How to Select a Running Shoe
There are thousands of running shoes on the market. Road shoes, racing shoes, trail shoes, adventure shoes, and even the newer next to nothing minimalist shoes with individual rubber toes. If your new to running or think that your shoes might not be right for you, choosing the right shoe can be a daunting task. Even seasoned runners need to occasionally re-examine their shoe choices. However, before you chose a running shoe there are several important things that you must consider in order to find the correct shoe for your purpose.
Foot Type and Pronation
Knowing your foot type and pronation tendencies are the first steps in choosing a running shoe. There are two very distinct schools of thought on the topic of pronation . The first is that pronation should be controlled, through the use of support devices and shoe design, while the other considers any kind of pronation a natural motion that the body uses to absorb excess impact. While pronation is in fact a means that your body uses to control impact, severe overpronation or underpronation will lead to injury. Pronation tendencies will also change as your fitness, body weight/shape, and form improve. Runners who are just starting out will have more severe pronation issues that runners who are ready to tackle a marathon. Understanding your own body, and taking an honest look at your fitness, form and foot type (not convincing yourself that you run a certain way because you like a certain style or color of shoe) is very important.
Pronation Explained Further:
Pronation is path of your foot as it rolls from heel to toe through your foot strike while running. A neutral pronation is a foot that rolls straight forward through the foot strike. Overpronation occurs when you roll inward (toward your big toe) excessively, and underpronation (supination) is when you roll outward on your foot (toward your little toe) during the foot strike.
Low arches or 'flat feet' often result in overpronation to some degree, while high arches lead to underpronation. Most people have some idea of their foot style but an easy way to tell is to get your bare feet wet and walk (but do not not stand still) across a paper bag, dry concrete or a wood deck and observe the pattern the water leaves. The diagram below will help you with characterizing your foot type.
When looking at shoes based on your foot type the general rule of thumb is that the best choice for normal foot strikers are stability, neutral or cushioned shoes, for overpronators motion control and stability shoes are the best choice and for under pronators neutral and cushioned shoes are the preferred choice.
Shoes will be characterized on these basic concepts and in any magazine or online site it is easy to tell which shoes fall into your desired category. Once you have an idea of your foot type you can begin to narrow down the process to function. In regard to function there are important factors to consider when selecting a shoe. How many miles do you plan to run in them,? Are you planning to run on pavement or trails ? What is your overall body type is, could you stand to lose a few ppounds or are you thin as a rail?
Shoes with 'blown' (softer) rubber outsoles will provide a lot more cushioning, but will wear down faster, especially for heavier runners. Likewise, trail specific shoes often have much softer rubber on the outsoles to provide better grip and will also wear down quickly on pavement. However softer shoes help prevent injuries from the stress of of running, especially for beginning runners with less than perfect form. Heavier shoes with carbon rubber outsoles will last for many miles, but are not designed for racing, trails or faster workouts.
Most dedicated runners have more than one pair of shoes, and the advice often given to me by coaches and trainers was that at over 35 miles of running per week, it is more cost effective and better for your shoes and body to rotate at least two pairs of shoes. The reason for this is that the cushioning systems, namely the foam and gel systems need more than 24 hours to fully 'recover' from the impact of running. Therefore running a lot of miles on a single pair of shoes will quickly deform the cushioning systems permanently and lead to greater potential for injury and break down the shoes very quickly.
If you run trails or workouts I recommend getting a dedicated pair of shoes for both. Workout shoes should be lighter, enabling you to go faster in the workout which will help your body to develop better form at speed and a feel for going faster. Trail shoes have great features like rock guards in the sole and sticky outsoles that will make you less likely to bruise your feet or slip in technical sections. They also dry quickly if you have to cross rivers or swampy sections.
When looking at new styles or if you are getting into the sport try not to buy shoes online unless you know exactly what you want. For teh best fit, go to a running or fitness store and get professional help in picking your shoes. Running places an incredible amount of stress on the body and getting the right shoes is a requirement, not an option if you want to have long term success or health and avoid injury problems. Once you know what you want, buying online can save you money and time. Yet, whenever I think of changing the style of my shoes I always go to a store and try several pairs on. A good salesmen understands that if you get the correct shoes you will be likely to come back.
There are a few things to consider further. Run in the shoes, take a jog around the store, make sure they don't pinch or rub anywhere. Make sure your toes are a 'thumbs width' (approximately) from the end, and able to spread as you run. Make sure the width is appropriaate and not too tight or loose for your foot. Finally, pay mind to the return poicy, many stores allow a no questions asked return within a few weeks, in case the shoes don't fit right or have a defect. If you findthat their is an issue, don't be shy about returning shoes for a new pair, it is your health that should matter above all.
Price is always a factor as well. Yet, don't go for the bargain shoes, just because they seem like a bargain. A cheap shoe from a known brand does not have the same cushioning or features as their 'top of the line' shoes. They may feel very similar on your foot, but they are priced differently for a reason. So don't skimp unless you have to, your body will thank you in the long run.
A final word of advice is to ignore the brand names. Go for the shoes that work, and feel great. All the gimmicks and flash in the world won't make you faster or able to train harder. Colors won't matter in the middle of a 15 mile run, but a blister or foot pain will certainly be noticed. Choose your shoes on how they will help you run and not how they look.
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