The title for this post might need to be clarified a little more, as it’s a very generalized statement. Picking the right running shoe is very important to the health of your feet.
The first question you need to ask is what terrain you’re going to be spending all of your time running on. You don’t want a trail running shoe when you’re going to be spending most of your time on a treadmill. You also don’t want a cross-trainer, designed for consistent impact on flat surfaces, for running up a mountain.
There are three main categories of shoes you need to consider.
Cross-Training Shoes-Designed for training on consistently flat surfaces, such as when you’re doing cross-fit or running on treadmills.
Trail-Running Shoes-These have thick, hard treads that protect your feet from any rocks, tree branches, and uneven surfaces. They also help improve your traction on dirt or loose gravel.
Road-Running Shoes-Being light and flexible, they have more cushion in them for repetitive striking on hard, packed surfaces. They also have improved traction compared to Cross-Trainers.
The next item you need to figure out is what type of pronation (foot striking pattern) you have while running. This is just asking what part of your foot rolls off the ground over and over again.
What you need to figure out is what type of foot striker you are and what type of pronation your feet push off of. For your foot strikes, you can do three types: heel striker, forefoot striker, or mid-foot striker. For your pronation, your feet can roll inward towards your big toe (over-pronation), roll outward towards your pinky toe (supination), and roll evenly across the middle (the most ideal).
A foot’s strike pattern has an effect on your running posture. Your running form is important to take notice of since this is what makes you as efficient as possible while running longer distances.
For instance, a heel striker usually won’t have the best form but will preserve more energy. Not having correct running posture makes you more susceptible to injury.
Most experts believe that your foot strike is an effect of your posture. This means that the closer to your body your strike the ground, the more efficient you’ll be. Most of the time, you’ll end up being a mid-foot striker if you do this. This doesn’t always change your strike pattern and that’s ok.
Pronation is the much more important issue for runners so I’ll talk about that in more detail.
There are also three types of pronation:
Pronation– This is when your feet roll inward while you’re running, transferring the weight between your heel and your forefoot. Some pronation is normal among every runner.
Over-pronation– This is when your feet roll inward at an awkward angle, making it transfer the weight at an inopportune time for your feet. This can lead to injuries.
Supination (or under-pronation)– This is when your foot rolls outward, causing more stress on your ankle, shin, and thigh muscles. This is the one my foot generally leans toward.
There are several ways you can figure out how your foot works.
The easiest way is to do the wet-paper test. Dip your bare foot in water, dab it on a paper towel, and check your mapped foot. If your foot leans inward with most of your foot showing on the paper, you likely have over-pronation. If your foot leans outward with far less of your foot showing on the paper, your foot likely supinates. If your foot has the forefoot, heel, and a reasonable amount of the middle arch, you probably have a comfortable pronation.
The way I’ve always checked my pronation is the wear-and-tear of my running shoes/socks. My socks always seem to get holes and wear down on the pinky metatarsal bone, which suggest a leaning towards the outside of the foot while I’m running. My shoes also show indications of this.
The most efficient way of checking your pronation is getting a Gait-Analysis test by a qualified professional. This maps out your foot while you’re running on a treadmill or force plate to give you the most accurate view of your foot’s path.
There are ways to correct your pronation to a more healthy gait. You can get specific types of shoes made for your pronation, you can get insoles, and you can be fitted for an orthotic device for your shoe if your foot is severe in either direction.
My good friend, Katherine, works for a running shoe company in Utah. She basically sells shoes for a living, along with diagnosing foot issues that her customers constantly complain about.
I asked her a series of questions about the usual problems she sees, such as:
Q: What do you think people usually get wrong about fitting into their running shoes?
A: “The two biggest offenses that I see are seemingly the most basic: length and width. People (especially women, who think they need to have small feel to be feminine) like to insist that their feet are smaller than they are. I see people regularly who are a full one to two sizes too small. This leads to toenail issues, footman, bunions. Ideally you want ½ to ¾ of an inch after the end of the toe. If you bend over or lift your toe up, you’re accidentally shortening the length of your toes so the shoe will seem like it has more room than it does. Width is a little trickier to fit, a lot of people either don’t realize that shoes come in widths or they think that they can’t possibly be a “wide.” When you are in a shoe that’s too narrow, the components of the shoe won’t be underneath your foot correctly.”
Q: I try to keep a thumb nail’s length from the start of the toe to the end of the shoe. I’ve noticed my feet swell and splay out when I’m running so I try not to get small shoes. I’ve had issues with toenails breaking because of that. (Essentially, is that correct?)
A: “The thumbnail width is the rule that we go by. If you’re still having issues with your toenails biting the dust I’d look at width and shoe volume. Volume is a lot harder because there’s no standard measure for it, so you have to actually try the shoes on (so, summer vacation activity in your case ) but essentially that refers to the amount of space from the bottom of sole to the top of the upper- the space where your foot sits inside the shoe. Some shoes have higher volume in that area.”
Q: My feet tend to supinate along with being wider. There isn’t much out there that covers both, is there?
A: “Have you thought about/tried insoles for motion control/supination? I prefer them to shoes designed for supination, just because the inserts will correct pronation while allowing you to wear shoes that best accommodate your needs. Because honestly the selection of shoes for supination really isn’t that great.”
“Definitely go to a place that will let you try on the insoles before you buy them! One you’re, you know, on a continent with more people than penguins again.”
As someone that works with feet daily, I trust Katherine’s advice (as you should, too).
So what kind of shoes am I wearing right now?
My main shoe for long runs is: Saucony Triumph Iso 2, $149. This shoe has been the work-horse for my running. It’s the “Editor’s Choice” on Runner’s World along with having 4-5 stars on most major running shoe company sites. I whole-heartedly agree.
My training shoe for weekend runs under 4 miles is:
Saucony Cohesion 7, $59. It’s a low-to-mid range shoe for casual runners. I do need an insole for this shoe to correct my supination, as Katherine pointed out to me. ***You’ll likely only be able to find Saucony’s updated version, Cohesion 9
My shoe for trail-running or anything but a treadmill or pavement is: Merrell All Out Rush, $90-$120. This shoe has mixed reviews, Many reviewers that have narrow feet that don’t fill out the forefront of the shoe notice some buckling. I have wider feet so that hasn’t been an issue. I’m sure the shoe isn’t for everyone but for me, it’s been great.
There are many different shoe brands out there that seem to keep pace with each other. When one company comes out with a revolutionary design, most of the other companies seem to follow suit. My other favorite brands have been Salomon, Hoka, and Asics but don’t let that influence you from looking for a different brand.
Related: The Importance of Good Socks
My suggestion would be to go to a specialized running shoe store and try some different brands on. The only way you’ll be absolutely sure of a shoe that fits you the best is to consult the professionals that do this every day, such as my friend Katherine.
Otherwise, you can make an educated guess from the techniques I’ve given above. With the right shoe, coupled with the right socks, your feet won’t be screaming bloody murder at you when you’re halfway through your run.
What kind of shoes do you prefer the most? I’m always trying to find good brands to try out in my travels so comment below. Thanks for reading!
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