Zero or Low Heel Drop Trail and Running shoes are all the rage these days. Most running shoes still have fairly high heel to toe height differences (what is referred to as Heel Drop). For some runners, lower heel drop can help improve running form by avoiding heel strike and focusing more on forefoot to midfoot landing of feet during running.
But various shoe manufacturers tell you to transition carefully (and in cases very slowly) from high heel drop shoes to low or zero drop shoes. This can take a while and lower your running mileage in different types of shoes. Plus you need to buy different shoes to even try if lower heel drop fits your running style better or not.
I have come up with a system to help transition from high heel drop to low heel drop running using DIY shoe inserts for my existing higher heel drop trail and running shoes. These are forefoot inserts made out of Duct Tape. They are 7 layers of Duct Tape thick each which roughly equates to 1.5mm.
For this to work, only use high quality duct tape brands such as Duck Tape, 3M, Gorilla, etc. Cheaper duct tape tends to de-laminate quickly. My pads are made using Duck Tape to get to the 1.5mm thickness in 7 layers. Gorilla tape might take fewer layers.
I stack inserts in each shoe - each 'negative heel drop' insert is a little longer than the other to help with transition in the shoe. These are shaped like a regular shoe insert in the forefoot area and go about 1 inch past the 5 metatarsal bones in the ball of your foot. Each pad is about 3/8 of an inch shorter than the previous pad in the stack, so for my size 11 foot and 3 pads in the stack the longest pad would be 1 & 3/4 inches past the metatarsals, then the next pad would be 3/8 inches shorter and the last pad is 3/8 inches shorter than the middle pad. Pads are stacked longest on top to shortest on bottom in the shoe. The regular shoe insert is then placed back in the shoe.
These heel drop transition inserts take about 15 mins to make for a pair of running shoes. They don't have to be perfectly shaped to the insole or insert.
Note: I am an ultra distance runner so I wear shoes that are a half size larger than what I typically wear. So my testing shows that these inserts work best in shoes that are a little large in the toe box area (which many ultra runners use due to swelling feet anyways).
I tape these together and then tape them to the bottom of the original shoe insert so they stay in place under the original shoe insole or insert. Double sided tape works or you can get by with small loops of duct tape. My go-to trail running shoes are 10mm heel drop so two heel drop inserts gets me to a 7mm heel drop. I have another heel drop taper pad that gets me 4.5mm total heel drop, so I get from 10mm heel drop to 5.5mm heel drop. This technique helps me to use shoes I already own and in which I am already comfortable running in order to make the transition to lower heel drop. Saves lots of $ too as I can wear out my higher heel drop trail running shoes.
I've tried cutting old running shoe insoles to make forefoot pads but this doesn't work nearly as well. Old running shoe inserts are compressed in the center and thick on the sides, which cramps the sides and front of your foot when stacked together. The DIY duct tape forefoot pads don't compress like typical shoe insoles.
One other benefit of this approach is that you get a little extra padding under the ball of your foot -- sort of like a bonus trail guard in trail running shoes like I use most of the time. Especially helpful in older shoes where there is more tread wear and compression in the forefoot area of the shoe.
Hope this forefoot running shoe heel drop transition insert trick helps some other ultra runners out there. You might get to try the low heel drop feel before you have to buy it and extend the life of your existing running shoes if you decide to go forward with the transition to lower or zero drop running.