Running Shoes 101
Wearing the right running shoe will not only make your runs more comfortable, but help to prevent injuries. But with so many different options out there, how do you know which is the best? Before you head to the shops, ask yourself these key questions to ensure you come away with the perfect pair for you.
What is your running gait?
If you have no clue what that means - don't panic! A running gait is just a fancy term which refers to the way that your foot hits the ground when you run. Understanding your running gait will allow you to understand what kind of support you need from a running shoe.
Most running shops offer a free Gait Analysis service. This will involve you trying on different shoes and running for a few seconds on a treadmill while your tread is filmed. They may also offer foot mapping as part of the service.
From this film, the person taking your gait analysis will be able to measure your degree of pronation. Pronation is the natural roll inwards of the foot as it hits the ground. If you are an over-pronator, your feet roll in too much; if you are an under-pronator, your feet don't roll far enough; if you are a neutral runner, your pronation is about right. This will determine what type of support you need from a running shoe.
What is your goal?
One of the first things you will be asked when you go for a gait analysis is what you are training for. Are you a new runner who is just looking to improve their fitness? Are you an experienced runner with an upcoming marathon? Establishing where you are and where you want to be will also influence the kind of shoe you need.
If you are training for a marathon or frequently run long distances, you will need a reasonably heavy-duty shoe; if you are aiming to reach 5km, you can probably get away with something more lightweight.
You are also likely to be told that you need to replace your running shoes every 500 miles. This is debated and many runners would argue that you can keep a good pair far longer but, ultimately, it depends on what kind of runner you are. If you have neutral pronation and are fairly light on your feet, your shoes will last far longer than for someone who is heavy with poor form.
What surfaces do you run on?
Different surfaces exert different levels of impact on your joints. If you frequently run on uneven and challenging surfaces, you might like to consider getting a pair of trail shoes. These provide greater cushioning and support than a road shoe, and will help to prevent injuries and strains.
If you usually run on flat, even surfaces, a typical road shoe should suffice. Although you should try to avoid constantly running on pavement as it can cause overuse injuries on your joints, road shoes with a little extra cushioning will be best for you if usually run on pavement.
Those who have the luxury of a local running track or often opt for a treadmill can get away with a far more lightweight, thin-soled shoe.
Do you have any current or recent injuries?
Injuries often affect pronation as your body tries to adjust your movements to limit pressure on the injured area. Even if you have recovered from an injury, it can continue to affect your pronation for months afterwards. It is therefore important to get a gait analysis each time you buy a new pair of running shoes as your running gait may have changed.