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Is your running shoe hurting you?

Ph.D. candidate Ter Har tests health impacts

Published on June 25, 2018 11:34AM

Last changed on June 26, 2018 8:31AM

The two running shoes used in Justin Ter Har’s study: the Hoka One One maximal running shoe and New Balance traditional neutral running shoe.

Justin Ter Har

The two running shoes used in Justin Ter Har’s study: the Hoka One One maximal running shoe and New Balance traditional neutral running shoe.

Chart measuring the wear of running shoes on a runner’s lower extremities — ankles, knees and hips.

Justin Ter Har

Chart measuring the wear of running shoes on a runner’s lower extremities — ankles, knees and hips.

Justin Ter Har, a co-author of a study of running shoes.

Justin Ter Har

Justin Ter Har, a co-author of a study of running shoes.


Every shoe can make you run further and faster. At least what their manufacturers want you to believe.

“Our J-Frame supports and guides your foot without the use of heavy, rigid or unforgiving materials,” reads promotion from Hoka shoes. “It gets its name from the ‘J’ shape, which uses a firmer density foam to support the inside of your foot and heel. It’s stability plus Hoka comfort.”

Ever since P.F. Flyer’s sent kids dreaming of speed — “shoes guaranteed to make a kid run faster and jump higher” — the goal has been to get us to purchase a competitive edge.

Stakes rose and the velocity of our runners increased. The shattering of the 5-minute mile, the legend of Olympian Steve Prefontaine, the Oscar-winning, cross-country journey of Forrest Gump — all created a cultural image of the runner against the world, a solo unaided by gadgetry, an engine, a horse or a ball.

With one exception: the running shoe.


Running shoes matter


Justin Ter Har will be the first OSU-Cascades undergraduate to begin a doctoral program in OSU’s neuromechanics program. He starts in the fall and is the recipient of a graduate teaching assistantship.

The Seaside High School grad is part of an academic team that delivered the thesis, “Influence of Maximal Running Shoes on Biomechanics Before and After a 5K Run” on June 7 at the American College of Sports Medicine Northwest Chapter conference.

Ter Har, 24, knows the joy of running, first developing an interest as a freshman in Bend. “Competing against myself every day was an important thing to me,” he said. “Now I run every other day about five to seven miles.”

Locally, he likes to run at Gearhart’s Del Rey Beach.

Ter Har and co-author Christine D. Pollard studied the impact of shoes on a runner’s lower extremity biomechanics — actions of the ankles, knees, hips — important for clinicians to reduce injury.

Footwear is a unique garment that “affects how we attenuate our forces,” Ter Har said. “We wear T-shirts, pants and different clothing items, but none of those actually supports us like footwear does.”

Any increase in lower extremity forces can lead to injuries in running, so researchers look at shoes and see if they reduce any of the lower extremity forces, he said. The one thing between our feet and the ground affecting those forces is our footwear.”


‘Born to Run’


Ter Har’s thesis offers not only a mini-buying guide but a history lesson.

In the early 2000s, author Chris MacDougall’s “Born to Run,” inspired runners to emulate the barefoot style of Native Mexicans who could run distances of up to 100 miles at incredible speed.

Madison Avenue touted the image, with the introduction of the minimalist running shoe and claims that a lack of cushioning would reduce injuries by promoting a more natural foot-strike pattern. The weekend warrior could opt to run barefoot or in a minimalist shoe like a Merrill Glove, with no “heel to toe” drop and no midsole cushion.

“The goal is to create a natural, zero-drop experience, so that you can have full foot contact in a lightweight, but sturdy design,” Merrell writes of their 12 varieties of barefoot running shoes.

When research on minimalist shoes failed to show benefits in running speed or decreased injury risk, their popularity declined.

The industry pivoted the other direction as the company Hoka One One introduced a “maximal” running shoe, thought to reduce the risk of injury with a highly-cushioned midsole.

“The sweetest cushion” is how a 2016 television ad illustrated it, with “Mallowman,” a giant running marshmallow in a white padded suit reminiscent of the Michelin Man, racing all over town to a doo-wop soundtrack, leaping over sidewalks and little white dogs.


Surprising results


Ter Har and Pollard sought to measure the loading force impacts of the maximal and the traditional shoe.

In the study, 15 female recreational runners, from age 23 to 51, with a mean age of 34, ran a minimum of 15 miles per week. Two shoes were chosen for comparison: the maximal Hoka One One and a traditional New Balance.

Participants attended the biomechanics laboratory for two separate testing sessions, with seven to 10 days between sessions.

For one of the testing sessions, the participants wore the neutral running shoe and for the other testing session, they wore the more cushioned.

What surprised Ter Har and Pollard was that lower extremity impacts of the cushioned Hoka One One were greater than the traditional shoe, a phenomenon Ter Har called “totally counterintuitive.”

A higher loading rate has been associated with a higher risk of developing a running-related injury.

Runners should consider this potential increased risk when choosing shoes, authors concluded, although further work is necessary to better understand the longer term impact of maximal shoes.

Ter Har wears an Altra Superior 3.5, with “a little bit of cushion,” considered a partial minimalist shoe.

Meanwhile, after his June commencement he plans to continue his studies as a postdoctoral scholar and graduate teaching assistant.

“I’m interested in footwear in preadolescent children,” Ter Har said. “How an implementation of a minimalist shoe in children could actually make a large effect on running-injury risk down the road.”



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