When it comes to buying running shoes it’s a very individual matter. Just like your training programme, your running shoes need to be tailored specifically to you. That means it all about fit and not about brand.
Of course, in order to find your perfect fit, you’ll need to try some running shoes on. Now, I couldn’t make a guess at just how many brands there are out there, let alone how many individual styles each have. So, unless you’re up for trying thousands of pairs on, hoping that you randomly find the one made just for you, there are a few basics things you need to know to narrow your search criteria down to a manageable number.
Firstly, let’s get the jargon out of the way…
Sections of the running shoe
There are a number of ‘bits’ to a running shoe and they vary quite widely from style to style. It’s useful to know what the official nomenclature is so that you can target those bits which are important to you.
Toe Box - the part of the shoe where your toes fit which should always be wide enough to allow the fact that your toes will splay during your training
Midsole – the layer of the sole between the tread and the main body of the shoe which offers the shock absorption you’ll be glad of as you’re pounding the streets
Outer Sole – the tread or bottom-most part of the shoe which should match the terrain you will encounter on your chosen routes
Upper – the part where the laces are, and which must cover your foot securely but comfortably without cutting off the circulation
Heel Counter – the lovely strong support that wraps around the back of the heel and protects you from injury
There are 3 main types of shoe, depending on what kind of running you are doing and where you are doing it.
Road Running / General Purpose – As the name suggests, the type most people will have, with a relatively shallow tread and a good level of cushioning and support
Off-road/ Trail Running – Similar to the above but designed for hardier terrain, so designed with much deeper tread and usually with hard wearing, perhaps even waterproof, uppers
Racing Flats/ Spikes – Much more specialised with a low heel, lighter cushioning and support, often with metal spikes on the raised toes to maximise grip
And here’s the science bit…
Within each shoe category there will be a choice of specific type to match how you run. It’s not about your speed or whether you run in a straight line or not, it’s all to do with your Biomechanics – i.e. the way your feet hit the ground. Few runners hit the ground squarely and instead take the impact on one side of the heel before rolling forward diagonally – a process known as ‘pronation’.
There are 3 main categories of shoe and the best choice for you depends upon your own personal level of pronation. Don’t worry, you don’t have to know whether you exhibit over-pronation, under-pronation or have what is termed neutral pronation as a good store will help you assess this with some simple technology. You can, however, get a good idea by studying your wet footprints as you come out of the shower. A full ‘flat’ footprint means you have a tendency for over-pronation and a lighter, skinnier one suggests neutral or under-pronation. No slipping over whilst looking though please!!
Motion Control Shoes – the type most runners have and best for over-pronation
Cushioned/ Neutral Shoes – for under-pronation
Stability Shoes – for those in the middle, deemed to have neutral pronation
Whilst all of this information and choice may seem overwhelming, it will all become quite straightforward in the hands of a good running shoe sales assistant. Then, all you have to do is make sure that the fit is good – I normally recommend shopping for shoes when your feet are already warm as they do tend to swell when you are active – and that the price point matches your budget.
Finally, whilst I don’t offer a personal shopping service, I am always at the end of the phone if you feel like you could do with some advice before you make your purchase.