Running shoes are your most important investment. What you wear on your feet can influence how fast you can run, how comfortable you feel and how far you can go. They can also help to minimise running injuries. Choosing a running shoe can be confusing. Kevin Healy of Wicklow Town’s Go Neon Run, gives the low-down on the ins and outs of choosing a running shoe.
Getting It Right
The worst thing you can do as a new runner is to choose the wrong pair of shoes; even the most experienced runners can occasionally be taken in by a combination of an attractive design and smart marketing. Spending a little time at the start of your running career learning some shoe (and foot) basics can save you a world of pain and poor performance later on.
The first question you should ask yourself is, `What sort of feet do I have? With the exception of so-called barefoot shoes, most running shoes force a ‘heel-strike’ running action — one in which the heel hits the ground first, before rolling through the length of the foot and pushing back off through the toe.
Heel Strike, Midfoot or Forefoot?
There are raging debates about whether heel strike is a natural style of running or merely one forced upon runners by the shoe industry. In time, you may find that you are a better midfoot or forefoot runner; there are advanced training techniques that aid this development.
Pronation is the amount of sideways rolling motion your foot makes as it hits the ground, and every runner pronates to a degree. However, in overpronators the foot continues rolling inwards past the optimum point for efficient running, whilst in underpronators the foot does not roll enough. Both overpronation and underpronation can be corrected by the right shoes, and this is why it is important to buy them from a sports shop that specialises in finding you the correct running shoe (often referred to as gait analysis).
Understanding Your Arches
The arch of the foot (the upwards curve of the sole, part of the foot’s mechanism for supporting the weight of the body) plays a role in pronation and thus the decision-making process for shoes. Runners with either high or particularly low arches will need shoes that compensate for this.
A good running shop will talk new runners through the complexities of shoe types, so you don’t need to worry too much about fully understanding terms such as ‘high arches’ or pronation’. However, it can be useful to familiarise yourself with the four main options for correcting these running characteristics.
Uncorrected pronation not only makes running less efficient but can also lead to many of the most common running injuries.
These are intended for runners with higher arches and with little pronation. They are designed to offer greater midsole support or cushioning, which compensates for the lack of ‘foot roll’. They can also be useful for midfoot and forefoot runners.
Average pronators with normal or slightly low arches should look for stability running shoes. They offer varying degrees of cushioning, support and stability, so finding the pair that best suits your style of running is key.
Designed for the lucky few who are considered ‘biomechanically efficient’ (having a natural ability to run in terms of foot strike and roll), performance shoes offer some degree of both cushioning and support, but they are generally lighter than ‘normal’ running shoes.
Runners with very low arches and average to severe overpronation are best suited to motion-control shoes, which are more extreme versions of stability shoes.
Buying and Caring For Your Shoes
Everyone knows that the internet is awash with bargains, but when it comes to shopping for running shoes there can be no substitute for the expert help and advice — combined with the opportunity to test-drive the shoes — that can be found in a specialist sports shop. Equally important is knowing how to take care of them once you have made your choice.
The Key to Running Shoe Shopping
Below are some top tips for successful shoe shopping:
- Seek out the experts: Always shop at a specialist sports shop.
- Take advice: Have staff carefully check your running style.
- Buy in the afternoon: Test shoes later in the day, when your feet are likely to have swollen slightly.
- Avoid the heat: Your feet may be too swollen on excessively hot days.
- Test the shoes: Use the shop’s treadmill to try out the shoes you like before making your final selection.
- Take socks: Test shoes with your favourite running socks.
- Take your time: Spend time making a choice, and never feel obliged to buy.
- Look for instant comfort: Shoes should feel comfortable straight out of the box.
Most people claim that good running shoes will last in the region of 800 kilometres (500 miles). Of course, there are many factors that will add to the general wear and tear of even the toughest of shoes (not least your running style), so it’s important to know how to look after your shoes, to extend their life span. It is also important to understand when to say goodbye to a much-loved pair.
The Good Care Guide
Taking a few simple steps to look after your shoes can extend their life span:
- Do not delay: As soon as possible after a run, sponge clean with warm water and only very mild detergent.
- Dry naturally: Air dry (or stuff with scrunched newspaper); never be tempted to dry on a radiator or in front of a fire.
- Remove insoles: Take out the insoles or footbeds and leave to air dry.
- Keep clean: Remove dried mud with a soft, dry brush.
- Keep safe: Store in a cupboard away from direct sunlight and extremes of heat.
- Do not multitask: Keep running shoes for running, not the gym and not for gardening!
Signs of Retirement
Look out for the first stages of wear and tear to give yourself plenty of time to choose and buy replacements. Purchasing a new pair of shoes when there are still a few miles left in the old ones means you can alternate pairs to get used to your latest purchase.
Eyes: Make a quick, regular visual check. External wear is often a sign of internal problems. Place shoes on a tabletop and look carefully at the wear around the heel and the outer midsole; wrinkles and creases can be a sign of compressed cushioning.
Legs: If ankles, legs and knees are feeling more fatigued than usual, or you have begun to suffer mild injuries (such as the early signs of shin splints), it is more than likely that your shoes are destined retirement.
Anatomy of a Shoe
Modern running shoes are precision-built from a large number of individual components, each designed to perform a specific function and to work in harmony with each other. Manufacturers’ websites should detail all the technical aspects of their shoes.
Here are some of the main terms you will find when researching running shoes.
Eyelets: The holes that the laces run through.
Heel: The first point of contact for many runners. The heel is often rounded to aid forward motion and may be made of a variety of materials, from gel to air pockets.
Collar: The soft inside top rear of the shoe that supports the ankle and provides protection for the Achilles tendon.
Heel counter: A rigid, moulded support inside the shoe that cradles the heel.
Heel tab: This extends upwards from the heel counter at the rear of the shoe to hold the heel firmly in place. It often has a cut out area called an ‘Achilles notch’ to reduce direct pressure on the Achilles tendon.
Midsole: This provides primary protection from the impact force of each foot strike. Although the midsole is usually made of foam, some manufacturers use special gels or air pockets.
Outsole: The outsole is the bit that hits the ground (normally after the heel); it both provides structure to the shoe and gives traction on the running surface.
Quarter panels: These are the sides of the shoe. They may include a small piece of mesh to reduce weight and add ventilation.
Sockliner: A removable insert that helps the shoe to fit snugly. It can usually be removed to aid drying.
Tongue: The tongue sits between the laces and the upper foot. It may be ‘gusted’ (connected at the sides) to reduce the amount of water that can get in.
Upper: This is the top part of the shoe that encases the foot. Like the quarter panels these may incorporate a degree of mesh venting.
The Main Types
Besides specialist track shoes (with spikes), there are two main types of shoe from which to choose: road and trail. Each is designed for a specific purpose, so bear this in mind when making your decision.
Road shoes are especially designed for running on hard surfaces. Some may be suitable for a small amount of trail or off-road running, but the quickest way to destroy your shoes is by using them for anything other than their intended purpose. The road shoes you choose will depend on a wide range of variables, the most important of which is your natural running style. This should be checked and advised upon by a specialist sports shop.
The price of road shoes varies enormously, but expect to pay anything from €80 upwards. To some degree, you get what you pay for, but do not be fooled into simply thinking that the more you pay, the better the shoe. There is more than a dash of fashion in running, and you will always pay a premium for the big-name shoes and the latest designs. Many of these will be packed with a multitude of technical-sounding extras that often serve little purpose for the majority of day-to-day running.
Trail shoes not only have to fulfil your basic needs in terms of cushioning and stability, they also have to perform a number of additional tasks, including protecting the toe and sole from uneven surfaces and delivering enhanced traction for wet and muddy conditions.
Getting a Grip
Trail running inevitably means uneven and often wet terrains; your shoes need to be up to the job of keeping you upright and providing enough traction to move you forward. Different manufacturers use a range of tread styles to achieve this, ranging from quite flat car tyre-style treads to large studs (or lugs). Low-profile treads provide good all-round traction, but they are unlikely to stand up to the very worst conditions. Conversely, shoes with really large lugs (resembling football boots) will handle more gruelling terrain but can skid on firmer or more compact surfaces.
Trail shoes with low-profile lugs will allow some degree of road running to get you to the start of your off-road route. If you are likely to be running multi-terrain — a mix of trail, path and road — then choose a pair without large lugs.
By Kevin Healy
Go Neon Run 5k, Wicklow Town
GO NEON RUN in Wicklow Town is a one of a kind 5K night run. The GO NEON RUN is all about having fun while enjoying the benefits of exercise and achieving your goals. The Neon Wonderland will open an hour before the run starts, giving you the opportunity to touch up your face paints, glow in our music area, while listening to great music and capturing the moment in the GO NEON selfie room ready for the brightest 5K you’ll ever run.
The Sports Room, Wicklow Town is the sports shop to go for sound advice on choosing the right running shoe. Whether you are training for your first 5k or a seasoned runner we will fit you with the correct running shoe. You can check your arches on our foot disc or have your gait analysis on our treadmill to determine if you over-pronate, under-pronate or are a neutral runner. Call us on 0404 62380 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. The Sports Room