All you need to know about running shoes
The most important bit of kit you need to run are your shoes. While running itself is simple, shopping for the right pair of running shoes may seem a little more complicated – especially if you’re new to running. If sifting through the hundreds of pairs on offer seems like a daunting prospect, you’ll find everything you need to know here.
Running shoes to go the distance
You may just be starting out on your running journey by taking part in the Vitality Westminster Mile, but bear in mind you may soon find you have the running bug and be looking to rack up longer distances. And if that’s the case, it’s a good idea to have the correct running shoes to carry you through the miles that lie ahead.
Judging your foot type
Feet are like fingerprints: every set is unique. Nevertheless, your feet fall into one of three main categories, and these are matched by three main categories of running shoes. The classic method of judging your foot type is the wet footprint test. Next time you step out of the shower, take a look at the outline your wet foot makes:
A flat foot – a solid footprint with no discernible arch – usually means your foot rolls inwards after it hits the ground. This means you’re likely to need the added support of a motion-control shoe.
A high-arched foot – the footprint has a narrow band connecting the front of your foot with the heel – generally doesn’t roll inwards enough and needs a cushioned shoe, which is also very flexible.
A neutral foot – the footprint has a flare but shows that the heel and forefoot are firmly connected – should be matched with a stability shoe that has an equal blend of cushioning and stabilising features. This is the most common category and applies to about 85 per cent of runners.
Do your homework
The wet footprint test will help you to work out what kind of shoe you need from the following four main types:
Neutral shoes are designed for runners who need maximum midsole cushioning and minimal arch support. These shoes are best for biomechanically efficient runners (who pronate very little) and midfoot or forefoot strikers with normal or high arches.
Motion-control shoes are recommended for runners with low arches who are moderate to severe overpronators and who need maximum stability and support on the medial (arch) side of their shoes. Motion-control shoes are best suited to heavier runners who need plenty of support and durability.
Stability shoes are recommended for runners who are mild to moderate pronators and who generally have low to normal arches. These runners tend to need a shoe that has a combination of good support and midsole cushioning.
Performance running shoes are recommended if you’re racing or for biomechanically efficient runners to train in. They have varying degrees of support and cushioning, but they’re generally lighter and fit more snugly.
Shopping for running shoes
If you’re tempted to head to the high street or, worse still, a supermarket to buy running shoes, think again. Shopping at a specialist running retailer will ensure you're far more likely to identify the very best shoes for you.
Specialist running shops, such as the New Balance Store on Oxford Street, are staffed by runners who understand both the shoe market and the particular needs of every standard of runner – whether you’re running your first mile or your fiftieth marathon.
They will measure and study your feet and question you about the type of running you intend to do in training. They may also offer gait analysis, which usually involves you walking and running on a treadmill or pressure pad that is hooked up to a video camera. The staff will record your running and identify your style before recommending a selection of shoes for you to try.
Always shop for running shoes in the afternoon when your feet have expanded to their largest size, and expect the process to take between 30 minutes and an hour. Take along your old running shoes, if you have some, and show them to the salesperson – someone with experience will be able to look at how the shoes have worn, which will help to determine what kind of shoes you need. Also take the socks you intend to run in. Try on both left and right shoes and run around the shop or on the treadmill in them for a few minutes. Don't rush or respond to sales pressure: you are the best judge of the right shoes for you.
Fit is key when buying new running shoes, and that sometimes means buying shoes that are half a size bigger than your everyday shoes. A shoe that fits will feel snug but not too tight, both in length and width. If you have one bigger foot (most of us do) make sure the bigger foot is comfortable with at least a thumb-nail’s width of room between the end of your toes and the front of the shoe. This will allow your foot to flex and the toes to move forward with each stride.
Stand up when you’re trying the shoes on and check that there’s roughly a centimetre of additional room. The rear of the shoe should hold your heel firmly in place so that your foot does not move around.
Do a test run
Running uphill or around a corner is a great way to determine whether your shoe truly fits. You should have enough room in the toe box, and your feet should feel anchored rather than slipping around in the shoe. If a shoe is loose when it’s new, it will only feel worse as you wear it in.
Since women tend to have narrower heels, it can be a challenge to find shoes that fit snugly. If you buy a shoe that’s narrow in the heel, you risk pain in the forefoot due to lack of space in the toe box. There is a solution: buy shoes that fit perfectly around your forefoot, then lace them up as you would usually would, but when you get to the second eyelet from the top, thread each end through the top eyelet on the same side to form a small loop. Thread the lace from the other side through this loop and tie your shoes as normal. This should provide a snugger fit and keep your heel firmly in place.
Where will you run?
Stability, cushioned and motion-control shoes are all designed for running and racing on roads and pavements. If you are going to do most of your running off-road, opt for a trail shoe instead, which has a studded rubber outsole and tough, more durable upper to give you better grip on tough terrain.
Running shoes can cost anywhere from £50 to £150, but the cost is not the best indicator of a shoe’s suitability for you. Your perfect shoes are the ones that fit properly, grip and protect your feet on all terrain and cause you no problems over a successful life together. Most runners find that mid-range shoes offer the best balance between value and technical performance.
If you’re expecting your new shoes to make you a better and faster runner, you are deluding yourself. The shoes will not run the training miles for you, but they will ensure that you run those miles comfortably, and hopefully injury-free. Shoes that you never think of again until it’s time for a new pair are ideal.
Looking after your running shoes
Your new running shoes should feel good the first time you wear them, but you should avoid a long run or important event in new shoes. Instead, break them in by wearing them around the house for a few days so that the inner starts to conform to the shape of your foot. Start with short runs in them so you become used to the new feel before moving up to longer sessions. Always aim to wear new running shoes at least 10 times before Event Day.
Your running shoes are designed for running – not for football, tennis or aerobics. Although it might be tempting to use them for other sports, don’t. Not only will you damage the structural integrity of your precious shoes, but you might also damage yourself.
Keep it clean
You can extend the life of your running shoes by treating them well and cleaning them after every run in damp or muddy conditions. When wet, put some scrunched up newspaper inside and dry them slowly away from a direct heat source. When they become dirty, clean them with a brush and water, avoiding detergents, and never be tempted to chuck them in the washing machine.
There is no set lifespan for a pair of running shoes, though you can reasonably expect your shoes to last between 300 to 500 miles, although some runners regularly manage twice as far. The shoes will wear depending on your weight, how your foot strikes the ground, whether you are running on or off road, and also how you look after the shoes (see above).
Unlike everyday shoes, the durability of running shoes is often dictated by the life of the midsole foam – and not the outsole rubber or the upper. Midsole wear can be very hard to judge, although heavy creasing of the foam under the heel, the feeling that your foot is sinking into the shoe or permanent flattening of the foam are all indictors that the time has come for some new shoes.
When you buy your new running shoes, write a use-by date on the heel, based on your weekly mileage and approximate life span of 500 miles. When you reach the date, examine the shoes carefully for signs of wear and tear.
Armed with this information, shopping for shoes – and keeping them in tip-top condition for as long as possible – should be as simple as running itself.