It is fairly typical for runners and walkers to have an array of shoes on the go at any one time. They will have training shoes that may consist of a lightweight pair for speed sessions, a cushioned pair (or two) for endurance or aerobic sessions, and then a trail shoe with a beefier outsole. Some will also own a pair of lightweight racing shoes for event day. Once they find a pair that fits, athletes will often buy multiple pairs of the same shoe to ensure they have a stockpile of their favourite in the right size. While this seems like a lot of shoes, your top priority is to find a training shoe that fits well and that suits your foot, gait and biomechanics. The running shoe market is currently flooded with a plethora of nifty looking styles and models aimed at the active consumer. Companies that formally only made mountaineering equipment and hiking boots, tennis shoes and ski boots, have all entered the running game alongside the long standing running shoe companies, and there are shoes in every colour of the rainbow and for every purpose: racing, tempo, long runs, recovery, barefoot feel, and for every type of foot. The athlete must sift through the hype and trends and maintain a focus on getting the right shoe for them.
A sport specific retailer is your best bet for getting the right pair of walking or running shoes for you. All makes of shoes fit a little different so trying on various models to find the best one for your feet is important. Purchasing running and walking shoes is one of those areas where your dollar is worth every penny. You will be able to avoid injury with the right pair of shoes, so if you find some that work, by several pairs to have in store. Once you have your model that works resist the urge to try different brands or new fads. Stick with what works. The higher end running shoes have superior cushioning, flexibility, responsiveness and workmanship, things you should consider when making you choice. Ask around in your community for referrals and make sure to get fit at a proper sport specific store. Educated employees will be able to check your gait and make sure you are in the right support and cushioning.
How long to wear a pair of shoes
This is a hard one to answer definitively because running shoes are so different from each other and each person is individual in weight, running style, where they train, and just how hard they are on their shoes. Wearing worn out shoes almost always leads to pain and discomfort in the shins, knees or feet and can lead to other overuse injuries. Because of the durability of the rubber outsoles these days, don’t check for wear on the bottom of the shoe, but for the ‘dead’ feel in the midsole, the blown rubber part that provides cushioning. It becomes unresponsive after a time and also can pack out unevenly. Generally, shoes last about 500-800km. You can do a rough calculation from the time you get your new shoes and mark your calendar for about when that 450-500km mark might be. At that point you can start being aware of a tired shoe and also start looking for another pair, if you liked that one.
Minimal, maximal and old school
Barefoot, minimal, maximal or traditional - everybody has an opinion and debate is ongoing on whether barefoot running is actually superior to the shod foot surrounded by support and cushioning. One thing is clear: shoe technology is more advanced right now than it has ever been. I have been training in running shoes for over 30 years, and the shoes on the market today are superior in every way to that first pair of runners I owned.
There are four basic types of running shoes out there: neutral, supportive, cushioned and lightweight. Generally, cushioned shoes have more midsole material and are used for longer endurance days as they provide more cushioning against the forces of landing, and lessen the impact of running on the body. A lightweight shoe is used for faster running: intervals, tempo and racing, where carrying less mass can increase speed. Neutral shoes work well for athletes with good biomechanics and efficient strides, and a supportive or corrective shoe works well for athletes with biomechanical deficiencies. The correction provided by the shoe can minimize stresses to the knee, hips and back. Cushioned and lightweight shoes can be neutral or corrective. Within each category, there are also road and trail shoes. Technical trail shoes have been a great addition to the running shoe market. With a more studded outsole for good grip over rocks and roots, water shedding uppers to keep the foot dry and the ability to keep out pine needles and small rocks, a good trail shoe makes the forest environment a very enjoyable experience.
While the minimal trainer trend has reached its zenith, any shoe with less than a 10mm drop, is super flexible and neutral counts as minimal. Whether you are talking about running barefoot, in a Nike Free or the Xero Prio barefoot runner, the main thing that separates the new minimal shoes from the traditional shoe is the rear foot to forefoot drop (measured in mm). The difference in height between heel and toe in traditional shoes is significant, at about 15-23 mm. In a barefoot or minimal shoe, the attempt is to mimic the barefoot, so there is either a zero drop in heel to toe height, or less than 10mm. Minimalist shoes look flat, and they are. A minimal shoe will often work (but not always) for a naturally efficient runner or an elite athlete that has strong feet, a midfoot plant, and been training for years, but most efficient runners can run well in anything. For a new runner, doing too much too soon, in a minimal shoe will most often result in soreness in the calves and Achilles as the drop puts too much tension on this part of the lower leg after years wearing shoes with a greater toe to heel rise. A less efficient runner can learn to run well in a minimalist shoe, but needs to be very patient in progressing to this form of running. I do believe that we can all improve foot strength by running drills, walking and doing our strength in bare feet, but it takes time to get used to this. When I am not in my shoes, I am barefoot in my house.
At the other end of the spectrum are the maximalist shoes, which provide ultra cushioning across the whole foot platform, but still possess the flexibility to assist a natural foot movement. Designed to provide cushioning for athletes running long distances, they have become a favourite for people who are returning from injury and for reducing impact fatigue of long distance urban walking and running, especially on pavement and concrete.
Whether you go for a minimalist, maximalist or traditional running shoe, make sure you shop around and try them on. This is one product you don’t want to buy just because there’s a sale, it’s cheap online, or is a cool colour. There is a reason that your local running specialty store hasn’t been usurped by Amazon yet. The personalized service and ability to try shoes in the store and at home is crucial.
What to look for in a shoe, and it’s not your favourite colour
Forefoot width and heel cup:
It is a positive trend that shoe companies are now building shoes with wider toe boxes that alleviate pressure on the toe joints and metatarsals. For someone with a narrow foot, however, a too roomy toe box provides excessive movement that either causes chafing or injury. Trying on different brands and models, even in the same width, will give you an idea of the most comfortable fit.
The heel cup is one other area where you won’t know until you try a shoe. Depending on your ankles, and heel sensitivity, different shoes will feel different. The last thing you want is for your shoe to be digging into your ankle bone when you train.
Racing flats: comfort versus speed:
While some athletes can get away with a really lightweight shoe for racing, others prefer the comfort of more cushioning. In long distances, being comfortable and managing sore legs and calves is more important than pure energy return, so a trade off to a more cushioned shoe can be the better choice. Testing out racing flats in training will give you a good idea of how you adapt to a racing flat. Keep in mind that trainers are generally incredibly lightweight now because of the advancements in midsole technology so weight is not a huge issue anymore. I often race in my lightweight trainers.
If you have sensitive feet or race in bare feet, finding a shoe with a smooth lining is crucial and a few companies make this a priority now, as even with socks on, runners often end up with chafes and blisters wherever there might be a seam in the shoe.
A few companies have tried to improve on lacing systems, by going asymmetrical or other devices but in my opinion, nobody has been able to improve on the traditional system. Whether you go with elastic or standard laces, pay attention to tension on the laces and find the right level of tightness for your foot and stick with it!
Water and Soggy Feet:
On the west coast, winter training tends to be wet, so make sure your shoe works well when having a shower. A soaking squishy foot can cause blisters and a slowdown in pace. Some companies, make a trail shoe with drainage systems.
For years we all trained in cotton sweats and cotton t-shirts. We were just as fast as we are now, but we are a whole lot more comfortable in our moisture wicking polyester fiber running clothes these days. Your running apparel is the one area where you can branch out and have fun with colors and styles. There is a whole fashion show of excellent running clothing out on the market now, including running skirts and comfortable running bras for women.
While you will have to develop your own fashion sense and unique style for your training outfit, I will offer a few tips for comfort and function:
Love a pair of shoes? Love your local running shop? Found a great deal on the perfect run jacket (sorry, the perfect run jacket still doesn’t exist but I’ll let you know when it does), then share your information with your friends! That’s what the warm up and cool down are for!
Promoting running and physical activity one joyful heartbeat at a time!
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