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July 31, 2008

Cushion My Ride

Admin note: this is a much-delayed product review for a company that contacted me shortly after I pimped myself out to the Nuun and Sport Beans people. I still have one more product (actually, a group of products) to review later this month – but no, it’s not Sport Beans. Should I start a ticker on my sidebar or something to see how long it takes them to contact me? Or should I just perpetuate the rumor I heard a couple of weeks ago that they’re going out of business? Methinks it’s time to ratchet up the pressure.

Anyway, in light of the present topic, it’s worth restating here: I’m always open to test and review free swag; the only catch is you have to be a bit patient with me. My e-mailbox is always open.


Standard practice in health care and research industries dictates that whenever somebody formally presents information, he is obligated to reveal any pertinent disclosures prior to the discussion. For example, if a scientist were to give a lecture about the benefits of Viagra for athletic performance (yes, seriously), he has to disclose beforehand whether he is an employee of Pfizer, or has any financial interests in the company.

Accordingly, before I start telling you about my experience using shoe inserts, here is my disclosure statement: I have no financial interest (or any other kind, for that matter) in the SofSole company. Moreover, in more than 15 years of running, I’ve never had reason to use inserts in my training shoes.

That’s why I tried to disqualify myself when the company contacted me a few months ago to try some of their products. I told the marketing rep that I had never used inserts, and never had serious problems with injuries or foot pain.

Her response surprised me a bit, in that she still wanted me to give them a try. Basically, she seemed awfully determined to give me free stuff, and – as I’ve indicated above - I certainly don’t want to discourage that type of behavior. So I agreed to a trial, but told her it would have to wait a while. This all took place in the spring, in the height of my buildup to Western States, and I was simply too preoccupied to worry about it.

Among the myriad of details I was trying to manage prior to WS was making sure I’d have the right number of shoes in precisely the right condition at exactly the right places on the course. I had my system dialed in almost perfectly, with my best pair primed for the longest stretch of the course, and my older pairs available for shorter sections.

Honestly, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you how complicated this thought process is, so just take my word for it: there was a lot to consider. And I wasn’t about to start playing around with testing out new inserts while logging 80 miles per week and carefully calibrating the amount of wear on each of three different pair of shoes.

You already know the next part of this story: they cancelled Western States, and I scrambled to find another 100-miler as a payoff for all of my training.

With six weeks to kill between Western States weekend and my upcoming Headlands 100, I had a dilemma of sorts: I needed to grind out a few hundred more training miles, but didn’t want to break down my race shoes any further than they already were. And that’s when I remembered the inserts.

Shortly after I agreed to test their products, SofSole mailed this box to my house:

I decided to overlook the momentary confusion triggered by the words “specifically for women” on the box. (Actually, my first thought was, They know I’m a boy, right? I make that clear on my blog, don’t I? Maybe I shouldn’t talk about shaving my legs so often. Remember, this was a few weeks before WS, and I wasn’t thinking rationally.)

Inside the box were two pairs of inserts, and two pairs of white socks; they didn’t have black ones like I requested, but considering the price, I guess I couldn’t complain. There was also a handwritten thank you note from the rep, which struck me as very charming, in an old-fashioned proper manners way. (I know it sounds silly, but I was almost as impressed by the note as I was by the free swag. It’s weird, the things that inspire me sometimes.)

The inserts stayed in their boxes until about 3 weeks ago, when I put them into my my most worn-down trail runners. My goal was to extend the lifespan of my two oldest pairs, so I could keep my best pair in the closet for as long as possible before race day.

Predictably, after I took the insoles out of my Montrails, it took me about an hour – and probably 20 different adjustments – to position the inserts in a way that felt comfortable all the way around. But for anyone less neurotic than me (translation: almost everyone), putting the inserts in place probably isn’t that difficult.

On my first run, my foot felt a little crowded in the shoe – especially in the toe box – but gradually, that became less noticeable. The other thing I noticed immediately was the improvement in cushioning over the standard insoles, which made my old trainers significantly more comfortable than they had been previously. I was also a bit worried that I’d have some hot spots or blister issues with new inserts, but none of those ever materialized.

Between the two older pairs of shoes, I’ve logged more than 200 miles over the past three weeks, and the impact on my body wasn’t remarkably different than it felt in my final weeks of buildup for Western States. Whether that’s a testimonial to the effectiveness of the inserts, or just a continuation of the injury-free luck I’ve been enjoying over the past several months is almost impossible to say.

I suppose that from a risk-benefit perspective, the increased cushioning from wearing the inserts might be enough to justify their cost and/or potential downsides - however, there’s definitely a hassle factor involved, especially if your goal is to use the products on a long-term basis in all of your training shoes. It's also important to remember that I’m not remotely qualified to say whether a pair of inserts will help resolve a chronic pain issue, or lower your overall risk of injury with regular use. I’m not even certain that extending the lifespan of a worn-out pair of trail shoes is an indicated use of the product, but in my case, it seemed to work out just fine.

All I can say for sure is that they're quite comfortable, and I feel just as confident wearing the inserts in my shoes as I did beforehand without them. And since they’re already in place, I’ll keep the Sofsoles in the shoes I’m bringing to the Headlands 100 next weekend as a backup pair if I have any difficulty with my first-string shoes.

If nothing else, they helped me through a few solid weeks of training when I needed it the most. At this point, anything that helps me make it to that finish line will easily earn a ringing endorsement.


olga 8/2/08, 11:55 AM  

They used to sponsor me. I ran first WS in that insert. No blisters. I still use occasionally left-over over-used inserts from them (actually I think I dumped last one at HR with the shoes).

Rainmaker 8/2/08, 3:18 PM  

Nice write-up. I use inserts in my shoes mostly because I have very flat feet. I just got a few pairs of them so I don't have to deal with the taking out/in thing all the time.

But hey - in your case a free pair of (women's) sounds good to me!

robtherunner 8/2/08, 9:06 PM  

I have never been a big fan of inserts. Perhaps I have not given them a proper chance, but I think it would take a free sample for me to give them a shot. Continued health to you with, or without the inserts.

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