For the novice and experienced runner
You’ve woken up and decided you’re going to be a runner. CONGRATULATIONS!
Welcome to the world of Km’s, PB’s, fartlek, tempo, hill repeats, shoes, apparel, and chafe.
You need something to run in and those fashion sneakers or cross-trainers that you bought back in the day isn’t going to cut it. The THREE big questions I always ask my patients are:
Where do you want to run? And no, I don’t expect street names and route maps, but more Road or Trail.
The major difference in running shoes is the surface we choose to run on. A road shoe is easily recognised by a smooth under-surface, where as a trail shoe has visible knobbly bits (known as lugs) underneath the shoe. These lugs are there to assist with grip on a sandy/rocky trail. A trail shoe also tends to be a bit more rigid underfoot compared to a road shoe. This can be as a result of a “rockplate” in the sole which helps protect our feet against sharp rocks, tree roots, thorns etc. which would be found on our local trails.
2. GOAL & CURRENT ABILITY
Are you wanting to run to lose weight? Perhaps a lifestyle change that you want to get fitter, complete a ParkRun? Or are you looking to rack up the distance with a 10km, half marathon or up to ultra-marathon distance?
Are you a seasoned runner with a few races or Two Ocean’s medals under your belt or have you emerged from lockdown keen to run into the distance as opposed to circles around your lounge!
Your goal determines the second category of shoe buying according to distance and how often you want to train. Someone who wants to focus on a Parkrun distance, maybe running 1-2x a week, would be pointed more towards an entry level shoe. Someone who is consistently running 3+ times a week and looking towards a marathon, Comrades or Puffer/UTCT races, would be guided more towards the high mileage shoe.
This is also linked according to what your goal is. If you’re dreaming of lining up for a Parkrun one day and not looking at any long-distance race like a marathon, you won’t need to fork out the big money for a high mileage shoe and vice versa.
Budget is obviously the big one here, as you don’t want to unnecessarily break the bank or spend your hard-earned money on the incorrect shoe.
Remember that shoes need to be replaced on average of a mileage of ± 600-800Km (this can be different for each runner depending on gender, build/mass, light/heavy runner) or if you not reaching anywhere near those numbers, they have a lifespan of ±2yrs before materials may begin to deteriorate.
With these vitally important bits of information, we can categorize what sort of shoes we should be looking at. But, before we rush into the sports store, ready to pick the first “nice-looking shoe”, let's give you some ammunition in order to understand the sales jargon, not feel intimidated, and hopefully make an informed purchase.
On this note, if you haven’t read the first in the Running Series articles, please go back and have a read through the RUNseries 1# The differences between Men’s & Women’s Shoes before continuing.
DOES THE SHOE FIT?
For this vital part of the shoe buying, I highly suggest that you:
Decide whether you want to run in a thick vs thin running sock (and yes, it needs to be a fitted running sock to avoid chafe and blisters!). If you do already have a pair, bring them with to try the shoes on or purchase a pair in store;
Secondly, fit the shoe in the afternoon. Our feet tend to swell a bit the longer we have been up and about. Fitting a shoe in the afternoon will give you a better idea of size. When running, our feet tend to swell slightly. Running in a shoe that is too small can contribute to blisters, black toe nails or even worse, numb toes or feet.
If you do have access to a specialist run footwear shop in your neighbourhood, chat to a knowledgeable salesperson there to find your perfect fit. A great store will do an assessment of your run style (forefoot/midfoot/heel strike, neutral vs stability) and suggest options of shoes which suit your goal and budget. Once we have a shortlist of options of shoes, it finally comes down to fit. Does the shoe feel comfortable?
Important Points to be aware of when running shoe hunting:
A well fitted running shoe (taking neutral/stability out of the equation), will wrap nicely around the foot. There should not be areas of where your foot or toes or bulging outwards against the material or overflowing on the sides, ready to escape. If this is the case, the shoe would be deemed too narrow for you.
When the foot is laced in, can you easily move the forefoot side-to-side? With your fingers, can you easily pinch up the material above the forefoot? This is a sign of a shoe that is too wide for you.
When standing, there should be a full thumb’s gap between the front of your big toe and the front of the shoe. This will result in you looking at a shoe which is up to 1-2x sizes up from your street shoe size. Do not fear, this is correct!
Test the gap measurement on both left and right feet in standing, as there can be a discrepancy in foot size. If this does exist, go for the size that gives a the correct gap on the bigger foot. It may feel that you are trying on flippers instead of running shoes, but remember the cage of the shoe (the lacing system) is designed to hold the foot in position without allowing your foot to slip forwards. The gap in front of the toe is to allow some swelling of the feet to occur as well as when you are running downhill, that your toes do not hit the front of the shoe which is a common cause of black toenails and/or toenails falling off.
NB: If the shoe that you are looking at does not have a lacing system, it is designed to be more of a lifestyle shoe and I would not recommend you run in them.
3. HEEL GRIP
In standing with the shoe laced up, does the back of the shoe wrap around and gently hug the heel? Or is there a gap which allows you to move the heel sideways within the shoe? Too much space and ultimately movement of the heel within the shoe can translate up the leg to possibly cause injury at the knee/hip/lower back. (Please see differences in heel shape of men’s and women’s shoes here).
4. NEUTRAL vs STABILITY
There is an ongoing debate of when to put someone into a stability (aka anti-pronation) shoe. When working with my runners I always ask them to bring their current running shoes along in order for me to do an assessment of their current wear pattern. This is taken into account along with the type of shoe, mileage already run, age of shoe, their strength and ability, and any previous injuries that they currently or previously have had. Only once I have assessed all of the above plus an actual physical assessment of the runner, would I suggest neutral vs stability.
I have come across those who were suggested to run in a particular shoe that may have unfortunately contributed to their injury. A costly exercise one would want to avoid. If you’re unsure, visit your running-friendly physio to assist. Don’t be shy to ask whether they have experience in running shoe guidance or if they can refer you to someone who does.
After taking all of the above into consideration, and narrowing it down to probably 1-2 pairs, do you focus on comfort. How does it feel? Pick the one that feels good as you're going to be spending a lot of time in them. Only after this, can you choose colour if there is an option of that shoe model! 😉
If you'd like some guidance on running and a shoe assessment, book a physio appointment for us to go through in detail the above points, strength, and ability. Bring your old running shoes along with you.
Remember no dream is considered too small. Let's help you get there!
Stay tuned for #4 in the RUNSeries: Lacing techniques