Should you “size up” your running shoes?

I’ve often heard runners say that they buy shoes that are slightly too big to allow for their feet to swell whilst running.

This idea of “sizing up” and buying a shoe that is half or maybe even a full size bigger than you would normally wear doesn’t quite make sense to me. Here’s why:

Firstly I’d question if your feet do actually swell during running. Whilst there is some evidence that over hydrating can cause feet swelling (link) and that oedema can occur during prolonged exercise such as ultra distance events, it isn’t guaranteed to happen to everyone. Secondly, even if they do swell, your feet will tend to get fatter rather than longer so to accommodate that what you actually need is a wider shoe rather than a larger one.

photo of large selection of running shoes

there’s a wide pair here somewhere!

Lets take a hypothetical situation: A runner who normally wears a size 9 shoe decides to wear a size 10 for a long race. They hope that this will prevent painful feet by allowing their feet to swell. So, what happens during the first 4 or so hours of the race before their feet swell? They are running in a pair of shoes that is a size too big for them!

As humans we develop a complex sense called proprioception or kinesthesia which allows us to perceive movement and body position and is hugely important in controlling motor skills, such as running. Imagine if we have done all our training in a pair of size 9 shoes and our brain has sensed how if feels to run in these shoes, how to react to the myriad of stimuli and sensations of running in them. Then we go and try to race in a larger shoe. That hard wiring of the brain to know just how high to lift the foot to avoid tripping suddenly needs to be re learnt. For a while we are clumsy and have to think about how we are placing our feet rather than it being instinctive.

Have you ever noticed that you are much more likely to to trip, stumble or stub your toe towards the end of a long run when you are fatigued? It’s more likely to happen late into an ultra than it is on a 10k, even though you are running much more slowly. Fatigue, such as experienced towards the end of a long race affects both muscle function and proprioception, increasing the likelihood of tripping. Now add in running in shoes that are too big, it’s a perfect storm!

If you do experience foot swelling whilst running do you actually need a bigger shoe size or could you just loosen the laces? Maybe you just need a shoe that has a bit more room in the toe box? Or you could use a removable insole and take it out when your feet feel uncomfortable in order to give the shoe more volume.

Shoe Cue insoles with the pimpled heel plate

or you could remove the insoles

We are individuals and it is important to find what works for you, but don’t just assume that you need to size up your shoes for your long runs. I did the Paddy Buckley Round on a very warm day. I wore the same pair of Inov-8 Roclites that I had worn both on long hill days and short, fast training runs. Once laced up I didn’t touch the laces again until I’d finished, not even to change my socks!

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Should You Run Every Day?

A question I often get asked is “Should I run every day?”

My answer, predictably, is “It depends.”

Every runner is an individual with different training backgrounds and experience. There is nothing wrong with running every day, or sometimes even twice a day, as long as:

  • You have a well established base of consistent training. This means months and years of running during which you have built up a solid aerobic foundation and developed strength and resistance to fatigue.
  • You build up gradually to running every day. Again this might mean several months where you run 5 or 6 times a week without undue fatigue.
  • You do the majority of your runs at an easy intensity. Too many recreational runners think that their runs need to feel hard in order for them to gain a training benefit. However, easy runs build fitness without being too demanding meaning that you can run for longer and more frequently. Lots of easy running with a small amount of intense work is an recognized as being an effective way to train.
  • You don’t repeat hard sessions day after day but follow them with easy days.
  • You are injury free. It is rarely a good idea to try to run when injured. A better approach would be to let it heal, establish the cause and add strength exercises to reduce the chance of recurrence of the injury.
  • You eat a healthy diet. Running consumes calories, muscles need to rebuild after exercise and bone strength is reliant on sufficient minerals in the diet. Not eating enough or eating the wrong type of food to sustain your running will lead to a drop in performance or even illness.

Image below shows my November training diary

image of training diary

running at least once a day (Garmin Connect)

Image below shows the intensity in HR zones (note 26th Nov heart rate battery died. It was a very easy day)

image showing heart rate graph

November – daily time in Heart Rate Zones (Sporttracks)

Some of the runs are just 30 minute easy efforts with a few strides. Some days I ran twice; a short easy session followed by a harder run. Generally, as well as mixing up the intensity I also vary the duration with the shortest run being 30 minutes, the longest up to several hours. Pace ranges from very fast strides to brisk walking up the steepest inclines. I also vary the terrain so I will run on fell, trail, grass and tarmac (yes it is ok for fell runners to run on tarmac!) That calls for different shoes too so put all that into the mix and you get lots of variety; duration, intensity, pace, surface, incline, foot-strike, cadence, shoes.  I’m certainly not repeating the same type of run day after day.

The current Covid-19 situation means there are no races. In training I’m not hammering the downhills and creating as much muscle damage as I would if I was racing. Also I’m not doing as much zone 5 work as I would in race season – then I would take days off after very hard efforts.

This works for me, it might not work for you but don’t automatically think that running every day is a bad idea!
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How to Improve Your parkrun Time

Some people do parkrun every week, trying their hardest and expecting to get quicker. That approach might work for a while but eventually you’ll reach a plateau.

The best way to achieve a new personal best (PB) is with some structured training rather than trying to go faster every Saturday. Giving it your all week in week out is hard work! Even elite runners don’t race every week so why would it be a good idea for recreational runners?! Some interval type training that is specific to the demands of the 5k (3.1 mile) distance of parkrun would be better. Here’s an example of how you can use interval training to help you improve.

runner at parkrun

Improve your parkrun PB

Let’s imagine you are aiming to get under 20 minutes for your 5k with your PB something like 20.05 (this means very recent PB not one you set 6 months ago). To run 5k in 20 minutes you need to run every kilometre in 4 minutes* (5 x 4 = 20)
* obviously you can change this depending on your current results eg 1km in 5 minutes if training for a 25 minute PB

I’d be certain that you could run one kilometre in under 4 minutes, the problem you have is running five of them back to back at that pace. You don’t need to train to run faster but to maintain an achievable pace for longer.

Interval Training Sessions for parkrun

Ideally these will be done on a measured track but modern GPS watches will allow you to find a 1 kilometre loop, it might even be part of your parkrun course. Find a flat area without sharp turns or anything else that will force you to slow down. Always do ten minutes of easy running and some dynamic stretching to warm up first.

Week 1: 5 x 1km in 4 mins with 2 min recoveries
(That means run one kilometre in four minutes then have two minutes rest. Do exactly the same four more times. You will have run a total of five kilometres in twenty minutes but split up by 2 minute recovery breaks)

Week 2 – repeat week 1

Week 3: 2km in 8 mins then 3 x 1km in 4 mins with 2 minute recoveries

Week 4: 3 x 1km in 4 mins then 2km in 8 mins with 2 minute recoveries

 Week 5: 3km in 12 mins then 2 x 1km in 4 mins with 2 minute recoveries

 Week 6: 3km in 12 mins then 2km in 8 mins with 2 minute recovery

 Week 7: 4km in 16 mins then 1km in 4 mins with 2 minute recovery

 Week 8: Park Run, aiming for 5km in 19.59 – you’ll find that extra second!

Many runners get their pacing wrong, setting off at a pace that they can’t maintain and then slowing down as they fatigue, this applies both whilst doing the interval training and on the actual parkrun. The first rep shouldn’t feel too hard and you might be tempted to go faster – don’t! It takes practice to learn to run at the desired pace so don’t expect to get it spot on first time. You could use a GPS enabled watch to help with your pacing but it is also really good if you can learn to “run by feel” which means judging your pace based on the effort you are putting in. When you come to do parkrun aiming for your PB then you might want to set your watch to give you your km splits if you don’t trust running by feel. It is better to go slightly slower for the first half and then speed up than to set off too fast and try not to fade!

interval training graph

it can take a while to get pacing right!

This isn’t the only running you should do! You also need to be doing around three other easy runs a week, ideally including a long run and maybe a little bit of faster paced running. Just training at faster paces such as sprints or 400 metre intervals isn’t particularly effective as they aren’t specific to the demands of the 5k – they will teach you how to run fast but won’t help you maintain a moderately fast pace for 20 minutes! You also need to be patient, fitness improvements occur as a result of long term, consistent training not one off hard sessions.

It doesn’t mean you can’t do parkrun every week, you can but you need to swallow your ego and treat it as an easy run and not worry about your time or who finishes ahead of you!

Note that this is not the only approach to getting faster, it is is just one example, there are lots of other ways to manipulate the session for example by reducing the recovery times. Some people might need longer than eight weeks, others less, much depends on your experience, level of fitness and training background. Regardless, it is a much better approach than trying to smash your PB every week.

Want a training plan for your next race? Click logo below to check out my coaching page.

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Long runs won’t hurt your speed!

I overheard someone at a fell race earlier this year saying that they didn’t do long races because they didn’t want to lose their speed. Really?

If they were talking pure, flat out, maximal effort speed then maybe but they had just done a 5 mile race.

photo of fell runner

don’t overlook the long run

Think about it like this: A good marathon runner can do 26.2 miles in two and a half hours – that’s a pace of just over three and a half minutes per kilometre.

That’s like doing a 36 minute 10k then continuing at the same pace for another 20 miles!

Unless your goal is to work on pure, fast twitch dominant speed then you’ll benefit from a mixed training schedule that includes easy, long runs which help to develop and maintain your aerobic base. This aerobic base fitness is exactly that – a solid foundation on which to build the rest of your training. Of course you also need to train at faster paces if you want to do well in short races but don’t overlook the long run – it won’t slow you down!


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