As a scientist we are told if you have a problem with your experiment change only one thing at a time so you know what the problem is. But occasionally your results are so bad you re-design the whole thing. Well that’s what I did recently with my knee and a part of that was some new shoes. This is as much about changing your runner brand and dealing with ongoing injuries as it is a review of a specific sneaker. I made the long overdue switch from Adidas to Asics in the form of the Cumulus 18. Now that I have a couple of hundred km’s logged on ‘em here’s what I think so far, and it’s not ALL roses. Spoiler alert there is still A LOT of roses!
How I got here
I’ve always run in Adidas sneakers because well I did, you can read all about that here where I reached out for advice about what brands to try. But for some time, like getting close to two years I’ve known better. Like almost everyone else I’m not a big fan of changes so I stuck with it. What finally pushed me over the edge was dealing with a bad case of runner’s knee in my left leg. Over the last year and a half my strategy for dealing with the pain has stopped and started over and over again. Looking back it turned out to be a series of stop gap measures rather than any real long term strategy. Some exercises, never six weeks worth, a small brace, then a big one, more yoga then less yoga and lots of Voltaren. Obviously not a recipe for success but it meant I could stay in my known Adidas sneakers, show little will power and do only exercises I already knew I liked. And I’m not throwing undue shade at Adidas here all of my running and triathlon bests happened in Adidas and I might even by another pair in the future, but for now this is better.
It started in May 2017, got terrible that December and finally this September it seemed my brace stopped working over three weeks and even made my leg around my knee hurt as well as making my knee hurt more. This made me really decide to get serious and uncomfortable about fixing this rather than slapping a series of band-aids on it. So I Started doing those exercises, including adding a dollar to the jar every day I do, bought proper runners and aim to leave the braces behind once and for all. Actually I haven’t worn one for about a month and a half. I delved deep into the scientific literature to find out all about what experts have found about bracing for runner’s knee and followed the recomendations. As a result I’m using K-Tape (KT-Tape or kenisiology tape) for the first time ever too.
Picking out a new shoe
Ask an expert, right? Well one of my tutoring students is a track star and works part time at big sporting good store. Who better to ask? I told her my storey, including my previous bad experience with saucony sneakers that prevented me from giving them a fair shot and she flat out recommended that I get myself a pair of Asics. She also said she didn’t want me to get her to fit my foot since that would be, “weird.” Right after our weekly lesson, with only a bit more than 1/2 an hour I headed down to her store, knowing she wasn’t working, to start shopping. That was all the time I needed. One of her co-workers fitted me for a pair of Asics and after trying on two sizes and three shoes I left with a new pair of Gel Cumulus 18’s. Pink and blue. Interestingly, she mentioned that in her experience people either have a Saucony foot or an Asics foot and that’s it.
All of the sneakers I tried on felt like foot clouds compared to my old Adidas shoes and the one’s I’ve been wearing lately are both far from dead. But they also felt relatively bulky and I sort of missed feeling the ground under my feet. This was going to be a big change! I’ve tried on enough pairs of running shoes in my day to immediately be able to tell if a pair is wrong for my foot but telling if it’s the right pair is a little harder. Telling if it’s the ‘right pair’ is often only possible once they are pretty much worn out. Part of the problem with Adidas is that they don’t make the same shoe year after year so you’re always starting fresh. The lovely lady that helped me pick out my new shoes assured me that should I love these Asics will always make a cumulus shoe so next time I might not even have to show my kitty socks to the world at large. Also she gave me crap about my kitty socks, not really but…
Healing my knee
Picking out actually supportive shoes was only a part of the process of trying to get the knee problem sorted once and for all. For about a year now I’ve suspected that wearing the wrong kicks might be a part of the problem. My long time everyday runners have lately been the Adidas TR7’s and I came to find out I might not have any business actually running in them. Then neurotic me took over and the thought nagged at me, almost non-stop while I was running in them. When my brace stopped working for the pain once again that intense fear that running might not be a part of my life much longer kept creeping in. Dealing with three flare ups in 18 months was too much! This summer I had hoped to cross olympic triathlon off of my list but the race got moved forward in the calendar due to road construction and I couldn’t find another one to feasibly do. Truthfully I wonder if my knee would have kept me from doing it otherwise had that not happened. More likely, especially reading this post, I would have pushed through it making the problem potentially worse. I decide it’s time to really attack this do the physio for more than the two weeks at a time and stick with it beyond six, stop wearing a brace if it is bad for me and take care of it as best I can according to science. And as I type this now It’s better again, I’ve been running brace free for almost 2 months after wearing it for almost two years, although I sometimes do take it with me and my confidence is coming back.
To really know what’s the reason it’s working I would have had to change one thing at a time. Instead I changed my shoes, tried K-tape (post forthcoming), stopped wearing a brace and sticking with the hip and knee exercises religiously. Though I suspect it’s the latter that’s really helping I’m sure proper footwear has more than a little to do with it.
So finally what about my new shoes?
This is maybe what your here for right? Since the shoes are so bulky and cushiony they don’t ‘feel’ fast or like I’m about to break any speed records and they haven’t been so far. My pace is a about 15-30 seconds per km slower than it was before but, I’ve also been taking it easier for my knee’s sake without my brace recently. But making me a tad slower I also haven’t been getting out there as often in the last couple weeks due to laziness, busyness and weather and my nike app has had auto pause off since it was acting up a bit so that all contributes to slowness too. The shoes have taken me on some 11 km runs on frozen ground and a couple of short street races almost pain free. They feel like my legs are getting a whole new level of support and cushioning I don’t think I’ve ever felt.
The overall quality of these is a whole different ball park too and that’s also taking some getting used to. I’m not knocking my old Adidas sneakers here but the tongue and the part your ankle peeks through was relatively flat in the past. As if it was already worn in or deflated compared to my new Asics which has been causing me some tight points and hot spots, not to mention experimenting with lacing techniques and tying tightness. I have about 170 km on these so far and they are either deflating in these areas of my efforts are paying off. I think there is definitely a break in period with these that I’m unused to before they mould to your foot or you might tie and or lace them defiantly when new comrade to when they are broken in. This is not ideal but probably par for the course with a better built shoe than I’m used to. I would be interested in trying a paired down version for this and a couple of other reasons. But I like them, I really like them and I’m converted. That being said if I left my shoes at home and had to buy new ones on race day (almost impossible as I always wear them) I would buy adidas as they already seem to be broken in.
In fact even though I have about 250+ km on my old Boston Boost 5’s, and 100 km left on my trail runners I haven’t worn either since getting them and I doubt I likely will. If I have a trail race next year I might finish out the TR7’s there, and sooner or later those will be done and then onto being perfect work shoes. Now onto the Boston Boosts. I’ll leave those in the rotation as my back up runners for days that the new one’s are wet, or drying or otherwise unavailable. I usually use an old pair of runners on my mountain bike. The trail runners are too thick and bulky and my last ones (Adidas Supernovas) have a lot of venting on the bottom and my feet get too wet. The boosts are sleek and perfect for the task.
Now onto the bigger (though bound to resolve itself issue) is the soles are thicker and wider I keep kicking myself in the ankle to the point I have little bruises on the inside of each. I guess that means my gait is pretty consistent since each is the size of two pencil erasers. I imaging this will resolve itself over time and I’ll just naturally adjust. And because of this I’m sure I’ve found my brand even if it might turn out not to be the absolute perfect shoe. My plan is to start shopping for race shoes sometime in the mid spring before a potential 1/2 on May 18th. One of my tips for doing a 1/2 marathon is to buy two pairs of shoes as if you get just one for training they will be dead on race day. So that’s a long winded way of saying I’ll probably buy another pair of these as my every day runner but potentially break in a new pair (of racier) sneakers on long runs and speed work.
Overall switching brands has not the terrifying and scary experience I had built it up to be in my mind. Did you ever switch brands? What made you do it? Did you switch back?