A sharp, almost burning pain shot up from my heel near the end of my Monday early-morning run. My first response was one near the level of worry, of "ooh, that's not good at all." Fortunately I was about three-tenths of a mile away blocks from my house. I immediately slowed down to a walk, just to see if the pain would subside.
There was good news and bad news.
The bad news was that the heel pain continued. The good news was the pain was localized at the point where my heel rubbed against the cuff of my training shoe. Why? When I pulled off my shoe a dime-size spot of mesh appeared at the heel of my ten-year-old "favorite pair" of running socks. Right at the cuff. That was the reason for the pain.
There's nothing evil about parting ways with a ten-year-old pair of running socks. It's hard to grow into love with a new - read the word "different" here - piece of clothing, especially if you've grown accustomed to a particular style, cut or material. In this case, the socks were knit wool(-blend) crew style. My friend Scott heard immediately questioned my sanity. Yes, Scott, wearing wool socks in Florida is probably a sign I'm a little mad.
Running socks have come a very long way from the cotton crew socks I used when I started running with regularity in the early 1990s. Definitely far from the up-to-your-calf cotton tube socks I wore in high school.
Naturally, space prohibits from discussing every possible type of sock available. However, if there are sock manufacturers willing to let me road test their wares I won't hesitate to talk a little more about them.
The most popular running socks fall into three different categories: thin, padded and specialty.
Thin socks which come to my mind are made by companies like SockGuy, SaveOurSoles, LN, Gizmo and Air-E-Ator. When Suzanne and I go to an out-of-town race, we'll pick up a matching pair, just to remind our friends we're married. I love these socks for a number of reasons:
First, they work well for a multitude of situations. I can wear them with a pair of dressy shoes; nothing drives my co-workers up the wall like seeing me in a meeting wearing a pair of black socks with a beer mug embroidered on the medial (inner) and lateral (outer) cuffs.
Second, when I do triathlons the thinner socks protect my feet from the seams and edges of my bike shoes and help me to slide into my run shoes very quickly.
Third, I can wear them with a snug pair of cushioned running shoes or racing flats...depending on the distance, or as an inner pair with a low cuff padded sock for a longer distance race.
Last, the multitude of sock colors and embroidery designs - colleges, military services, wise comments, and so on - let me expose my personality on the road.
When it comes to padded socks Thor-Lo comes to mind reflexively. I've varied between the low-cut crew 12 and what Thor-Lo calls the Run-12 and the Run-14, depending on the time of year and availability in the running specialty stores. Thor-Lo knits their socks in three different varieties of thread: CoolMax, Wool, and Acrylic, and in thin or padded styles. I love the padded style, and can never seem to have enough pairs. I've also worn the Ironman-branded sock, which is an acrylic blend, and a little less-padded than the Thor-Los. The Ironman-branded socks, made by Wigwam, are my first choce for longer-distance race days, usually covered up with a SockGuy-type sock.
I received a pair of WrightSocks as part of a grab bag shipment a few years ago. What made those socks special was the fact they had two layers rather than one, which kept my tender(ized) foot and ankle flesh from rubbing against the internal seams of my shoes. Nice socks, but unfortunately, I suffered from the curse of any guy who launders...the favorite socks always lose one member of the pair, after which they - the single sock which remains - are only good for making dog toys.
Why is it the good socks always lose one of the pair, and the bad socks never get lost?
Let's return to the topic of rubbing and the outcomes which result from skin rubbing against seam - blisters -and skin rubbing against skin - blisters, chafing, callouses. I've had calloused skin between my fourth and fifth toes for a long time, which occasionally I'm able to trim down. My wife, noticing this issue, asked whether a pair of socks with split toes would help the problem. I used to look at the Injinji socks as another one of those strange marathoner aberration-slash-fad things; my marathoning alumna used to wear them for every run and swore by their benefits. With "barefoot" running and the Vibram-type split-toed shoe-like devices suddenly appearing on the foot of every bandwagon rider the Injinji socks would make for a great sock inside a pair.
Think about it, barefoot-runners. If you're wearing a "shoe" with no sock, eventually it is going to stink to high heaven UNLESS you have some sort of sock or fabric in there to soak up all that sweat. Naturally, split toed "shoes" would require the use of split toed socks.
So, Suzanne decided to grab me a pair of Injinji socks (rainbow colored!) which I could wear with sandals or while running. After the first five minutes of 'wow, this feels a little bit strange, this feeling of cloth between my toes' feeling, I have to admit they were very comfortable. Even for long runs.
Naturally, there's no "one size fits all" solution for the right pair of socks. Much like running shoes, the right sock for the runner is a match -sometimes made in heaven, sometimes a little farther "south" - between shoe and foot; a blend of personal preference, "checkbook resiliency, and foot type.