” running shoes. He was preaching “minimalist” shoes way back in 1980s when most shoe manufacturers were starting to head to the thicker heel and more and more stable (rigid) shoes. “The shoe would have to be light and flexible,” is what summarized Arthur’s view on running shoes. “And the shape of the shoe should be same as the shape of your foot. You can’t tell the shape of the foot looking down from the top; it’s what’s underneath that’s important…” One of the problems, and this is probably why most people just ignored his opinion, is because he said things that were so very clear to him but he wasn’t very good at explaining what he really meant. One of our objectives, as Lydiard Foundation, is to explain what Arthur meant. I’ve been working on Lydiard Certificate Program Part III (“X-Factors”). One of the subjects in it is equipment, with particular emphasis on shoes, trying to convey his points in more visual fashion.

Arthur was in the shoe manufacturing business even before he started the running business. “I know how to build the shoes,” he always said. He made his own running shoes as with his runners’ shoes. He made Peter Snell’s spike shoes for his first gold medal in 1960. In the final of his 800m in Rome, he was the only runner in the final of men’s 800m final who didn’t receive a pair of spike shoes from then-powerhouse athletic shoe company; adidas. That was might as well because he could run, and win, in his coach’s hand-crafted shoes. “With all the high mileage running I did, I never had black toe nails or bunions,” Arthur proclaimed. “If the shoe fits correctly, you shouldn’t suffer from all these problems.” With all the running that I had done, I can count how many toe nails I lost with one hand (and I know one was from socks and my Morton’s toe, not the shoe that caused it). It always annoys me when people proudly talk about all the black toenails – as if it’s their feathers in the hat because they think it shows how much they run and how much they can endure suffering. As far as I’m concerned, it only shows lack of knowledge and understanding on shoes.

From 1980s on, most, if not all, shoe manufacturers tried to come up with various “gimmicks” to be added onto the shoes. You’d be amazed how many of these “gimmicks” there had been basically for just two objectives: shock-absorption and stability. Don’t get me wrong – technology, and “modern” materials had added so much to shoe development and had helped athletes immensely; like from canvas to nylon to nylon mesh to various mesh pattern… I’ve read the book on progress of sprint spike shoes by Mizuno. It is quite amazing how they implemented “science and technology” and various advancement of material to developing shoes! However, when it comes down to it, the bottom line of running shoes is, as Arthur used to always say; the basic shape of the foot is designed to take weight and act as a spring. And if the shoe actually restricts these basic functions, it’ll cause problems. Some of these “gimmicks” actually counter this fundamental and end up creating more problems than help. All the “gimmicks” in the world won’t mean a thing if the shoe doesn’t fit your foot correctly to begin with. Things like Gore-Tex upper, special lacing system, seamless upper, or even some sort of special material to alleviate landing shock—none of these things won’t make me turn my attention IF the shape of the shoe doesn’t look “correct” because avoiding potential injury (caused by ill-fitted shoes) is more important than keeping my foot “dry” from rain or little bit of splash. Even things like separate toes, so-called “low-profile” shoe structure, or “zero” heel lift or any of those minimalist or barefoot running fad related “feature” is nothing more than a “gimmick” if the shoe construction is not correct.

When you look at your own foot, you can put pressure points on your heel, and the line between the base of your big toe and little pinky toe. As you walk, the weight will move from the heel à base of the pinky toe à base of the big toe. If you connect these points with a smooth line, you’ll get what Arthur used to describe as “ortho-hoop”; or a certain “angle”. This is what Arthur meant by our foot being “banana-shape”. Unless you have a very low arch, your foot will form this “banana-shape” with where your foot actually touches the ground. Actually, even if you have a very low arch, the pressure points will still form a “banana-shape”. Probably THE most important aspect of the shoe is that the shape of the sole of the shoe, not so much how it might look from the top, should fit the shape of your own ortho-hoop. Now some people have narrow skinny foot and their “hoop” looks a lot more like a straight line. Some shoes may have the arch area filled up and they may look relatively straight (I will explain this when I talk about Bill Bowerman). But one way or another, if the shape of the foot (and I’m talking about the shape of the foot where it touches the ground) doesn’t fit the shape of the shoe (sole, not the upper), this will cause a very fundamental problem.

Here are images of two of my favorite shoes from the bottom. When I place the shape of my foot (green line), you can easily see how well my foot sits over the sole of the shoe. A big yellow dot is the pressure point of my heel. Note how it sits right in the center of the sole on the heel? Now if I randomly pick some “conventional” shoes and place the shape of my foot (here in red) with the image of my favorite shoes on far right (with my foot line in blue), what do you think will most likely happen if I try to run in these “other” shoes? Note how my pressure point on the heel is sticking out inside (medially) with them compared to the one on far right? My heel would stick out so far out medially that it’ll hang over the sole of the shoe. This is what people today would call “over-pronation”. In order to counter this, some shoe manufacturer would put such heavy-duty heel counter to force your heel to stay in the middle. Then what’s going to happen is that this would force the lateral side of your foot (base of your pinky toe) to be pushed out (laterally). This is called “supination”. Arthur used to always say that “you don’t pronate or supinate; the shoe does.” And this is how. Granted, some people have structural issue (such as knock-knee or bow-leg); some people have mechanical issue (swinging your arms side-way and your foot landing cross-over the center line, etc.); but I would say more than 3/4 of the issues are caused by ill-fitted shoes. Interestingly, though, when I take a look at some of the “old-timer” shoes—Onitsuka Tiger Ohbori (perhaps THE most popular marathon shoes in the 1970s), adidas marathon shoes Frank Shorter wore to his 1972 Olympic marathon gold, and Arthur Lydiard’s EB road racing shoes. Even original Comp racing flats from New Balance (far left), which is probably known for its more straight-last shoes until they came up with Minimus series recently, have a nice real-foot-like shape. I have relatively fat (wide) feet and adidas back then seem to be too narrow for me (European style); but note how my foot would fits right in any of these “old-timer” great marathon shoes.

Sometimes, however, even elite athletes don’t pay enough attention to their footwear. I was watching women’s 10000m final at London Olympics this summer and I could clearly see (thanks to HD vision!!) how Debaba’s right foot was all twisted around outward quite excessively; I almost wanted to cover my eyes!! I had never seen her foot do this previously (and I’ve seen her plenty times in the past including Olympics, World Championships and Boston Indoor Games) so I would imagine it was the shoe issue, not her structure or mechanics issue. Lo-and-behold, a few days later in the final of 5000m, she had Kinesio tape all over her hamstrings on the same side of her leg. I wouldn’t jump to conclusion that the ill-fitted shoe did the damage but it is very likely possible. Unnatural twist like that could easily put too much stress on other part of your body. Surely, it didn’t restrict her from winning the gold medal in 10000m; but could she have doubled if she didn’t have the hamstring issue? Who knows…

Of course, you just can’t say the shoe would have to be curved or straight or whatever. Like I said, however, some people have relatively narrow feet and this “ortho-hoop” can be quite “flat”, or relatively straight. In other words, curved shoe is not end-all-be-all solution as Arthur might have insinuated. I remember when he came up with his shoes with Converse (AB Series as for Anatomically-Balanced), personally I liked them a lot. A few years ago, I had a chance to talk with Geoff Smith who won 1985 Boston marathon wearing Arthur’s Converse shoes. He told me, actually, that he had to ask them to remodel those shoes to fit his feet. “They were too curved,” he said!! Point taken on individuality!

If I remember it correctly, it was Nike’s Bill Bowerman who came up with “straight-last” shoes. Remember, in early 1980s, Daybreak or LDV-1000—you flip them over and you can’t tell if it’s right shoe or left? ;o) His idea behind this straight-last shoes is to counter the excess inward rolling—over-pronation. In a very primitive way, however, the idea worked. Years later when Nike came out with yet another very straight-last shoes, I could actually see how the shape of the foot sits very naturally over this very wide-base straight last shoe. Basically the idea was to “fill in the arch area” so it stops from excessive inward rolling. Even a French athletic company, Le Coq Sportif, came up with “external” arch support in 1980s. Personally I think the idea works—as long as the “shape” of the shoe is not just plain straight box. Of course, Arthur was too quick to dismiss the idea because the shoe does not look “banana-shape”. Granted, by filling up the arch area, the shoe cannot escape being a bit more bulky and rigid. I heard back in 1970s when Arthur visited Eugene, OR, he and Bill had a huge argument over shoes at one of the panel discussion. I would pay big bucks to get my hands on any recording of this argument!! ;o) That must have been quite entertaining!!

Again, in order to counter these problems, many shoe manufacturers would put heavy-duty heel counter or numerous (usually very hard) devices to restrict these excess “rolling”. Now simple “filling of the arch area” won’t do the work because there is fundamental issue with the shape of the shoe itself. This had made the shoe more and more rigid and moved further and further away from simply supporting the function of feet. Now your foot can’t function properly at all! One of the biggest issues with this is that this would cause what Arthur used to call as “American shoe disease”—Plantar Fasciitis. If you try to walk very fast—or, if you dare, try to run—in ski boots, then you’ll know how it would strain your arch. That’s what’s happening with those rigid shoes—it puts too much strain on your arch. Furthermore, with overly built-up “stability” shoes, yet another modern-shoe disease had come out; ITBS. Some of us got Plantar Fasciitis from various reasons even in the olden days but I don’t think we even had IT Band Syndrome in the days when the shoe sole was so low to the ground that there was not much space to “roll over”. Some shoes have such exaggerated medial support that, when you look at a person wearing them, you can easily see his/her legs pushed outwardly, putting tremendous amount of pressure on the outside of knees and all along the leg. What muscle runs through there? IT band. Most runners with this problem are too busy trying to alleviate the pain by doing stretching and foam-roller exercises but very few identify the cause of the issue. Again, there are cases with structural and mechanical issue; but most come from the ill-fitted shoes.

First of all, this idea of “pronation = bad” is the wrong starting point. Pronation is a natural action. So long as our legs stick out several inched over from the body’s center line (because of the width of the hip bone) and land on more or less the center-line, we WILL have some level of torque. Our arch is designed to prevent our foot from rolling too far in, acting as a spring brake. So, unless your arch is super strong and stops your foot from rolling at all, you foot will roll in slightly. EXCESS rolling may cause some issue but what would happen if someone at the shoe store sees this? They’ll quickly put you in one of those stability shoes. All it does is to make your arch weaker more. This is a epiphany of “tampering”—identifying a wrong cause of the issue, trying to correct that wrong issue and creating even more problems. It’s like removing tonsil to cure common cold. Don’t mix up a cause and a symptom and quickly try to remove the symptom—it not only won’t fix the problem; it may even create a new problem; and that’s what’s been going on in the athletic shoe industry. Interestingly, Steve Magness put together a little test on orthotics. It may have not been a real scientific research in a true sense but the message is quite clear and obvious. Lydiard always said that it’s the shoe that would need the orthotics; if the shoe was built correctly—and it fits your foot correctly—then you wouldn’t need orthotics. Furthermore, it appears that orthotics don’t seem to do what it’s promised to do; in fact, they may even enhance the problems. I’d have to agree with Magness when he calls them “junk”—the more “junk” you have in your shoe, the heavier and bulkier the shoe would become, which is the opposite of what Lydiard always recommended. Some of the shoes I wear, I even remove the insole and just place a simple sheet of thin flat sponge. They fit just right that I wouldn’t even need so-called “arch-supporter”. I’ve had Plantar Fasciitis ONCE and I remember exactly what shoes I was wearing then—I was young and stupid and I didn’t go by my intuition; they were been worn by that year’sBoston Marathon champion (not in the race) but very heavy and rigid. I wore them acouple of times, developed PF and gave them away.

It is quite interesting to me, one who had followed what Arthur Lydiard had been talking about (the shoes as well as his training) for decades and how he was almost ridiculed with his view on shoes (in some cases, with his training as well); how all of a sudden a Harvard University professor, Dr. Daniel Lieberman, started to say the same thing, and then that followed by Chris McDougal’s “Born To Run”, the whole world started to pay attention (Arthur was positively portrayed in “Born To Run” for this very reason while Bill Bowerman was relatively negatively as the co-founder of Nike which I do not agree and, as someone who had privilege to have known Bill personally, did not like. I had a chance to talk with the author, Chris McDougal, a few years back and pointed that out and he actually admitted that his knowledge of Bowerman was quite limited and in fact asked me some questions about Bill as a person which is quite different from how he was portrayed in the book. Bill was a great man—there’s no other way to describe him—and, although their views might have been slightly different, his intention on athletic training and equipment was exactly the same as that of Arthur Lydiard). Speaking of Nike, probably one of the biggest changes in the shoe industry in the past decade or so would have to be their “Nike Free”. But here’s an interesting behind-the-scene story of “Nike Free”:

This past April, Lorraine and I were invited, through Dr. Mark Cucuzella, to the AMAA (American Medical Athletic Association) convention at Boston Marathon. The Executive Director of the AMAA, Dave Watt, gave me their publication and, as I opened it, I saw a tribute to Geoff Hollister, who was one of original Nike founders and passed away a few months earlier, and who also was one of the original boards for AMAA. I had the opportunity to get to know him briefly when he organized the event to bring Arthur to Eugene, OR, for Prefontine Classic back in 1997 (Nike claimed that that was the last time Arthur Lydiard got together with Bill Bowerman. However, the very last time was actually in 1999 when I organized the first of two Lydiard US lecture tours and, per Arthur’s request, I organized a cross-country trip from Eugene to Fossil for a private get-together with Bill, and Dick Brown drove him all the way and back. The drive took 5 hours one way and later Arthur said, “Had I known, I would have never asked for it!”). Arthur was invited to Nike lab in Beaverton, OR, at that time per Mr. Hollister’s arrangement. When I was organizing his last two lecture tours in 1999 and 2004, he told me to contact Nike for support. “I told them how to build the shoes correctly,” Arthur told me, “so I’m sure they’ll come up with good shoes now…” Yeah, right, Arthur; I thought (of course, I would dare NOT say that to him in his face!!). All these years you’d criticized Nike and you can’t turn around and say they are fine now that you want some support… I did contact them however (not Geoff Hollister which I should have probably done…) and, not surprisingly, was completely ignored. Now back to April 2004; Dave Watt told me, as I shared my fond story of Geoff Hollister during Arthur’s 1997 trip to Eugene, “You know, Nike Free was Geoff’s brainchild. And he got that idea from Arthur Lydiard when they invited him to the Nike lab (in 1997)…”!! This was complete news even to me! But it all makes sense when you put all the pieces together. The giant of the corporation may not have been interested at all in listening to the man who probably contributed more to the growth of the company, by spreading concept of jogging, than anybody can possibly imagine; but Mr. Hollister was “man enough” to admit where he got the idea from and share that with his friend.

Arthur was never quite an extreme as to run barefoot, although he had still advocated letting your feet freely function like barefoot, he was actually the first person who taught me about “minimalist” shoes. It was way back 1991 when I visited him at his house at Beachland while our Hitachi Running Team was having a training camp in New Zealand. I saw a pair of racing flats, Brooks’ Conquest, at his door way. “Doing some races these days?” I asked. “The shoe has to be light and flexible with just enough cushion to alleviate the shock (he was actually a rather heavy heel-striker),” he said. I remember that moment well because that was when it all of a sudden started to become clearer to me. A year later, Lorraine Moller, at the age of 37, only a few months after her shoe sponsor dropped her because she was “too old”, ran up and down the monstrous hills of Montjuic to capture the Olympic bronze medal in women’s marathon in Barcelona. I didn’t miss her wearing Brooks Conquest on her free-from-shoe-contract feet!! Next couple of years I would ask Arthur periodically which shoes he preferred. Looking at the year’s models in the market, I was getting to the point where I could even guess which shoes he would “approve”. I could even pick up some shoes and send them to him and he would like them so much (but couldn’t get the same model in New Zealand) that he would ask me to send a couple of extra pairs to him and some of his runners.

In 1999, when Arthur first asked me to organize his lecture tour, I had these shoe companies in mind to help us out. I was happy when Brooks came forth to sponsor the tour. To show our appreciation, we visited their headquarter in Bothell, WA, just north of Seattle where he had 2 clinics. As their VP of marketing showed up with their very heavy-duty stability shoes and told us that they were their best-selling shoes, Arthur picked it up and tried to bend and twist it around…and simply said; “That proves how American audience have no clue about running shoes…” I almost died!!!! But that’s Arthur Lydiard—wouldn’t bite his tongue. And it also proves it’s not so much of any particular brand per se. There are good shoes; there are not so good shoes. One brand, however, the Old Man was always fond of was Onitsuka Tiger, or now by then ASICS. That was why I was even happier when ASICS came forth to sponsor Arthur’s final lecture tour in 2004 (thanks in large part to Tsujino-san and Mr. Slayton). The last time I was with Arthur was at New York City Marathon in 2004, just a week before he would pass away in Houston, TX. Tsujino-san brought some ASICS shoes from Japan (one of which is one of my favorite shoes mentioned earlier). Arthur actually did the lacing (famous Lydiard lacing) through these shoes for me. He was, once again, bending it over, twisting it around…he had me put it on my foot and he would check it around…and said; “They are light and flexible…and sturdy too. They don’t wiggle around side to side either.” What it means is that my foot is sitting right over the sole of the shoe.

When you put the shoe on and put the weight over the shoe, if the shape of the shoe fits the shape of the foot, then the widest part of the foot should sits right over the widest part of the shoe. There’s no part of the foot “sticking out” over the mid-sole. If it does, once again, then your foot will pronate or supinate. Some shoes might be slightly narrower than your foot or wider; but as long as the shape fits, your foot won’t roll all over the place. Then there will be no need for bulky shoes, hence, your feet will function freely. This is actually more important than most people realize; if the shoe doesn’t quite fit, then most people try to squeeze their feet into wrongly fitted shoe-shape and, more often than not, they just get one or more size too big (because they are determined to purchase that particular shoe because of the brand-name…or color!!) and call it a day. A wrong move.

This past year, I’ve gotten to know Mr. Nomura, aka “Shoes Master” (his twitter name), from Japan, through Twitter. He goes around Japan lecturing people (mainly runners but not exclusively) how to choose the right shoes. One of the biggest things he recommends is to pick the shoe a half to a full size smaller than you think is the right shoe. Having a thumb-width of extra space at the tip of the shoe is a complete myth, he says. And I agree, taught by Arthur Lydiard. You only have to do that IF the shoe doesn’t fit your foot OR if the construction of the shoe is such that the toe box collapses (Arthur used to call this “over-sprung” but I personally think that’s a bit misleading of a term) and presses down on your toes. My real-size foot is 26.8cm. I wear 27.5cm, or US size 9.5, ASICS Sortie or Tarther, which, according to Mr. Nomura, are curved-last racing shoes so the actual size would be 27.0cm, or 9.0. This may be surprise to many people but, as mentioned earlier, these shoes fit my feet so well that I don’t need any extra space. I may not even need extra arch-support because the fitting is so right. Like I said earlier, all these years of running (40+ years with many of them 90-110 miles a week; after reading Arthur’s book, I was running 30km on weekends in my high school senior year), I can count how many toenails I’ve lost through running with one hand.

Moreover, according to Mr. Nomura, the shoe that’s too large would encourage flattening of the arch which of course would also enhance over-pronation. Recently in Japan, NHK (equivalent of PBS or BBC in Japan) had a special program much like NOVA. They had 2 groups of people; one to wear what is considered as normal shoe size—a half to a full one size (cm) or, in some cases, even more larger than your actual foot size; the other, slightly smaller size (or, according to Mr. Nomura, the “correct” or “right-fitting” shoe size); and both groups walked up Mt. Fuji. It turned out, the ones with smaller shoe size, though they felt the shoe a bit tight in the beginning, had much easier time climbing up. Why? It is because the arch held up with smaller (or right) size shoes. Again, IF the shoe fits correctly and if the shoe was constructed correctly, you will not have black toenail or blister problems. On the top of this, Arthur used to say that “even the slowest runner in the world would push-off at the tips of your foot.” This is why track spike shoes have plastic “teeth” at the tip of the plate. In other words, if you have the empty “flap” at the end of the shoe, you’ll lose that vital “grip”.

Arthur used to say that you can chop a minute off your 10k time by getting the right shoes. That may sound a bit of an exaggeration; but it is possible if you can let your feet function properly. If not, it’s like trying to play tennis wearing some sort of restricting jacket and you can’t swing your arms fully; how would you think you can play tennis like that? Same thing with your feet. Arthur’s big thing was; “If you have a weak spot (on your foot), you’ll need to strengthen it. If you keep supporting it (with excess stability or cushioning), it’ll only get weaker and weaker…” The ultimate “support” would be a cast; with its purpose being to immobilize the limb/foot. Same thing is happening with modern running shoes with its purpose (or side-effect) being to immobilize (restrict movements of) your feet in the name of “support”. I used to love Nike racing flats. Talk about “light and flexible” and the shape of the shoe fits right on the shape of the foot—Eagle and American Eagle would have to be two of the best racing flats ever; along with Sortie/Marap…and Nike Elite! They were very simple. And what’s wrong with “simple”? It’s almost kinda like “a piece of rubber cut off from old tire and wrap it around the foot”, isn’t it? And wasn’t that the whole idea of what’s written in “Born to Run”? I think some manufacturers did too much “over-thinking” and made something very simple too complicated and created a whole new set of problems.

Perhaps one of every runner’s nightmare is the fact that, when they find the perfect shoes, it’s gone the next season!! I remember Nike Eagle in late 1970s and early 1980s were very different shoes from late 1980s. Same with Pegasus (you know what I’m talking about; Pegasus being one of the longest-sellers). Once again, Pegasus of early 1980s were very much different shoes from Pegasus of late 1980s, then 1990s and into 2000s. In fact, today’s “Pegasus Free” seems more similar to the original Pegasus. In other words, they had bulked them up, bulked them up, bulked them up…and it took the concept of “Free” to get them back to the original shape and structure. I did love the original Pegasus when it came out in early 1980s. When most of the top-of-the-line running shoes were heading for $70~$100 range at that time, I believe they were something like $40 and quite affordable for a poor foreign student!! But more than that, they felt right and fit well. Then I got a pair in late 1980s and they had bulked up the heel so much that my feet were literally sliding forward and my toes were being jammed into the front of the shoe every step I was taking—a basic structural fault and a big reason why we lose toe nails. In short, I could not even wear them! And that was the last time I wore Pegasus. They might have improved since but I wouldn’t know. Personally, however, if I do the same thing with my foot-print, I can easily see why I liked the Original Pegasus and most likely not the newer version. The funky “shape” doesn’t even resemble the shape of my foot (MY foot; may fit perfectly fine for somebody else’s foot). On the other hand, what I really like about Sortie and Tarther is that the basics of these shoes hadn’t changed much at all. Tarther had just celebrated its 30th anniversary (29 for Pegasus). I have Tarther from mid-1990s and it’s amazing how basics of these guys hadn’t changed—materials and some designs of the upper or outsole tread differ a bit but the shape and structure are all pretty much the same. Arthur Lydiard once said, of all this trend of shoe manufacturers coming up with “new” shoes every year, that; “Look, if they built the shoes correctly in the first place, they wouldn’t have to come up with new shoes every year…!” Some changes are good—you learn things and improve upon. Like I said earlier, new and improved materials had helped us runners immensely. But why change something that works fine and had always worked fine—IF they in fact worked fine that is—for the sake of changing it? I guess that’s what’s called “marketing”. But marketing shouldn’t lead or get ahead of functionality. When it does, we’ll get in trouble and runners suffer.

Without doubt, shoes are the most important equipment for a runner. I have been lucky to be quite intuitive to my feet and footwear, and that Arthur Lydiard taught me a lot of about shoes; and that I’ve come across the right shoes for me early on and that they stay pretty much the same all this time (thank God I’m Japanese…). My relatively injury-free running career, particularly my healthy toe-nails proves it. The legendary Japanese marathon coach, Kiyoshi Nakamura used to say; “Talk to your feet.” Pay close attention to how the shoes feel on your feet. They shouldn’t have any pressure point and, if you pay attention, you should feel how well your foot sits on the sole of the shoe. The shoe should fit right for your foot; and if it is, you shouldn’t suffer from all the troubles that most people seem to accept as “feathers in a hat” for running.


1) Covers of April 2012 “Running Times” magazine and “The Complete Book of Running”

2) Derek Clayton and his red “Marap” that he wore for his first ever sub-2:10 marathon

3) Toshihiko Seko’s favorite shoes; ASICS Marap

4) ASICS “Ohbori”

5) Lasse Viren after winning his 3rd gold medal in Montreal Olympics 10000m

5) The shoes Frank Shorter wore when he won his 3rd Fukuoka Marathon in 1973

6) Beppu (Betsudai) Marathon in 1978; Shigeru Soh (#10) ran then the second fastest marathon with 2:09:05. Shigeru’s twin brother, Takeshi (#4) is wearing the red “Sortie”

7) Peter Snell showing his spike shoes that he wore to his first gold medal in 1960 Rome Olympics 800m. Arthur Lydiard hand-crafted them for him.

8) My foot-print to show “ortho-hoop” or the angle; and how “the view from the top” can be so deceiving

9) Image of how my foot-print fits in on my favorite shoes and you can see why these are my favorites

10) …and various shoes…

11) …and some “old-timer” shoes: from left to right, New Balance racing flats, ASICS Ohbori, adidas marathon racing flats and Lydiard’s EB racing flats

12) Ethiopia’s Debaba (center) after winning the gold medal in 2012 London Olympics

13) Nike LDV

14) How my foot-print sits in one of “straight-last” shoes

15) The image of typical “klunker” shoes

16) I sneak and took this picture at a grocery store. She’s just standing and you can see how her legs are being stretched out laterally because of the overly built “motion-control” shoes.

17) The cover of best-selling book, “Born To Run” by Chris McDougal

18) Jeff Hollister (right with sunglasses) at 1997 Prefontine Classic with Jack Ralston (far left), a Kiwi runner who was trained by Lydiard. It was actually Jack’s idea to get Lydiard and Bowerman together in 97.

19) Lorraine Moller after winning her bronze medal in the women’s marathon in 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

20) My favorite shoe when the weight is applied and the toes are being flexed. You can see how my foot is right over the sole of the shoe and not pronating or supinating.

21) One of the all-time best racing flats; Nike Eagle

22) Progression of Nike Pegasus–you can see how it really changed

23) How my foot-print sits over in the original Pegasus vs. more recent Pegasus

24) Progression of ASICS Tarther–you can see how “little” they changed over the years

25) Again, very little changed over the years

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