Selecting the Right Running Shoe

Today’s contribution is from Big Peach Running Co.

Want to become a better runner? For many of us simply spending more time running can attain a substantial improvement in performance.

Pretty simple, right? Run more – get better at it.

Of course, having a well-conceived training plan as opposed to simply logging junk miles will play an important role as well, but logging consistent miles over the long term will certainly pay dividends in making you stronger and quicker afoot. But it’s not always as easy in practice as it sounds in theory.

Injury or the presence of pain, are often key factors in limiting the ability to log miles consistently. Whether it’s shin splints, IT band pain, plantar fasciitis, or any number of other ailments, discomfort will surely dampen your enthusiasm for running. So how can this hurdle be avoided? The three most common causes of injury in runners are doing too much, too soon, not enough or improper stretching (aren’t we all guilty of this?) and improper footwear. A sound training plan along with advice on proper stretching before and after a run should help you avoid the first two pitfalls. Getting correctly fitted in a quality running shoe will help you avoid the third.

What to Consider When Selecting a Running Shoe
Let’s start by saying that this is a selfish process. It’s all about you. Just because your friend, your coach, your hero, or anyone else wears a particular shoe, that doesn’t mean that it’s the right shoe for you. Equally important is the fact that different shoes are designed for different purposes. There are shoes that provide maximum, moderate or mild stability for runners who exhibit varying degrees of instability in their gait. There are shoes that offer very little stability, and shoes that offer almost no stability at all for runners with a very efficient gait. There are also performance trainers and racing flats – “go fast” shoes that are ideal for race day or fast training days. Then there are trail shoes, designed to provide certain benefits for runners who spend most of their time on rugged terrain. Needless to say, selecting the correct shoe for you can become confusing very quickly. To eliminate this confusion and find the ideal shoe, there are a number of factors that must be considered during the fit process:

  • Usage Intentions
  • Biomechanics
  • Foot Characteristics
  • Fit, Feel & Ride

Let’s break each of these down to understand the role they play in shoe selection:

Usage Intentions How do you intend to use these shoes? It’s a simple question, but one that can have many answers. Different shoes are made for different users, but also for different usage intentions. Type of activity and distance, whether it’s marathon training, a 5K or 10K road race, a triathlon or a walking event can play a role in proper footwear selection. Likewise, the surface you intend to run on, whether it’s the trail, track, treadmill or road, can also influence footwear selection.

Biomechanics This is perhaps the most important factor to consider when selecting the right shoe. Biomechanics refers to your pronation tendency, or the degree of stability your foot exhibits as you are running. Evaluating biomechanics requires participation by a second party, whether it’s a coach or other individual trained to observe you correctly. The best way to understand your pronation tendency is to have yourself filmed while running (referred to as “Video Gait Analysis”). As mentioned previously, footwear is classified by the degree of stability it provides. Watching frame-by-frame footage of your gait cycle gives you (and the person trained to interpret the results) a chance to observe the nuances of your biomechanics, thereby understanding the degree of stability you will require in a running shoe.

Foot Characteristics Once your biomechanics are understood, foot characteristics become the next consideration. While biomechanics will dictate which category of footwear is appropriate (based on stability), foot characteristics will provide an understanding of which shoes may be appropriate within a specific category. Arch type, width of foot, inconsistencies in your feet, injuries, and use of orthotics or inserts all are important factors here. An individual with a high arch will require a different level of support than a person with a flat arch. Likewise, foot width is crucial to understand as different shoes are built to accommodate different widths of feet. Foot inconsistencies (such as neuromas, bunions, hammer toes and other distinct attributes) and any current injuries also play an important role in determining which shoe is most appropriate. Previous shoes you have run in and the experience you had in that shoe can also be a factor in this step. If an individual has run in a particular shoe and experienced discomfort or injury as a result, then, obviously, that shoe probably does not warrant further consideration. Likewise, if a shoe has worked well in the past, this should be taken into consideration.

Fit, Feel & Ride This is the stage where science meets art. It is important to try on a few different pairs of shoes that match your biomechanics and foot characteristics. When trying on shoes, be aware of various attributes of each shoe, including fit (length, width, heel stability and toe box volume), feel (how the shoe contours to your foot), and ride (cushioning, responsiveness, weight and transition from rearfoot to forefoot). Be sure to run in each shoe in order to get a true understanding of how each shoe performs while being used for its intended purpose.

A Word About Socks Now that you have invested some time and money to make sure you have the correct running shoe, spend a little more of both to make sure you have a good sock. Otherwise, you will be negating some of the technical aspects of the shoe and detracting from your overall experience (one note: be sure that the socks you wear while trying on shoes represent the thickness of the sock you will be wearing when running in these shoes—this can affect the fit of the shoe, dramatically in some instances). With socks, there is much less to consider than with shoes. The primary consideration is to stay away from a cotton sock, which will absorb moisture and potentially lead to blisters and warmer feet. Once you have found a sock that provides breathability and moisture wicking attributes, other factors (quarter cut vs. low cut and degree of thickness) come down to personal preference. Of course, we would always recommend that you go through the process of selecting a running shoe with an individual who is qualified to both observe you properly and make the correct footwear recommendations. Your best chance for success is to visit BPRC, or a specialty running store in your neighborhood, where staff members are runners who have been trained to understand biomechanics, foot characteristics and the many technical attributes of the shoes that are available. Remember, the people in this environment are passionate about running, just as you are (or hopefully will become), and will be excited to help improve your experience in the sport in a friendly and non-intimidating manner.

So there you have it. Selecting the right shoe has been de-mystified. And hopefully, this will allow you to enjoy many miles on the road, track or trail, thereby allowing you to become a better runner—which, after all, was the objective at the start of this discussion! Enjoy your miles on foot!