Running shoes 101
Avoid shoe-related injuries and wasted money. Podiatrist Rick Osler explains how to choose the best running shoes for your needs.
Running is a high impact activity with a moderately high injury risk. Some reasons for this include starting a running program before your body is adequately conditioned, poor running techniques, running on hard, flat and repetitive surfaces,questionable foot posture for such a repetitive activity – and of course, the shoe you select.
The running shoe is a big part of what determines safe and successful running. Here are some guidelines to help you make the best decision when you shop for your next pair.
Before you shop
There are so many brands, all with a 'point of difference’ – much of which, of course, is just marketing spin. Remember, there is no single brand that is best for you. There will invariably be a model within every brand that will work for you. So where to start?
Do your homework by seeking out professional advice. This can come from being assessed by an experienced podiatrist specialising in sports medicine, or from an independent specialist retailer. Most specialist running shoe stores now provide free assessments in store. This has some advantages over a clinician, as they can assess how multiple shoes function while you run.
"Do your homework by seeking out professional advice. This can come from a podiatrist specialising in sports medicine, or from an independent, specialist retailer."
What questions should you ask?
When you choose a running shoe store, here are some things to find out:
1. What are the salesperson's credentials?
Are they a runner? Are they a podiatrist or podiatry trained? How long have they been assessing and fitting shoes? In stores where specialist advice can be hard to come by, pick the oldest person who has been fitting the longest first!
2. Do they stock most of the major brands?
Test the salesperson out for bias by asking, "What do you think the best shoe on the wall is?" This is a great question, as there is no answer for this.
3. Do they offer a guarantee if you’re not satisfied with purchase?
4. What are their thoughts on how much of a heel pitch you should have?
Heel pitch is the difference between the height of the heel to the forefoot, and it varies enormously these days. Traditionally, shoes have been at 12 mm. Now we are seeing a lot of shoes going from ‘zero drop’ to 4, 6, 8, 10 and still 12 mm. There is no right answer to this question – it depends upon your age, injury history and current shoe. Remember that any change will require some adaptation.
What information should you give them?
Once satisfied you are in the right place, you should tell the salesperson the following information:
• Your recent injury history (if any).
• Your current running shoes and how satisfied you have been with them. Take them into the store.
• What your plans are with running. Are you increasing your training for an event?
• What other purpose your shoe will have aside from running.
"A good sock will assist in keeping your skin dry and reducing friction – an important blister prevention strategy."
Common mistakes when purchasing shoes
• Picking on color, not comfort. Let’s face it, they are for exercise, not the stage.
• Choosing the most expensive out of two options as you perceive they must be better if they cost more. Not so.
• Selecting on brand only. You should always come down to two shoes that you are selecting from, as there will mostly be a model that suits in more than one brand. If you cannot decide, then let your color or brand bias (or price) take over.
• Letting a salesperson tell you that there is only one shoe for you. Always compare!
• Purchasing shoes without taking them for a run. Walking up and down the store will not suffice.
What about socks?
Are you a regular runner? A good sock will assist in keeping your skin dry and reducing friction – an important blister prevention strategy (though it won’t fix a blister from a poorly prescribed shoe).
Most technical socks have asymmetrical fitting (left and right), many have silver sewn into them (moisture assistance), and the materials are mostly designed to minimise ‘shear’ stress – the rubbing that produces blistering. Wear them for running only, expect to pay around $25, and they will last you for years.
How often should you buy new runners?
The lifespan of runners varies significantly depending on what you do in them. Generally, you should switch every 700 – 800 km. For runners who don’t measure their distance, a three or four-time a week runner is looking at around a 10-month lifespan. Keep an eye on your mid sole as this is what breaks down over time.