Choosing a Shoe: The Very Basics

Athletic ShoesThere’s no single ‘best shoe’ – everyone has different needs. All sorts of things – your biomechanics, your weight, the surfaces you run on, and obviously, the shape of your feet – mean that one person’s ideal shoe can be terrible for another person.

We divide our shoes into three main categories (cushioned, stability and motion control); and three minor ones (performance training, racing and off-road). The first three are everyday options and are categorized essentially by your bio-mechanical needs; the second three are more specialized and you’d often only consider them as second shoes.

To make this very simple, there are three foot types:

The Normal Foot

Normal feet have a normal-sized arch and will leave a footprint that has a flare, but shows the forefoot and heel connected by a broad band. A normal foot lands on the outside of the heel and rolls inwards slightly to absorb shock. It’s the foot of a runner who is biomechanically efficient and therefore doesn’t need a motion control shoe.

Best shoes: Stability shoes with moderate control features.

The Flat Foot

This has a low arch and leaves a print which looks like the whole sole of the foot. It usually indicates an overpronated foot – one that strikes on the outside of the heel and rolls inwards (pronates) excessively. Over time, this can cause many different types of overuse injuries.

Best shoes: Motion control shoes, or high stability shoes with firm mid soles and control features that reduce the degree of pronation. Stay away from highly cushioned, highly curved shoes, which lack stability features.

The High-Arched Foot

This leaves a print showing a very narrow band or no band at all between the forefoot and the heel. A curved, highly arched foot is generally supinated or underpronated. Because it doesn’t pronate enough, it’s not usually an effective shock absorber.

Best shoes: Cushioned (or ‘neutral’) shoes with plenty of flexibility to encourage foot motion. Stay away from motion control or stability shoes, which reduce foot mobility.

Ensure Your Running Shoes Fit Properly

A proper fit is THE most important step in finding the right running shoe. A shoe that fits will be snug but not tight. A common mistake that’s a killer is to buy shoes that are too small.

Use the following guidelines to ensure a proper fit.

Check for adequate room at the toebox by pressing your thumb into the shoe just above your longest toe. Your thumb should fit between the end of your toe and the top of the shoe.

Check for adequate room at the widest part of your foot. The shoe shouldn’t be tight, but your foot shouldn’t slide around, either.

The heel of your foot should fit snugly against the back of the shoe without sliding up or down as you walk or run.

The upper (part of shoe that wraps around and over the top of the foot) should fit snugly and securely without irritating or pressing too tightly on any area of the foot.

Once you’ve found running shoes that feel right, walk/jog/run in them as much as you can. Some stores have a treadmill, others allow a run around the parking lot and some don’t let you do anything other than bounce up and down. You need to feel the shoes in action.

Dos and don’ts guide:

Visit a specialist retailer. When you buy running shoes, you’re making an investment in your health and fitness and a knowledgeable retailer will be able to provide you with invaluable advice regarding the most appropriate shoes for you.

Correct shoes will protect against injury and repay your initial investment again and again. For this reason, it’s important that you resist any temptation to trawl through the bargain bins, as you’re extremely unlikely to find the right shoe for you in the leftover sale items. Also, the older a shoe is, the less cushioning properties it has whether it’s been worn or not so a model from a year or two ago won’t offer as much protection.

Select “fit for purpose”. Consider where you’re actually going to be running and buy shoes that will be suitable for the terrain. If most of your training is off-road, then road shoes with built-up heels are unsuitable because you will be more unstable and could potentially turn an ankle.

Wear your running socks. The thickness of your sock can make a big difference to the fit and feel of your shoe, particularly as your feet expand in the heat. You should therefore always wear the socks that you intend to run in when you go for a shoe fitting.

Ask for a trial run. It’s important to remember that buying your running shoes is a big investment and so you should always test any shoes properly before buying them. Padding around on a carpet in the shop certainly won’t replicate how the shoes will feel when you’re running in them! Instead, you should “road test” them on an in-store treadmill (which will usually be available at specialist retailers) or even venture outside to check how the shoes feel in action, provided the retailer allows you to so. Never be afraid to ask for these services, as they could be the difference between supreme comfort and blisters!

Buy in the morning. If possible, save your shoe shopping until the afternoon. After lunch your feet will have expanded, which can make a significant difference to your foot size. When you run, your feet heat up and swell particularly on hot days so if you buy a snug fit in the morning, you could easily find that your shoes become too tight during your runs, which will cause discomfort and blisters.

Target designer labels. Your running shoes are not fashion items; they’re functional pieces of equipment designed to protect your feet and legs from injury. So you should avoid being swayed by aggressive marketing campaigns for particular brands or simply choosing a shoe because it sports this season’s colors. Choose only according to comfort, fit and functionality, as this way you’ll get hundreds of miles of trouble-free running out of your shoes.

Attempt to over-extend your shoe life. Your running shoes will take a great deal of pounding across a wide range of surfaces and in all weathers, so they will need to be replaced typically every 500 miles or so. How often you need to buy new shoes will depend on your weight, running style and choice of terrain, but you should always avoid trying to squeeze a few extra weeks out of shoes that are evidently worn out, because the shoes won’t afford the protection you need and will increase the chances of you getting injured.

Assume that “any old trainer will do”. Running shoes are specifically designed for running and have evolved from basic “plimsoll”-type items into sophisticated, supportive, injury-preventing pieces of fitness equipment. Everyone has an old pair of tennis shoes or similar lying around in the back of a cupboard but these are entirely unsuitable for coping with the demands of running. Running is a cheap activity, and the only real investment that you need to make is by purchasing good footwear. Don’t skimp on your shoes and you’ll get much more out of each and every run.

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