So, you need a pair of running shoes. You might be new to running and looking for your first pair of specific running shoes or have been involved in the sport for many years and need to replace your footwear.
Where do you start?
Well, a common place to start – and something often misunderstood – is the ‘wet foot test’. You simply step out of the shower onto the bathroom floor or a piece of paper and look at your footprint. Historically – and we aren’t sure where this test came from – the shape of your footprint will dictate the best type of shoe for you.
While it sounds simple enough, it’s not entirely accurate. In this test you are standing still, on both feet; something which isn’t going to happen when you are running.
Running is a dynamic movement and one in which all the body’s weight hits the ground, on a single foot, with a far greater impact than standing still. The way in which your foot moves forward while in contact with the ground is dictated by the flexibility of the foot and not necessarily the shape.
So, in the wet foot test, the flat foot tells us we ‘over pronate’ (roll inwards) and therefore need a supportive shoe. But if this foot type is quite inflexible then that ‘inward roll’ may not be as much as someone with a very flexible foot and will therefore require a more neutral shoe.
With this in mind, how can you tell exactly how your foot moves or pronates?
The easiest method would be to get a friend to run behind you as you run and observe the way in which your foot lands and rolls forward, checking for any sideways motion. Alternatively, run on a treadmill and get someone to film you.
Essentially if the foot rolls inwards, a supportive or control shoe will reduce this roll. If the shoe is keeping to the outer, lateral edge (outside) of the foot, a more flexible or neutral shoe should help.
Perhaps the best way to choose your new shoes would be to visit a specialist running store, which offers a video analysis service. Here the staff will be able to film you running in various shoe types and explain the difference and the effect each has on your running gait.
This gives you a great opportunity to look at yourself running and examine, as well as feel, the difference at first hand.
But remember, the shoe has to be comfortable. You are going to be spending many hours in your new shoes and no matter how good it looks on film the deciding factor has to be comfort.
After visiting your local running specialist they’ll be able to build up a history of your running shoes and an understanding of your needs and tastes, hopefully being able to make recommendations to you in the future, having developed a relationship with you as a runner.
Of course, you should consider other factors when buying new shoes. Are your current shoes suitable? Do you have any injuries? What do you need from new shoes?
You should always remember that when changing from one shoe type to another, there will be an adaptation period to adjust to the dynamics of the new footwear. Break new shoes in over a period of weeks and give your body time to make adjustments.
Types of running shoes
Manufacturers tend to classify their shoe ranges into various types. These categories are designed to complement your foot type and running gait
▶︎Neutral or Cushioned shoes
Designed for runners with a neutral foot, these shoes provide cushioning, usually of a similar density through the shoe. The cushioning material used can vary, with new materials and technologies being introduced which provide better shock absorbing qualities or more energy return.
The flexibility of the shoe should also be considered. A lightweight racing shoe, for example, will often be much more flexible than a range-topping, maximal cushioning shoe – although both are of a neutral construction.
Try the shoes, run in them and compare their feel for a suitable model.
▶︎Support or Control shoes
This category can be the most confusing, with manufacturers having several terms for the amount of ‘support’ or ‘control’ a shoe provides. These shoes are designed to reduce the amount the foot pronates or rolls inwards.
The support comes in the form of a firmer density of cushioning material on the medial (inside edge, under the arch of the foot) of the shoe. You can often recognise this support, as it’s often a different colour or pattern to the main cushioning section of the shoe.
In some of the latest shoes a one-piece, injection-moulded, cushioning is used. Here you can identify a more supportive product by feeling the firmer medial side of the shoe.
It’s also important to remember that these shoes still have just as much
cushioning properties as neutral or cushioned shoes; it’s just that they have the additional support as well.
Try several models from various brands to find a support shoe that best works for your individual style.
Remember, overall comfort should be considered, as the most supportive shoe has to feel right for many miles of running.
There are probably as many trail shoes to choose from as there are road models, with several manufacturers specialising in this area.
As a general rule of thumb with trail shoes, the more grip the shoe has, the less cushioning. After all, when running on the soft, muddy ground which necessitates deep studs, cushioning won’t be an issue.
Consider the trails you most often run on, the distance you cover, and the amount of cushioning required. If you tend to stay on gravel footpaths you may not require as much grip as your fell running friend.
Also consider the upper of the shoe. Do you want a waterproof, Gore-Tex upper
to keep your feet dry, or perhaps need a thicker, more durable, upper to provide protection on rocky ground?
These shoes are designed primarily to be as light as possible. Often with just a slither of cushioning material between your foot and the road, they are stripped down to reduce weight. Consider the distance of race you most often compete at when choosing a shoe; you’ll most likely want a little more cushioning in a marathon shoe than if your usual distance is 5k.
Support is often reduced in these shoes so, again, consider what’s more important and don’t sacrifice support for lightweight if it means you may risk injury.
Did you know, some of the most cushioned shoes are among the lightest? Weigh up all the options!
Usually these shoes have a lower, closer to the ground profile and a lower, often zero, heel drop. They aim to merely protect the foot without restricting or controlling its movement in any way.
The newest trend in footwear, these shoes are instantly recognisable by their oversized midsole cushioning units. Initially designed for ultra-distance athletes, the shoes offer lots of cushioning without adding excessively to their overall weight.
The most commonly used terms associated with running and foot types.
Pronation: When the foot strikes the ground it rolls inwards, through the space created by the arch, to absorb the impact and shock. Depending on the flexibility of the foot (remember the foot has 26 bones and therefore has lots of room for flexibility) the foot will vary in the amount it rolls.
Under pronation: In a more rigid foot, as it hits the ground on the outer side of the heel, the foot stays on the outer edge as it rolls forward.
Neutral: The foot lands on the outside edge of the heel then rolls inwards until it is in a relatively straight line with the lower leg.
Over pronation: After landing on the outside edge of the heel, and due to the higher degree of flexibility in the foot, it rolls inwards.