Proper footwear is the most important piece of gear a runner can invest in. Period. It’s not the supplements, the clothes, or even the recovery massage sandals and rollers. Yes, those are all extremely important, too, but it all starts with proper footwear.
It bears stressing because, as a younger runner, I never took this seriously. Rather, I would habitually rock some $40 discount pair of shoes that may or may not have been designed for running until they effectively disintegrated from overuse. I’m not proud of this, but there it is.
Needless to say, I’ve gotten much better about my footwear behavior, and my feet and knees really appreciate this.
So I was excited when I got the opportunity to try out a new pair of the Brooks Ghost 14 shoes along with an accompanying pair of Aetrex orthotic inserts. Now, Brooks are my go-to shoes these days anyway, so I won’t go into much detail there. Running in a brand new pair of Brooks is like running on a pillowy cloud. Nothing quite beats that first run. (Note: A properly fit pair of running shoes should never have to be broken in. If they aren’t comfortable out of the box, you probably have the wrong style or size, and you may want to consider getting a professional fitting.)
Anyway, what I want to focus on here is my experience using the Aetrex inserts with the new shoes, since I have never used these — or any other brand — before. The first thing I noticed is that they add a significantly thicker layer of cushion to my shoes. I mention this for two reasons: You’re getting a whole lot more shock-absorbing padding on your feet with these bad boys, but that means your shoes will fit a bit snugger than normal. As a standard practice, I always size my running shoes up by half a size, so mine were still comfortable. But if you don’t do this, you should start, whether or not you go down the orthotic-insert road. (Your feet swell when you run, so it’s just a good idea in general.)
Timing was on my side when my shoes and inserts arrived. The first week I ran in them, I was home in sunny Florida, where my very flat running route has almost zero elevation gain. (Specifically, the gain here is three feet.) I then took them on the road with me for two weeks where I averaged 330–450 feet of elevation during my runs. I love that I got to really give them a good beating, so to speak, and see how they stood up when compared to a week of my normal runs.
Let me tell you: They stood up. I mentioned before that my arches tend to be a (slight) problem area for my otherwise very neutral feet. These inserts give me just a skosh more support in my arch than comes with the Ghost 14 shoes, but that slight edge is noticeable… in a good way.
Much like the Kenkohs I tested a couple of months back , the Aetrex inserts apply just the right amount of pressure to my arches, right where I need it. I do believe they played a role in helping me take on those significant climbs I faced on my hilly runs, particularly since I was able to clock significantly more miles with no additional downtime needed for recovery. That was the real test, as far as I’m concerned.
All that being said, I’m going to be real with you. If you’re going to invest in a pair of Brooks — and I highly recommend that you do, whether you want to step up your running game or simply just want to show your feet some much-needed day-to-day love — you should be good to go with the right style right out of the box. These shoes are designed to make running as comfortable as possible, and there are so many different styles to accommodate different needs.
But the real magic is the potential for these Aetrex insoles to extend the lifespan of your Brooks. You see, running shoes generally have a limited shelf life, so to speak — that is to say, most runners retire their shoes after 300–500 miles. In my experience, the traction on the sole is almost always still perfectly fine; it’s the cushion that falls flat, so your feet are no longer getting the support they originally were. And we all know support is a key factor in avoiding injury while out running.
That’s where, for me, Aetrex can bring in some real, lasting value. I love the support they give my feet. I also love that they’re less than half the cost of a new pair of Brooks, which means I can breathe new life into my otherwise perfectly fine Brooks simply by sliding in a new pair of orthotics. Combined, the two create an almost symbiotic relationship that will let me invest a whole lot less in my footwear while still keeping the health of my feet front of mind.