Running is one of the simplest sports there is – the only special equipment you really need is a good pair of shoes. Well, it's simple enough until you get to the store! When faced with a dizzying array of styles and brand names, choosing the right pair of running shoes can be a frustrating, not to mention dauntingly pricey, task. But with the right advice and a bit of pre-emptive, ahem, sole-searching, the key to picking the perfect runners can be a few simple steps away.
The right running shoe does several things:
- Cushions the foot: The midsole is the main cushioning layer. Contrary to popular belief, running shoes don't reduce the force that goes through the body. What they do is increase the time taken for that force to be applied to the body, so there is time to adapt.
- Supports the foot: Shoes can reduce the amount of 'rolling in' or rotational movements that occur in the foot during the contact phase of running and walking.
- Feels comfortable: Shoes should feel immediately comfortable out of the box and require no wearing in.
- Fits well: There should be at least 1 to 1.5cm at the end of the shoe, and it should feel snug without being too tight.
What's your style?
Your running style will determine what sort of shoe you need. There are several broad classes of shoe type, with features designed to correct or complement different running styles.
Most runners pronate at least a little – their foot rolls in after striking the ground, and helps spread the shock of impact. So a little pronation is normal and good. But excessive pronation can cause problems. Depending on the degree to which you pronate, you'll need either stability or motion-control shoes:
- Stability shoes are good for mild over-pronators. They have a small medial post and generally a curved last.
- Motion-control shoes are designed to correct more severe over-pronation. They're typically heavier and have a hard post on the inside rear section of the shoe.
Under-pronator or supinator
People who underpronate (also referred to as supinators) land on the outside edge of the foot and tend to show excessive wear on the outside edge of the soles of their shoes. This puts a lot of pressure on the leg, so they need neutral shoes with ample cushioning for increased shock absorption.
Anatomy of a shoe
The top layer of material that holds your foot to the sole. The material used and the design of the upper are crucial because it can assist in keeping your foot dry and cool. The upper should also be tough and durable, and not tear during normal use.
Between the outer sole and the upper material, the midsole is where the protective foam layer and cushioning is located.
The section built inside the middle or the arch section of the midsole. Most manufacturers make it a contrasting colour to the rest of the sole to indicate that the shoe provides additional support. The bigger and harder it is, the more support it gives against over-pronation.
The soft feeling you experience when you try on a pair of shoes depends on the quality of the top layer of foam.
Located in the mid-sole under the foam layer, this is the patented technology that provides cushioning and improves the shoe's durability. It could be a liquid gel, grid or "wave plate", depending on the brand.
The internal "cup" that wraps around your heel. It's designed to help keep the foot stable and prevent excessive movement within the shoe.
Covers the instep of the foot, protecting it from the laces.
Most mid-range running shoes ($150 to $200) will provide you with excellent stability and cushioning properties.
The biggest difference you get by investing in a more expensive shoe is extra durability, thanks to a greater amount of more expensive cushioning material in the midsole of the shoe. These additional midsole components won't improve the immediate function of the shoe, but they do improve the durability of the cushioning properties.
Cheaper shoes (under $100) contain cheaper materials, which tend to break down faster.