Carrie Lucero – Running Guru. Shoe Scientist.
Carrie Lucero is Road Runner Sports’ Grassroots Marketing Representative, and a treasure trove of knowledge about all things running. She also has a soft spot in her heart for movies about forest firefighters; she counts Steven Spielberg’s “Always ” as one of her all-time favorites.
It’s surprising that she has enough time in the day for watching movies, given that during a peak training week, she’s putting in over 100 miles in her running shoes. This Arizona State graduate has dashed across more finish lines than some high school track teams do in a season.
She took some time to explain the science of picking out that perfect shoe (and how to maintain it), tips for avoiding over-use injuries, and she puts forth a convincing argument about why you should ditch your basketball shorts and get some real running shorts or Ryderwear fitness shorts for a comfortable and stylish workout. After talking with her for over an hour at the Road Runner’s store at the Tempe Marketplace in Tempe, Arizona it was unanimously decided that if Hotshot Fitness could issue honorary doctorate degrees, we’d give her a Ph.D in Shoe Science. The lady knows her stuff. Lucky for us, she was willing to share!
HF: Road Runner Sports has created a system called “Shoe Dog” to determine a person’s perfect fit for shoes?
CL: Yes, it’s a free service, and it’s awesome! You don’t need an appointment, you just hop in. We start with a pressure scan of your feet, then we videotape you in slow motion running on a treadmill. We’ll use the two together to make really good recommendations based on what’s going on with your feet. All the shoes we carry are great, but because everyone’s feet are different, what might be great for me, might be wrong for you. Shoe Dog helps us figure out what your best fit is going to be.
HF: I understand why it might be helpful to videotape someone running, but what does the pressure pad do?
CL: It’s going to look at your arch type and how you display pressure on your feet. There’s high arches, low arches and medium arches. The majority of the population will fall into that medium, semi-flexible arch. We’re built to pronate. If we’re built the way that we’re intended to, we have a medium arch that’s allowed to have a little bit of flexibility that will spread that shock out along all the little bones of our feet.
HF: How long is the Shoe Dog Process?
CL: The Shoe Dog Process lasts 12 minutes. We get all the information in 12 minutes, so we’re very efficient with it. Once you go through the Shoe Dog experience, you’ll get paired up with a fit expert, and they’re going to be bringing out shoes and asking So what do you think about the pair? What don’t you like about it? It doesn’t feel right? Where doesn’t it feel right? From there, we can narrow it down, pull different shoes, and get you into the best pair of shoes for your feet. Ultimately, we want to empower our customers with some tools and an education so that they can help us make better recommendations.
HF: The third part of the Shoe Dog experience is the “Balance Station”. What goes on there?
CL: The balance station makes heat molded insoles. Now there’s orthotics, which are prescribed by a doctor, and cost around $300-400, and they’re done in layers and built on a casting from your foot. Then there are insoles. There’s a big difference. These aren’t orthotics. These are insoles. What they are is something in between a generic, over-the-counter insoles and prescription orthotic. It starts out completely flat and it warms the center here, liquifies it inside, then we put them on the balance station and do one foot at the time. The job of the Shoe Dog Pro is to engage their arch in a neutral position. We don’t just let them stand on it. If we let them stand on it, and they have flexible arches, then we’re going to make a real nice set of pronated insoles which we don’t want to. So they engage the arch in a neutral position and pull-up on the big toe and watch that Achilles and make sure it’s nice and straight, and then they go through a series of movements. What comes out is a heat-molded insole that’s going to address the individual’s needs.
So if you’re like me, and have one arch that’s slightly higher than the other, these are awesome because I pop them in my shoes and every shoe feels good. I don’t have one shoe that feels good but the other feels “meh.”. I move them from shoe to shoe and it makes every shoe’s environment perfect. Your shoe is great, but it’s still a two-dimensional plane. Your foot functions in three-dimensions. Insoles fill those gaps in between. Anything you put in your shoes is going to be better than that sock liner that comes with it. These custom-formed insoles cost $80, but If you’re a member of our VIP club you save 10%, so they’re about $72.
If you’re considering a prescription orthotic, but you’re not sure, this is a great way to go. We put everyone through it and then we let people decide. If they love’em, they can take’em if they don’t, we flatten them back out. If they do buy them, they have thirty days to try them out. We can always flatten them back out again. So if you’re a recovering from an injury, and you feel like things have changed we can flatten them out and remold them.
HF: What’s different about the way Road Runner’s Sports Organizes its selection of shoes?
CL: If you stop by one of our stores, you’ll notice that we have our shoe wall divided by arch categories: Motion Control is for a low-arch, or one that is very flat, and very flexible. It’s our smallest grouping because not too many people fall into that category. Our largest section is the green Stability section because that’s where 80% of the population is. If you go to most other stores, they are not going to be categorized like that, they may not carry more stability shoes than neutral. The shoe manufacturers don’t make more of one kind or the other; we just choose them that way because it best meets the needs of our customers. The third category, Neutral is for people with a higher, more rigid arch that need strong cushioning and flexibility to absorb that shock that their foot isn’t naturally spreading out. Also, the Neutral fit is good for people who wear prescription orthotics.
HF: Let’s talk about socks.
CL: Typically, we’ll ask a person a series of questions about how they like a sock to fit. Do you like thin socks? Where do you like your sock to hit you? What are you doing in them? So we can help them make the right choices. Then we’ll match them up with what’s most important – that it’s not a cotton sock!
HF: What’s wrong with cotton socks?
CL: Nothing is “wrong” with cotton. If you want to buy some of the face socks USA offers or have seen a pair of socks with a cool pattern that you just have to have, then get them! They’re fine for kicking around, watching football, things like that. Cotton’s job is to absorb moisture. If you think of a wash cloth, you rub it on your body to absorb the moisture and it holds on to it. A cotton sock will do the same thing. When we sweat, gravity pulls it down to our feet and into the sock, and that sock is going to hold onto it. So it’s very much like having a damp wash cloth in your shoe while you’re running. It’s going to trap that moisture and cause your sock to bunch up, and it’s going to start to rub. When it rubs, it creates hotspots. Hotspots lead to blisters. If you get a nice blister, it takes a good three weeks to really heal. That’s going to affect your performance. So what a moisture-wicking sock will do is it will keep your feet cooler in the summer because it’ll wick that moisture away, and it will keep your foot warmer in the winter because it’s dryer, so it’s good year-round. It’s friction-free, blister-free, and it’ll help your shoes last longer.
HF: Will certain socks give you more cushioning?
CL: They can, definitely. If you go with a thicker-cushioned sock, there’s more spring in it. You can get a little bit more cushioning underneath the ball of your foot, and your heel as well, and it won’t break down. Cotton will eventually break down. If you look at the inside of your shoe, and you wear cotton socks, you’ll see little white pilings, little balls of cotton. That’s the heel breaking down in your sock. That’s the layer of protection between your shoe and your foot. Our Drymax brand of socks for Road Runner’s Sports (HF: The Drymax Maximum Protection Mini Crew is featured on the left) is guaranteed for 1,000 miles. So they’re gonna last you a good three years, depending on what you’re doing. I’ve had some that have lasted me 4 1/2 years. Like I said before, there’s nothing wrong with cotton if you’re wearing it casually around the house, but when it comes down to performance – especially if its job related – you don’t want anything getting in the way or slowing you down. Especially in your line of work, your feet do everything for you.
HF: What the heck is a compression sports sock?
CL: HA! These are the greatest things ever! We went to the “Javelina Jundred” race this weekend in Fountain Hills, Arizona. People there ran 100 miles through the Sonoran Desert. We setup a tent, and we sold some things. Did we bring regular socks? No. We brought compression socks. Because those are one type of sock for a specific function.
What I like about them is that they come in both sleeves and they also as a full sock (HF: The Zoot Active Compression Sock is featured to the left). I tend to prefer the full sock, because it addresses the whole foot from the leg down to the toes. And it’s graded differently with varying levels of compression throughout the sock, specifically designed to maximize blood flow. If you’re really particular about the kind of sock that you run a race in, then the sleeve is a good option because you can still wear your normal sock with it. You can perform in these, and also use them for recovery.
Let’s say you work out really hard. If you put these on afterwards, it’s going to increase circulation, and it’s going to provide more oxygen to the muscles, and promote a faster recovery and better performance. It’s a great thing to have. Some people wear them all day. Others sleep in them. If I travel to a marathon, I’ll go back to the hotel and I’ll sleep in them that night. And I travel on the airplane with them, and walk around the expos in them. If you’re going to be working really hard, and then chilling out at home afterwards, take a shower and pop them on. They’re going to help you recover quicker, and they’ll provide your muscles with more oxygen. The hot pink ones are my favorite.
HF: Aren’t these the same things that my grandmother wears?
CL: Yes, it’s the same concept as that. Though these are specifically built for performance, while the other ones are a medical grade kind of compression sock. The fabrics that they use in these socks are designed to keep you friction free and are also moisture-wicking.
HF: Explain this: if you have these fancy, moisture-wicking socks designed to suck water away from your foot, how does the water escape the shoe? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?
CL: The shoe itself, the mesh, is constructed in a way that channels the moisture to an outside edge where it will evaporate. So if your sock is releasing it, the shoe will wick it out to the outside, and it will evaporate into the air. Your shoe will last longer if your sock can get that moisture out, and your foot will have a safer environment as well.
“Running with a bad shoe is like driving with a bad alignment. It wreaks havoc on more than just your tires. So you really want to make sure that you’re in the right shoe.”
HF: Obviously, picking out the right shoe is dependent on a number of variables. But could you offer some general guidelines for picking out a good trail running shoe?
CL: A lot of the good running shoes are made into trail running shoes. So, they’ve taken successful shoes and given them more aggressive lugs (i.e. those rubber studs on the tread of the shoe). A good trail running shoe will have more protection around the toes, and the mesh will be thicker to prevent the rocks and sand from getting inside.
Going deeper, what you’re looking for is dependent on the type of running shoe that you use. Trail shoes come with varying levels of stability, or “stiffness.” Trail shoes all offer more lateral protection, so they are going to be more stable in that regard, whether it’s neutral or stability, and some are just stiffer than others. Depending on what kind of running shoe you use is going to govern what kind of trail shoe you use. If you’re going to be running from pavement to trail, you might want something that’s a hybrid. You should be thinking about what kind of trail you’re going to be running on, and most importantly, what kind of shoe feels the best. As far as guidelines go, you really want to pair it up with what you normally wear.
The idea with trail running is that you want to be able to meld around the rocks. You don’t want to be rocking on top of them, because you’re moving quicker. A hiking boot is going to hug really snug on the heel, and you’re going to be rocking on top of them. The trend in trail shoes now is to be more flexible, where they used to be really rigid, you can now fold them in half. But it’s still really protective as far as giving you good grip, good protection against the rocks underneath and keeping the little stones out, but still allowing you to perform..
HF: Can you get the same workout running on a treadmill vs. running on a track or a trail?
CL: If you compare the treadmill to a track, it’s a little bit more similar because the terrain never changes. You can get the same distance though you won’t necessarily get the same consistency. The treadmill is going to decide your speed and it’s going to keep you there. At the same time, it doesn’t give you the same shifts in balance that you get from running outside. When you’re running outside, you have inclines and declines, curbs and rocks, so you’re going to be moving a little bit more and using different muscles. Here in Arizona, the treadmill is a necessity for many people who can’t train in the heat, and it’s better than not exercising at all, but running outside is going to give you more variety both physically and mentally.
Tracks are great if you want to be really accurate with the distance and speed that you’re targeting and they’re ideal for fast workouts and interval workouts where you’re going for speed. If you’re doing fast workouts, you want to make sure that its flat, and it’s clear, and that there aren’t any potholes. Tracks are great for that. But for long-distance training, treadmills and tracks might cause an over-use injury. You’re going around and around and not allowing your body to turn around and go another direction, if it’s one direction only and you’re doing the same thing over and over again, you need to be really careful.
HF: Does that same risk for over-use injury exist for people that run the same loops?
CL: We get a lot of people who come in to the store and say My knee has been bothering me, and we’ll start asking a series of question. The first thing we ask is How new are your shoes? Because when your shoes start to break down, something in your body will tell you, and usually it’s your knees, shins, or arches. Then we work our way down to Where are you running? and Do you go out and run a loop around your house? If the answer is yes, we ask Are you running in the same direction? Inevitably they are. We’ll then suggest that they try running in the opposite direction.
What happens is that sidewalks and roads are canted slightly for drainage, if you run the same direction all the time, your body is off-balance, and something will start to hurt. The fix could be as simple as running in the opposite direction, and over a couple days, it trues itself up and you’re good. If you’re going out, you want to turn around and return the same way, so that your body is on a different level than it was when you came out. If I know I’m doing big loops, I’ll turn around and go the other way. It’s really important that you’re not doing the same thing all the time. Not only that, it also becomes less effective. Can you imagine doing the same set of 25 crunches all the time? Eventually, it’s not going to do anything because your body gets used to it. You want to shake it up and surprise the body.
The most important thing is consistency. Getting out there and keeping yourself going. Your less likely to get injured. If you can change your terrain, that’s the best. We’re really big on alternating shoes. If you’re running on consecutive days, you don’t want to be in that same pair of shoes the next day. Your shoes are going to be break down faster, and plus, it gives your foot a different platform to be on. If you use different brands or different styles, that’s even better because then you’re using different muscles in your feet. As long as its a safe choice for you, an alternate pair of shoes can be like a training tool. Anything that you can do to shake it up and change it a little is great. Not only physically for your body, but mentally.
HF: How many pairs of shoes would you recommend?
CL: If you could have two, that’s the best. Obviously, if you could have more that’s great, because those are tools that you’re using to get you to a healthier lifestyle which is a key to success everywhere else. If you have two pairs, that’s optimal, because then we know that if you’re running on consecutive days, which most people do, we know that at least you can alternate between those two days.
HF: What’s the advantage of giving your shoes a day off?
CL: The cushioning system for shoes is embedded within the midsole. When you look at a pair of shoes and you see that white layer of EVA foam between the sole and upper – that’s the midsole. With Nike, it’s an Air system, with ASICS its Gel and Saucony uses a Grid technology, and it’s all hidden within that white foam. Every time you run, the foam compresses. If you give it 24 hours, that will give it time to spring back. If you jump right back into them the next day, it’s going to compress that foam even more. It’s like leaving a brick on it. Eventually, it’s not going to spring back. You’ll get longer use out of your shoes because they won’t break down as quick, and the cushioning and shock absorbtion systems won’t break down as quickly either. So it’s safer for your feet to give your shoes a day-off.
TIP: If it’s not in your budget, Carrie recommends buying another pair 6 weeks after your first purchase, and staggering them that way.
HF: What are some other tips for prolonging the life of your running shoes?
CL: Well, you don’t want to wash your shoes in a washing machine. Washing your shoes is going to break them down, it might make them look nicer, but they’re gonna fall apart on you. If you wash your shoe in a washing machine, it’s going to break down the mesh, your synthetic pieces will shrink, and they’re going to be stiffer and not fit as well. We recommend that you hand wash them, but you don’t want to throw them in the washing machine, even on the gentle cycle. You really want to avoid completely soaking them if you can. Can they perform out in the rain? Sure, of course they can. I like to use baby wipes on my shoes. It sounds funny, but it works. I use a fragrance-free, alcohol-free wipe with some aloe and vitamin-e. If it’s safe to go on a newborn’s bottom, it’s safe for the shoe. They don’t shred, and they don’t stick to the mesh. So you can clean them really good with those. They’re also really good for the face. Wipe your face first, then your shoes, then head out the door and you’ll be looking really good! So that’s a good way to prolong them: The best three ways to prolong your shoes are:
1.) Alternating your shoes
2.) Making sure you’re in a moisture-wicking sock to keep them drier, and
3.) And making sure that you don’t wash them or get them soaked too often.
HF: Let’s say you live in a rain-soaked part of country. (I’m looking at you, Pacific Northwest). What’s the best way to dry-out wet shoes?
CL: Stuffing newspapers in there is the most cost-effective to dry shoes. It’ll help make the process go quicker, and it’s better than nothing. They do have products that fill the entire shoe. (Cabelas.com offers a compact and portable shoe dryer that you can stash in your cubby hole on the crew haul. $35 is a small price to pay for dry feet late in the season on project work or Rx burns.
HF: How do I know when it’s time to get a new pair of shoes?
CL: We recommend that you keep track of how many miles you’ve put on them, and how long you’ve been in them. There used to be an industry standard that after 500 miles, you should get out of your shoes, which for most people was about a year. That was about 10 years ago. The way they’re making shoes now, though, they’re just not making it that far anymore. So you really want to keep an eye on them. Somewhere between 300-400 miles is when you really want to start watching them. Your body will tell you. Arches, shins, knees – something will start to ache. Ideally, you want to be out of them the week before that happens because that’s a running injury in the making. So, 300-400 miles, or around 4 months if you’re consistently running, start watching them. Look at the outsole, is it wearing down to where it’s touching the midsole (the white foam). Look at the midsole itself: Are there a lot of lateral creases in it? Because that’s a sure sign that the foam is starting to break down and compress.
I like to do a “slap test” where I take the shoe over to a hard surface and I slap the forefoot, and if sounds “slappy” – that cushioning system is on its way out. It should have a solid “thunky” sound. A good rule of thumb is to keep a log. I’ll go home and write down how many miles I did and what shoes I was in, and anything that stood out during the run. Did it feel like I had dead legs, was I tried, was the knee hurting? Keeping a log is very helpful for narrowing down the cause of problems.
Also, everybody is different. If you have a large frame, your shoes are just going to break down quicker. If you’re running a lot of miles, say you’re doing 60 miles/week, your shoes aren’t going to make it to four months. In a good training season for me, I’m out of shoes every one and half to two months. And I’m 102 pounds. So those are two big factors for determining how quick your shoes will break down. Also, the different levels of shoes. If you’re using a light-weight performance shoe because that’s what you like, just know that’s it’s only going to last 250-300 miles vs. 300-400 miles. If it’s an everyday running shoe, you’re going to get 300-400 miles. If it’s a plus shoe, which has more cushioning and more shock absorption and a little bit more white foam, it’ll stand up to a larger-frame, and it’ll last a little longer.
HF: Are there any advantages to getting a heavier shoe vs. a lighter shoe?
CL: When we put people through our shoe dog experience, one of things that we’ll do when we recommend a shoe to you, is say, let’s say you belong in a neutral shoe category, then we’ll decide if you might benefit from a plus shoe with more cushioning, more shock absorption, larger gel pads. Of course, with more shock absorption and cushioning, the weight goes up, as does the price tag because there’s more materials in it. So we might make that recommendation because you have a larger frame (180lbs and above for a male, 150lbs and above for a female) that shoe might last you longer and do it’s job better for you depending on what you’re doing.
You might have a great pair of running shoes, they go long distance for you, but you want to start doing some interval training, you want to get on the track. Then, we might recommend something lighter weight like a performance shoe. With that kind of shoe, they cut down the midsole a little bit so the heel level is almost the same as the forefoot, which encourages more of a midfoot to forefoot run, which is what you’re going to be doing on a track, and it’s lighter weight so it’s faster. So depending on what you’re looking for, we’ll make appropriate recommendations.
I’ve seen women in the Olympic qualifying trials for the marathon that are my size (102lbs) in a plus shoe, and you would think that they would be in a lighter weight shoe to race, but they perform better in a plus shoe because at a certain age (40+, the fat pads in your feet start to break down) so if you hit 16 miles and your forefoot hurts so bad that you have to slow it down, a plus shoe might keep you running faster versus a lightweight shoe that hurts more. It’s really important, and that’s why we ask a lot of questions.
We pair up what you’re doing, things that your body is telling you (aches and pains), what sort of frame you have, and what’s happening with you during performance to match you up with what we call the perfect fit.
HF: How can a hyper-masculine man be convinced that short running shorts are a good idea?
CL: That’s a great question! The good news now for a hyper-masculine man is that the running industry has gotten a lot better about making longer shorts. They’re still going to get you where you need to go. High-cut shorts are great if you’re doing a track workout, where you’re really going to need that leg movement. If you’re in a marathon, and you’re racing and going really fast. Or if you’re doing seven minute miles or less, then yeah, a high-cut short is what you should be wearing. But for “dudes”, basketball shorts don’t work because they don’t have a brief liner. So you’re going to be more tempted to wear your cotton underwear on a run, which is going to chafe and rub. Just like your socks, you want everything that you wear to be a moisture-wicking performance fabric. Nothing feels worse than chafing. Running shorts are going as long as 9″ now. So a real man’s man that doesn’t want to be in the short shorts finally has some options! (HF: Check out these sharp-looking shorts that won’t make you look like Lt. Dangle from Reno 911.
HF: So the biggest reason you should be switching to a dedicated running short is chafing?
CL: Yeah, cotton is going to hold on to moisture, and it’s going to chafe. It’s going to chafe your armpits, between your legs, and men especially will chafe in the nipple area. When you’re going to be out running for a while, you should be putting something on them, like Body Glide (HF: Featured on the left) which is an anti-chafing stick. Body Glide is much better than Vaseline because it’s not goopy and sticky and it’ll stay on for hours. It’s not as messy, it’s cleaner, it’s not going to stain your clothing, it looks like a little deodorant stick that you can pop in your pack.
Another big thing about performance fabrics is they’re light-weight. When you get out there, you don’t feel like you’re competing with your senses, you don’t feel like you’re wearing anything heavy. That’s key to me. When I put on running apparel, and I test it, my first thought is: in the first quarter mile, am I having to move it or twist it? If it doesn’t compete with my senses, then it’s spot-on. You don’t want to be thinking about it. Lightweight moisture-wicking fabrics are going to keep you dry and friction-free. In the wintertime, it’s going to keep you warm because you’re going to layer it. And if each layer is a moisture-wicking fabric, your core is not going to be wet. If you have all this great performance fabric and then put on a cotton t-shirt underneath, your core is going to be wet and you’re going to be cold.
HF: Is it better to start to start off a run cold, with minimal clothing, knowing that as the run progresses, you’re going to warm up, or should you start off comfortable?
CL: You are going to warm-up, for sure. But there are some other factors to consider as well, such as how do you tolerate the cold? It’s better to error on the side of light-weight, because after that first mile, you’re going to start to sweat, and you’re going to be warmer. You don’t have to bulk up too much, just wear a couple light-weight layers. If you don’t like a lot on you while you run, they make compression sleeves for your arms, say you know you’re going to warm up, but in the first little bit, you can wear sleeves, and your arms still have a great range of motion and you can easily take them off. You definitely don’t want to overload, because then you’re going to be hot for your run.
Most important are your hands and your head. Wear gloves and a cap. When your extremities are cold, everything feels cold. When I race marathons, I may race in a tank top, but I might have gloves on, and I’ll kick them off part-way through. If you keep a hat on and keep your hands warm, you’re going to feel a lot more comfortable when it’s cold outside. So you can wear lighter layers if you just wear a cap and some gloves.
HF: What are the pros and cons of barefoot running?
CL: There is a trend toward minimal, toward barefoot. The idea being that it’s more efficient to land more toward your mid to forefoot, it uses your body more as a springboard, instead of just slamming down on your heel. The laws of physics say that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If you’re striking with your heel, everything is going to upward to your hip area. Landing more on your midfoot uses your body more as a spring. Your spine is meant to be springy. If your knees are bent in your landing, it uses your body more efficiently, and transitions you through your running gait better.
We’re practically born with shoes on our feet, so we’re very used to hitting on our heel, that’s what we’ve been doing forever.
HF: Carrie, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. You truly are a shoe scientist and great resource for. Good luck on your next race!
For more information on the Shoe Dog experience, and Road Runner Sports in general, check out their website. For store locations, click here. If you live in the Phoenix area, Road Runner Sports has two convenient locations for you to stop by. One in Tempe and one in North Scottsdale.