It won’t come as a surprise that one of the most common topics I discuss with my patients is shoes. For those patients that run regularly, shoes become all the more important given the increased and repetitive stress that is placed on the feet and legs during running.
Runners come in many different shapes and sizes and vary greatly in the speeds and distances they run. Running shoes need to vary accordingly. I am always surprised to see people running in shoes that are totally unsuitable for their body and foot type.
Neutral vs Control
Running shoes come in two broad categories; neutral or control.
Neutral shoes are for those who have a stable foot with normal or high arch type. Control shoes are for runners who tend to overpronate or roll in too much. This is probably a good place to start when selecting a running shoe.
People with a neutral foot-type will contact the ground with the outside of their heel and then roll inwards and pronate a little to absorb shock. People with a pronated foot type tend to contact with the outside of their heel and then roll inwards excessively causing increased loading on the muscles and ligaments on the inside of the foot and leg. This can lead to injuries such as shin-splints, plantar fasciitis and big toe joint pain / bunions.
To combat excessive rolling in (over-pronation), control shoes are made with increased thickness and/or density of material under the inside of the heel. More recently guide rails are also being used by some shoe brands to prop up the inside of the foot and reduce forces on muscles and ligaments. A neutral shoe doesn’t have this specific increased support on the inside of the heel.
A runner with a neutral foot-type might find a control shoe causes an increased risk of rolling their ankle outward (lateral ankle sprain) while a neutral shoe may not provide adequate support for a runner who is flat-footed.
Cushioned vs Firm shoes
The next thing to consider is how soft or cushioned the sole of the shoe is. Running involves repetitive movements in which the body weight bounces up and down on top of your feet. All running shoes should have adequate shock-absorption and cushioning but some come with more than others.
Heavily cushioned shoes are suitable for the heavier runner or those who are doing high kms (15kms+). Heavier runners will experience higher forces through their feet so more serious cushioning is required to prevent overuse injury. Likewise, as the kms increase, all runners start to fatigue which means the muscles can’t absorb shock and impact forces as effectively. It can be nice to have good support and cushioning in the shoe to fall back on.
Lighter runners and those doing smaller kms might find a firmer, lighter-weight and more responsive shoe enables them to keep their speed up and provides better ground feedback.
Shoe width is overlooked by far too many runners. Good shoe brands have a range of widths available. Unfortunately, the sizing system is a little complicated and is actually different for men and women:
Wearing a shoe that is too narrow for your foot can cause cramping in the forefoot and blisters and can lead to longer term issues such as neuromas and bursitis. If you have a bunion or flat feet, a wider fit is often more suitable. Decent stores should have a range of widths available. Even if you think you require a standard width running shoe, it can be a good exercise to try a different width and see how it feels.
The heel drop (sometimes called midsole drop or rearfoot to forefoot drop) of the shoe refers to the differential between the height of the heel and forefoot. Most road running shoes are 6-12mm. A higher heel drop is better for those who heel strike when they are running while a lower heel drop is preferred by those who midfoot or forefoot strike. If you transition to a shoe with a lower heel drop, watch out for Achilles tendonitis and calf tightness.
Popular running shoe brands all offer at least one trail running shoe. These shoes are designed for use on more technical surfaces such as rocky, wet, muddy, steep or uneven terrain. A few features in particular differentiate them from a more standard running shoe:
- Rock plate – A firm plate that runs between the midsole and outsole of the shoe. Protects from rock and stone bruises but makes the shoe stiffer than typical running shoes
- Toe bumper – A reinforced toe-box to protect the toes from hard objects such as rocks and sticks
- Deeper lugs – Outsole is designed to maximise traction on off-road surface
Tip: If you like to move at a slower pace and prefer walking, trail shoes make for an excellent all-purpose walking shoe. They provide great support, traction and stability on all surfaces and are often more water resistant than a road running shoe which is a bonus in wet or dewy conditions.
I hope this has given anyone looking at making a running shoe purchase something to consider. The right shoe can make all the difference to your speed, comfort and enthusiasm levels… I know whenever I have a new pair of kicks on my feet I go that little bit quicker!