What shoes should I choose?
A few people have asked me recently what shoes I run in and how I choose them. The approach of marathon
season is the classic time where people pick up niggles or find current shoes need replacing, as mileage increases
and legs become tired.
So I thought I’d share my thoughts. It amused me a couple of weeks ago to see that a runner ran a 100 mile race
across a frozen Mongolian Lake In a pair of Brogues, because his bag, containing his running shoes, was lost on the flight out to the race! Not something I’d advise – but it does demonstrate a point – that sometimes I think we can over think what’s on our feet, at the end of the day its strength work and hard training that gets results. But shoes have their part to play for sure.
It’s really important that you choose the right shoes for the right job and that you change them frequently enough. When I started running many years ago, there was really no choice of shoe – Green Flash and Hi-tec were pretty much the only choices! Now days there are SO many brands, colours and types, with an entire lingo to go with them, that for experienced and novice runners alike it can be quite overwhelming. Minimalist, support, racing flat, trail, heel toe drop, toe box, cushioning, tread, road shoes, trail shoes – are just a few of the words you’ll hear banded about when you investigate the world of running shoes.
So – a few tips I give my running clients:
1. What do you need your shoes for? Are you predominantly a road runner or trail runner? If trail, are the trails muddy or firm? This will affect the tread on the shoe – a bit like mountain bike tyres, the muddier the trails, the more tread you need. However, shoes with lots of tread are not usually very supportive or cushioned and therefore are not good for long distances on road or compact trails.
2. Minimalist shoes (flat) or more structured? The heel toe drop of a shoe is the height difference, in mm, between the heel and the toe. Traditionally this was around 12mm. In recent years, minimalist running took off, and people tried to run in shoes of 4mm or less drop. Without a period of adjustment this caused achillies and calf issues in many users. If you have never run in flat shoes before I’d always advise starting at a half-way house of about 8mm drop.
3. Support – pronation (when your arches collapse causing your ankle to roll in) is a common finding in runners. Support shoes are usually recommended to ‘pronators. However before leaping into a super supportive shoe do take time to consider a few things. All runners pronate to an extent, this is how the mechanics of the foot work to roll through the stride and culminate in a push off the big toe. More often than not, excess pronation is caused by weak hips (glutes) allowing the upper leg, followed by knee and then ankle, to roll in. In these cases preventative strengthening exercises will work more effectively than a support shoe. I used to wear both orthotics and support shoes, but after working on glute strength and balance exercises, am now able to run in a neutral shoe.
Sometimes the instability comes from the ankle and in these cases a support shoe might be helpful. A good running shop should be able to help you with the difference. But either way – glute exercises are essential to injury prevention and all my clients have a ‘pre hab’ programme to run alongside their training programme.
4. Wear new shoes in – new shoes need to be worn in; walk in them initially then do some shorter runs, rotating with you current shoes. Never ever run your goal race or a long run in a brand new shoe. The temptation to wear brand new shoes for a race, in the hope they will magically propel one along to a personal best is sadly rarely the case. It is apt to end in blisters and injury! Please learn by my experience of the hard way and not your own!
5. Never assume the same model stays the same – manufacturers have a nasty habit of making tweaks and changes to their shoes, even when the name is the same. Sometimes the changes are merely cosmetic, but more often than I’d like, there are structural changes that can have a more significant impact. Materials can change, making a shoe more or less cushioned, lacing can change, the width, the heel toe drop etc etc. So this is a good reason not to buy on line and to go to a specialist shop for your replacement. Another thing to be avoided is buying old models of the same shoe or stocking up on several pairs. Materials can change and perish over time, so cheaper on line shoes are definitely not always a good choice.
6. Go to a specialist running store – a good running shop will ask you the questions above and thus help you narrow down a selection of shoes relevant to your requirement. They should then watch you run to gauge how the shoes impact your running; it is also a chance for you to feel how comfortable they are for you. I always prefer the trial run to be on a pavement rather than a treadmill, peoples running gait can be quite altered on a treadmill.
My go to shop is Run and Become.
I have been going to the London branch (near Victoria station) for my shoes since 2001. They also have stores in Edinburgh and Cardiff. The staff are incredibly well trained; their knowledge across brands, about shoes for different terrains and different distances is second to none. They give you as much 1:1 time as you need to choose the right shoe and don’t mind how many pairs they have to get out and put away again, to ensure you get the right pair for you. On several occasions I’ve been surrounded by up to 10 different boxes, trying to decide with them which are the best for me, and they only ever see the funny side. They always watch you run up and down the pavement and give invaluable insight. I 100% recommend them – and I'm not on commission or anything like that!!!!!
I hope this has been helpful, do message me if you have any questions.