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The Importance of Running Shoes

Posted Jun 13 2011 9:54am

Remember when we were a child and you would use the same pair of shoes for whatever we did?  Over the years we have added a few (or maybe “a lot” if you are a shoe lover like I am) new additions in our shoe rack, a couple of casual ones and few dressier type of shoes.  Unfortunately, many of us use these “casual” shoes for our exercises as well.  They seem to be harmless and very capable of completing the task of running 4 or 15 miles, of course, until you’ve done it!  You are hurt.  Many running injuries are a result of poorly fitting, or old and worn-out shoes.  Why wait for these painful experiences to invest a little time and extra cash on buying a pair of running shoes that is the right fit for you?

For runners, running shoes should be considered one of the most important piece of equipment.  The right running shoe can not only improve your performance but it  helps you to stay comfortable while running and  avoid injuries.  Wearing the wrong running shoes can cause plantar fasciitis, shin splints, fallen arches and a lot of other painful conditions. Wearing those shoes you bought half off that only  scrunch your feet a little just isn’t worth the risk to your health.  You want them to feel good. No pinching of the toes, rubbing of the heel or painful arch should be tolerated. For the love of your feet, buy shoes that fit well.  You’ll be a much  happier runner!

So now that you realized the importance of good running shoes, you are wondering how to pick out a good pair of running shoes that will serve you.  My recommendation for you is to go straight to the experts at a running specialty store. Plan on spending some time there because the salesperson should ask you many questions and have several running shoe options for you to try out.

There are few things you should know when buying running shoes.

  • First thing you should consider is how often you will need a new pair of running shoes.  Some runners will wear out a pair of running shoes more or less than other given the same amount of running depending on factors such a their weight, and how hard they strike the ground while running.  However, a general rule of thumb is to replace running shoes every 300-500 miles.  Runners can usually tell when they are in need of a new pair of running shoes but I would recommend to keep track of the miles you’ve run with a running log journal, with an iPod Nano and the Nike + iPod Sports Kit or with a Garmin Forerunner.  The last two collect all your data of the distance you’ve run and the pace at which you’re running so you can upload and store all your workouts to the NikePlus.com  and  Garmin Connect  website.  In that way is easier to determine when a new pair of running shoes is needed instead of basing the judgment on how the shoes feel or look.
  • Go to a shoe store specializing in the sale of running shoes and get fitted.  In the Boston area the most popular among runners is Marathon Sports  with his five different locations.  But there are also some other  really good alternatives like Boston Running Company on Charles Street and the Bill Rodgers Running Center .  All three companies are excellent at fitting running shoes.  The staff at these stores is usually very knowledgeable and can examine your running style to determine which type of runner you are making recommendations for a few different running shoes which might be ideal for you. This will provide a good starting point for you, but you will still have to try on a number of different shoes to determine which one is the most comfortable. When trying on running shoes to determine the comfort it is important to run in the shoes.  Marathon Sports allows you to take the shoes outside and run around for a little bit to get a more accurate feel of how the shoes perform when you are in action. This gives a much better idea of the performance of the shoe than simply walking around the store.  Most of the stores have machines to test the shape of your foot as well as to determine your biomechanics and gait.

Your foot shape

When you get fitted for a new pair of running shoes, the expert will help you evaluate the arch of your foot, of which there are three main types:

  1. Flat-footed -  Has low arches and feet that tend to strikes on the outside of the heel and roll inward  excessively as you run or walk.  Thew feet have a probability towards overpronation.  It is normally recommended to use motion-control or shoes that offers more stability reducing the degree of pronation.
  2. High arches - A curved, high-arched foot is generally a supinated or underpronated foot.  High arches often cause the feet to roll outward when running or walking, this means that the arch doesn’t collapse enough to absorb the shock.   Cushioned shoes with plenty of flexibility to encourage foot motion and help absorb shock more effectively are recommended. Stay away from motion-control or stability shoes that reduce foot mobility. Foot will leave an imprint with a very narrow showing between the forefoot and heel. ,
  3. Normal - After heel strike, this foot type will pronate or roll inward slightly to absorb shock. This is the most common foot type and most shoes are made to fit these types.

You can also determine your foot shape looking at the foot imprint when you step out of the bath.  Place your feet in a basin of water and the step onto a flat and dry surface. The following should appear :

  1. The Flat Foot will leave an imprint of almost the entire bottom of the foot, it’ll look like the whole sole of the foot.
  2. The High-Arched Foot will leave an imprint of the heel and the forefoot connected by only a thin band.
  3. The  Normal Foot leaves an imprint of the heel and the forefoot connected by a wide band.

Additionally, there are three different types of pronation. Pronation, the way that your foot moves after striking the ground (often with the heel and ankle rolling inward for balance) is a normal movement.

Overpronation occurs when the foot rolls excessively inward, which can lead to muscle strains in both your legs and feet.  Common among runner with flat feet. Look for “stability” or “motion control” shoes, which are less flexible, have a thicker heel and help decrease excessive pronation.

Supination (under-pronation) describes feet that roll outward when running.  Common among runner with high arches.  Look for shoes with extra cushioning to help absorb the added impact on your foot strikes.

Normal pronation is most common, where the foot pronates normally, but not excessively.  The foot lands on the heel, then rolls inward (pronates) slightly to absorb shock. Runners with a normal foot and normal weight are usually considered biochemically efficient and don’t require motion-control shoes.  Look for stability shoes, which are more flexible than motion control shoes but still have good support.

Your Foot Strike

A foot strike is a term referring to a person’s running technique/style and it identifies which part of the foot first hits the ground when running.  Some runners hit the ground with the heel, some with the midfoot, and others with the toe.  Here is the difference:

  • HEEL STRIKES - This is the most common foot strike among runners. A runner has a heel strike if the part of the foot that first touches the ground upon landing is the heel. It is believed to produce slower speed for running, which makes it inefficient for runners on a running competition. Some people even say that running first on a heel causes higher risk for knee injury. However, it has better shock absorption compared to the other two types.
  • FOREFOOT STRIKES - The forefoot strike occurs when runner’s land on the ground with their toes first.  As opposed to the first foot strike, this is the least common foot strike among runner.  However, it seems to increase the speed of the runners, and it is often seen in sprinters who need to run at an extremely high speed. Although there is lesser stress on the knees and ankles, it causes some risk of lower leg injury.
  • MIDFOOT STRIKES - This is the most efficient form for running.  Here runners hit the ground with the middle of their foot. It has better shock-absorbing capacity, which reduces stress on the muscles of the legs.  The impact is equally distributed throughout the body.

Few more things to know before you go out there buying a pair of running shoes:

  •  Go for your shoe fitting near the end of the day.  You will be able to get the best fit because your feet will be slightly swollen.
  • Make sure your toes have space.  The general rule is the “rule of thumb.” There should be about the same amount of space as the width of your thumb between the tip of your longest toe and the end of your shoe.
  •  There should not be any kind of “breaking in” period.  Your shoes should feel good from the moment you put them on.  If not,  don’t buy them.

We have now covered the main things you need to know when buying running shoes.  Now comes the fun part, shopping! Enjoy it=)

PS: Thank you Amanda for raising the question!


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