If the shoe fits

Woman running against blue sky

Running may seem as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, only slightly quicker than walking. However, there is a lot more to it than that. Apart from the technique due care and attention should be given to choosing the correct footwear – running shoes.

So, the first step to enjoyable running is to work out your foot ‘type’. Doing this will give you indications of how your foot moves when running and guide you toward the correct running shoe.

When running, the foot does not just move forward from heel to toe, you also land on the outside edge of your foot and roll inward. This entirely normal inward rolling is called pronation. For most runners, the pronation stops at a healthy point. However, some runners roll inward too much. This excessive inward rolling is called overpronation. As with all human activity very few people behave as the text book would have it. To help distinguish what your foot does we can put feet into three broad categories. To see which category your foot falls into try the wet foot test by placing wet feet on to a dry floor or other hard surface.

The Normal Foot

Normal feet have a raised arch and will leave a wet footprint that shows the forefoot and heel connected by a broad band. A normal foot lands on the outside of the heel and rolls inwards. This action acts as a natural shock absorber for body.

The Flat Foot

This has a low arch and leaves a print which looks like the whole sole of the foot. It usually indicates an overpronating foot.

The High-Arched Foot

This leaves a print showing a very narrow band or no band at all between the forefoot and the heel. A curved, highly arched foot is generally supinated. Because it doesn’t pronate enough, it does not fulfil the role of a shock absorber.

There are more scientific methods to establish foot movement while running of which video analysis and foot movement pressure pads are available through specialist running stores.

Having established which foot type you are, the next step is to match the correct shoe to your foot. There is a broad variety of running shoes on the market but in essence they can be condensed into three categories – one for each foot type.

Matching Foot Types to Shoes

For the Normal Foot, a stability shoe that offers mild motion control and cushioning should be the choice. The stability shoe has elements of all types of running shoes in them. Some rigidity is required but not too much so normal pronation is allowed. Some cushioning is required to absorb the shock. These elements will help prevent injuries that the wrong footwear can cause. For this reason stability running shoes are essential.

A Flat Foot requires a motion control shoe. This type of shoe helps a runner with this foot type as the shoe is more rigid and prevents the excessive rotation. It does this by having a medial post in the sole, a slightly wider sole and be slightly bulkier to prevent the excessive rotation. The running action is not affected but you may notice less pain and strain in the feet after the run and will see fewer injuries in the long term. For this reason motion control running shoes for this foot type are essential.

For the High Arched Foot a cushioned shoe will be the order of the day. The lack of rotation creates allot of shock on the joints. The cushioned running shoe will absorb this shock. The shoe will be flexible and allow more natural pronation as it contains no devices like medial posts found in other shoes to prevent rotation. Runners with this foot type will find they get shin and knee problems allot more than other runners due to the lack of shock absorption their foot type causes. For this reason cushioned running shoes are essential.

There are two other types of running shoe that fill the shelves of the running store.  Racing shoes are designed for, as the name suggests, racing. Like most racing technologies these shoes are stripped down versions of their training cousins and are designed to offer some shock absorption but also to be as light as possible.

Trail shoes are becoming much more widely available as more and more runners are discovering the delights and benefits of running off road. The trail running shoe will not general offer any extra stability features but some will be built low-to-the-ground for added stability on rough trails. The trail shoe will have a more rugged out sole for better grip and will provide enough cushioning for running on harder ground.

Running Shoe – Jargon Buster

If you’re now ready to buy a pair of running shoes then here are the main terms you will hear banded about by those in the trade.

Outer sole
This is the part that is visible on the bottom of the shoe that makes contact with the ground. It should offer plenty of traction and be hard enough so that it doesn't wear out, yet flexible enough to bend upon modest effort with your hands.

This sits between the outer sole and the ‘last’, often made of foams or polyurethane. It should be made of materials that can cushion the foot and be supportive enough to maintain the foot in proper position. The midsole houses the varying cushioning systems patented by manufacturers e.g. Nike Air, Asics Gel, Saucony Grid etc.

In addition to the cushioning systems, the mid sole can also be the home to extra stability devices. These devices made of harder material than the mid sole are placed on the medial side of the shoe near to the arch of the foot. Their purpose is to give extra control to the over pronating foot.

This is the bed inside the shoe on which your foot rests. It should be soft yet supportive, and should fit the contours of your foot.

This is the shape of all three parts of the sole from heel to toe - straight or curved. For most recreational runners the straight last is the on to look for unless your feet naturally curve inward in which case, curve-lasted shoes would be the preference. Straight lasting adds a little bit of stiffness to the shoe which helps provide support and control.

Heel Counter
This is the cupped device that wraps around the heel. It protects the heel from impact of the foot strike and holds it in place, A firm, protective heel counter should be made of hard plastic or similar rigid material. The heel counter should yield only slightly to the, pressure of your fingers and thumb. It should not be so rigid that it prevents your heel from moving or causes pain when you run.

Toe Box
This should be roomy enough to allow your toes to wriggle around, and protect the front part of your foot from trauma without squeezing in either on top or from the This means you need a right size model that is right shape for your foot type. Be prepared for the size of a running shoe to be bigger than your work or casual shoes. Extra room is needed at the front of the running shoe to avoid toe injuries.

This is the construction of the shoe above the sole. It should be made of the material that is durable and strong yet lightweight. Commonly, this is made of nylon, leather-composite or other synthetics. Look for double-stitching and a strong seal between the upper and the sole.

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