How to Choose Running Shoes

You can try on multiple pairs of running shoes in a shoe store, but you will never know how comfortable it really is until you start running in them. Finding a suitable running shoes is important to prevent injury and improve efficiency of running. On the other hand, by wearing ill-fitting shoes, you are subjecting yourself to potential injury, not to mention wasting your time and money. Finding an ideal pair of running shoes largely depend on the shape of your feet and running style rather than the brand of the shoes.

Here are some tips to help you find the shoes that fits you best:

  1. Discover your running style and the type of your running
  2. Based on number 1, pick the type of shoes and features you need
  3. Try the shoes on to find the best fit

Overall, the lifespan of a pair of running shoes is around 400 to 500 miles of running, or 3 to 4 months for regular runners. If the midsoles and outsoles of your shoes are flattened or worn out, it is a sign for you to get a new pair of running shoes.

Running Shoes Categories

Road-running shoes

Road running is one of the most practised type of running that are run on concrete sidewalks and overall even surfaces. However, running on flat, hard surfaces of artificial terrain tends to lead to more injuries compared to running on grass, hills and athletic tracks. Therefore, road-running shoes are lightweight and flexible, and cushions and stabilises your feet to protect them from the hard, smooth surfaces.

Trail-running shoes

Trail running consists of moving across mud, rock, dirt and other off-road obstacles which requires stability, support and protection across wide range of terrain. Therefore, trail-running shoes are equipped with aggressive tread for better friction and provides stability, support and protection for underfoot.

Cross-training shoes

Cross-training is a training routine that focuses on building strength for muscles that are used less during exercise while other used muscles rest and rebuild, improving the overall balance of the muscles and fitness. Cross-training shoes are suited for gym or balance activity or Crossfit workouts whereby it is preferred to have more contact with the floor.

How Do You Run?

To find out how you run, look at the wear pattern on the soles of your running shoes. There are mainly three wear patterns:

Neutral Pronation (or normal)

The wear is most prominent at the ball of the foot along with a small portion of the outer heel. This is the sign of basic or neutral pronation, whereby the heel touches the ground first then the foot’s natural inward roll follows. This particular pronation helps to lessen the pressuring on the knees and joints by absorbing the impact of hitting the ground. It is the most efficient way of running.

Overpronation

Overpronation is shown by the wear pattern trailing down the inner edge of your shoes. This means the natural inward roll of the feet is overdone. There are quite a lot of runners who are affected by this running style, which makes them vulnerable to knee pain and injury. Runners with overpronation require shoes with stability or motion control.

Supination (or under-pronation)

As opposed to overpronation, the wear pattern of supination appears at the outer edge of the shoes. This means there is an outer rolling of the feet instead of inward roll, which results in your feet failing to lessen the impact of landing. Excessive supination may result in pain, soreness and structural deformity in the feet. Thankfully, not many runners supinate, but if you are one of them, shoes with ample cushioning and flexibility is needed.

Barefoot/minimalist running

Unlike running in shoes where your feet land heel-first due to the raised cushion in the shoe heel, your mid-foot or forefoot hits the ground first in barefoot running.

Types of Running Shoes

Neutral shoes

Neutral shoes work best for neutral runners or supinators. These shoes are equipped with some shock absorption and support in the arch of the shoes. If you want shoes with better shock absorption, super-cushioned shoes are your options as they provide up to 50% more cushioning compared to other shoes.

Stability shoes

These shoes are suitable for mild to moderate overpronators. Stability shoes usually have a solid “post” to strengthen the arch side of the midsole, which is affected by overpronation greatly.

Motion control shoes

Runners with moderate to severe overpronation are recommended to wear motion control shoes, which provide stiffer heels or straighter lasts to complement overpronation.

Minimalist shoes

Minimalist running shoes are designed to imitate barefoot running while still giving the feet some protection from the dangers on the ground. The most striking difference between normal running shoes and minimalist running shoes lies in the cushioning of the heel. While normal running shoes have 10-12mm extra cushioning under the heels compared to the toes (called heel-to-toe drop), minimalist shoes have 8mm drop or less. The reduced drop leads to natural running motion and midfoot landing on the ground first, but still offers cushioning and flexibility. Minimalist shoes typically last for 300 to 400 miles, slightly less than the typical 400-500 miles for traditional running shoes.

Barefoot shoes

Shoes with no drop at all are called “zero-drop” shoes or barefoot shoes. Barefoot shoes typically have 3-4mm layer between the ground and your feet. Zero drop encourages your feet to land on your midfoot or forefoot.

Running Shoe Features

Running Shoe Uppers

  • Synthetic leather is a material made from nylon and polyester which is flexible, strong and resistant to erosion. Compared to real leather, synthetic leather is lighter, dries faster and is more breathable.
  • Nylon and nylon mesh are long-lasting materials used to increase breathability and decrease weight.
  • TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) overlays are erosion-resistant. They are placed over permeable shoe panels (eg. Arch and heel) to increase stability and sturdiness.
  • Waterproof/breathable uppers consist of membranes attached inside the linings which stop moisture from protruding and enable the feet to stay dry in wet weather and breathe at the same time.

Running Shoe Midsoles

The midsole functions as the cushion and the support between the upper and the outsole.

  • EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) is a foam often used in cushioning of midsoles for running shoes. EVA can be utilised to produce different flex patterns by manipulating the density of it.
  • Posts are parts of midsole that are less compressible due to using harder EVA (dual-density, multi-density, quad-density, compression-molded). Posts increase durability and reduce pronation, so they are used to strengthen each midsole’s arch which is affected by overpronation the most. Posts are found most commonly in stability shoes.
  • Plates are often made of nylon or TPU, materials which are thin and moderately ductile. These materials harden the shoe’s forefoot. Plates are used in trail-running shoes, as they safeguard the underside of your foot from the impacts of rocks and other obstacles.
  • Shanks hardens the midsole to defend your heel and arch. They increase the firmness of a shoe when walking on rough ground. Light backpackers prefer to wear light trail runners with plates providing shanks providing protection and support.
  • TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) is a malleable plastic which is used to stabilise in some midsoles.

Running Shoe Outsoles

The heel of road shoes are more often than not created with strong carbon rubber. The forefoot of road shoes often use blown rubber for additional cushioning. Trail runners need stronger resilience to trail wear, so they normally have outsoles made of carbon rubber. On the other hand, road-racing shoes focus on decreasing the weight of shoes, thus the usage of blown rubber.

Heel-to-Toe Drop

The “drop” refers to the difference in the heel and the toe’s heights. Heel-to-toe drop has an impact on which part of your feet lands first when walking or running. A shoe with high-drop (10-12mm) will lead to your heel touching the ground first, whereas zero-drop to medium drop (0-8mm) will result in mid-foot or forefoot landing first (refer to Minimalist shoes and Barefoot shoes).

Do take note that cushioning and heel drop are not interrelated, as it is possible to have shoes with ultra-cushioning and zero-drop, and vice versa.

Heel Counter

Heel counter refers to the firm structure surrounding the heel. It is responsible for motion control, and is occasionally accompanied with a heel wedge for additional support and cushioning. It is helpful for runners suffering from Achilles tendonitis.

Medial Post or Torsion Bar

Made to help overpronators and spinators, they are placed on the sides to aid in controlling of excessive inward or outward roll of the feet.

Running Shoe Fit Tips

Foot size

Different manufacturers and shoe models have different shoe sizes, so it is advisable to measure your feet before purchasing the shoes if you are not sure.

Try on shoes at the end of the day

Your feet will be larger by the end of the day because they swell slightly throughout the day. So, if you want to keep away from purchasing shoes too small, it is advisable to try on the shoes in the afternoon rather than in the morning.

Aim for a thumbnail’s length of extra space in the toebox

The width should be close-fitting but there needs to be a bit of space in the front of your toebox to enable your foot of mobility without rubbing. Same goes for the laces, whereby they should be fitting but not too tight. This rule applies to all except barefoot shoes: barefoot shoes should be tight-fitting without any void space in both the heel and toes.

Bring your inner soles if you wear one

They will have an impact on the fit of a shoe.

Consider aftermarket insoles (a.k.a. footbeds)

Different types of insoles can increase support, fit or comfort, or all three.

References

  1. https://www.runnersblueprint.com/running-101-5-main-running-shoes-type-select-type/
  2. https://www.on-running.com/en-gb/articles/how-to-choose-the-best-road-running-shoes
  3. https://www.runnersblueprint.com/running-101-5-main-running-shoes-type-select-type/
  4. https://www.runnersworld.com/gear/a23458456/cross-training-shoes/
  5. https://www.verywellfit.com/cross-training-improves-fitness-and-reduces-injury-3120769
  6. https://www.verywellfit.com/walking-shoe-wear-patterns-4020248
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320582.php
  8. https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/basics-of-barefoot-minimalist-running.html