People say that running is one of the most accessible sports out there because you can just put on your sneakers and go. But the truth is, finding the right pair of running shoes can be overwhelming.
How do you know which kind you need? Should you try the new breed of ‘super shoes’? How often should you replace them? And can you wear your trail shoes on the treadmill? These are just some of the factors to consider when shopping for athletic shoes, meaning it can be difficult to know where to start. And according to Asics, four in five runners put themselves at risk of injury by wearing non-sneakers. doesn’t fit their feet.
So whether you’re training for a marathon, looking to improve your Parkrun PB, or just enjoy an occasional jog through the woods with the dog, this expert guide should help.
Where should you start looking for running shoes?
According to Chris Nichols of the specialist retailer Runners Need, a running analysis is a great starting point for runners of all levels. Here an expert advisor will assess the way you stand, walk and run, often by having you jog on a treadmill for a few minutes, so don’t go with a three-piece suit or pencil skirt.
More than 50 percent of people overpronate, meaning their feet roll inward when they run. It is most common in people with lower arches or flat feet, and means pressure is placed on the wrong part of the foot, potentially leading to injuries, many of which can be prevented with extra support in the right places.
“There are a lot of things to consider when choosing the right running shoe, such as what surface you’ll be running on,” says Nichols. “Runners may need specific features such as more cushioning, extra support, lightweight construction and of course a comfortable fit.”
Doing it right the first time can help prevent injury – from superficial problems like bruised toenails to potentially chronic conditions like plantar fasciitis. Most running stores, along with their advisors, offer a free gait analysis if you buy your shoes from them, and many podiatrists also offer this.
Simone Sandra Paul, podiatrist and CEO of The Footlift London, says runners often come to her clinic when wearing the wrong shoes is already starting to take its toll. That’s why it’s important to do a quick gait analysis before beginning a strenuous training regimen. can be worth it.
“Running is a natural process,” she says. “But if consistent running causes discomfort and injury, I would recommend a gait analysis and biomechanical assessment. The most important reason for a gait analysis from a podiatry perspective is to recommend the right running shoe, determine the running style and advise on the duration of the running sessions.”
What types of running shoes are there?
There are many different shoes and that is why many running enthusiasts have an extensive collection. If you run on different types of terrain you may need to mix and match, but for most casual park and road runners, one or two pairs should be sufficient.
“Rotating your running shoes can prevent muscle soreness, allow the shoes to decompress, and provide specific support based on the type of run,” explains Chris Nichols. “Changing shoes also allows you to use the right shoes for the specific type of run. You can use your cushioned shoes for easy runs, lightweight shoes for fast work and carbon plated shoes for races.
Getting advice from fellow runners about their favorite models isn’t always helpful, as many are loyal to a specific brand that may not work for someone with wider feet or a different gait. So it’s always wise to consult an expert and shop around until you’ve found the perfect style for you.
It’s very common for runners of all levels to over- or underpronate, and that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Since it’s very difficult to consciously change the way your foot lands naturally when you hit the ground, wearing shoes designed for your running style can help. Shoes with a lot of extra support and cushioning don’t always look so cool, but they make you much less likely to get injured.
More support and cushioning is also recommended for older runners, who are more sensitive to brittle bones and reduced muscle mass. Plus, it’s worth keeping in mind that feet can get wider as we age, so the brand you swore by at age 30 may not be so good for you at 60.
How often should you replace your running shoes?
If you log a lot of miles, you may notice that your expensive running shoes wear out quite quickly. This is especially true for heavier runners. That’s why men’s running shoes often look thicker than women’s.
It’s not just a scam to get you to buy more shoes; Worn soles cause the supportive layers of foam and cushioning to become thinner from overuse and no longer provide as much support. This can have a negative effect on your body, which can ultimately be a lot more expensive to repair.
“Unfortunately, your favorite pair of running shoes eventually becomes old and worn out, leaving you at a much greater risk of injuries to your ankles, knees and hips,” says Chris Nichols. “It is generally accepted that the typical lifespan of road running shoes is somewhere between 300 and 500 miles, or about 500 to 800 kilometers. Lightweight shoes tend to last somewhere between 250 and 300 miles [400 to 500 kilometres]. So if you run 20 miles a week, you’ll probably need to replace them after four to six months.”
If it seems difficult to keep track, don’t panic. The fitness tracking app Strava has a feature that allows you to record the mileage of your shoes, giving you a signal when it’s time to go shopping. Also keep an eye on the grooves or steps on the soles. If these become thinner, your shoes will no longer bend in sync with your stride.
And you don’t have to throw away your old sneakers; you can still use them for gardening, muddy walks or lower impact exercises. Many stores, including Runners Need, offer shoe recycling programs and sometimes even hand out vouchers or other incentives to trade in your old trusty shoes for a newer model.
Is it okay to buy your running shoes online?
Once you know a model suits your running and training needs, it may be cheaper to visit discount and outlet websites to buy what you need – but beware of counterfeits. If you see a pair you like but have never tried before, make sure you read some reviews to make sure they’re likely to fit you, and remember that sizing can vary quite widely between brands.
“We always recommend sizing up when choosing running shoes,” says Nichols. “Increased blood flow and swelling during and after exercise cause your feet to expand, but going for a larger size creates space.”
How can you care for your feet to prevent injuries?
You can blame your shoes for problems with your feet, but sometimes it’s the way you lace them, or a lack of general foot care, that can cause or worsen problems. “To prevent nail trauma, the nails should be trimmed and filed along the side,” says Simone Sandra Paul. “Prolonged downhill running should be avoided as it results in the formation of hematomas under the nail plates, which can cause them to fall off.”
Paul also recommends learning about proper lacing techniques for your shoes. “Tying the sneakers crosswise to prevent the forefoot from rocking back and forth also minimizes friction,” she explains. Lacing your shoes this tightly gives you more stability, which means less chance of injuries.
Wearing running socks with split toes — they basically look like gloves for your feet — can also provide compression and keep your big toes from pressing against the others, which helps prevent ingrown toenails. This is a common condition in people who travel long distances. That’s why split toes are popular among trail runners.
Many runners’ feet aren’t very pretty, but with the right care and a good pair of shoes, they don’t have to be a complete horror show.
Should runners wear special insoles?
There are many insoles on the market that are intended for runners, but you should only wear them if advised by a professional as they can potentially lead to more problems. Most running shoes are designed with good support in mind, so adding an extra layer may mean there simply isn’t enough room for your feet.
“I would recommend wearing thin, custom-made orthoses if there is a congenital foot deformity or chronic foot condition involving loss of fat pads and tendon damage,” says Paul. “But in general, orthoses can be avoided when running because they can reduce the space in the running shoes and create more pressure points.”
If you suffer from foot complaints, it is best to wear arch supports in your non-running shoes. These can be purchased online, or from a podiatrist or major pharmacy, and feature special layers and padding that adjust the angle at which your feet hit the ground. Fashionable flat sneakers and many popular sandal styles are generally bad for the feet due to a lack of arch support. So runners should try to avoid them, as the impact of running on your arches can be intense. As painful as it is to wear more sensible options, it would be much more heartbreaking if you suffered an injury from your funky sliders, throwing your running plans into disarray.
Are ‘super shoes’ suitable for everyone?
The new, controversial and much-hyped breed of “super shoes” – lightweight, carbon-clad racing shoes that have been worn as elite runners broke records – are becoming increasingly mainstream. In 2023, Ethiopian athlete Tigst Assefa took two minutes off the world record in the women’s marathon in Berlin while wearing Adidas super shoes costing £400, but some critics believe these high-tech models are devaluing previous records.
In super shoes, the carbon layer is wrapped in lightweight foam that propels a runner faster while using less energy, making for a bouncy, fast run.
But are shoes like the Nike Vaporfly – the shoe made famous when Eliud Kipchoge wore a custom version to break the two-hour marathon barrier in 2019 – suitable for the everyday runner? Chris Nichols says there are pros and cons. “They improve running efficiency, provide greater resistance to fatigue and better recovery, but they can be expensive and require greater speed input to get the most out of them (making them popular with professional athletes and faster runners). They also seem to have a shorter lifespan compared to other running shoes,” he says.
So if you’re a fast sort looking to shorten your 5K time and you’ve got over £200 to spend on running shoes, then they could be worth a try. But for most runners, they probably offer technology you don’t need.
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