How to Choose running shoes – 3 Simple considerations

So, you want to know how choose a best running shoes? Of course, definition for “best” is different for everyone. But investing in one without taking any consideration is the first step to miserable running experience. Many beginners made a mistake by choosing the most comfortable shoes they can find. But the surface you choose to run on, type of runs you are involve in, your personal gait type and many other reason(s) can heavily affect your purchasing decision. Getting a right running shoes shouldn’t be hard, I’ve broken down all major consideration into 3 simple factors to take note of when you’re ready to invest in one (Brands isn’t one of them). Without further ado… Let’s dive in!

Hint: How should running shoes fit? To have an enjoyable run always, make sure that your running shoes are not tightly fitted, hurting your toes and also not too lose that there is movement between the shoes and your heel.

First: Where do you plan to run

There is no surprise that different surfaces need different types of running shoes. Do you run on the road? Or do you hit the trails with uneven surfaces? These factors play into what type of running shoes you’ll need.

Road Running

Road running shoes are the most common running shoes you see on runner’s feet. These shoes are usually light, cushioned and flexible.

Cushioning level can range from minimal to ultra cushioned. Shoes manufacturers design cushioned shoes to enhance shock absorption feature. It is helpful during each stride to minimise your risk of injury.  Usually, medium cushioned shoes are enough to give runners protection during each stride.

The range of shoes you can choose from for road running is plenty. Because road running only consists of flat surfaces, with minimum uneven trails.

Trail Running

If you prefer going through off-road routes like soft muddy trails, jungle with dirt paths. You’ll want a shoe with an aggressive tread pattern. It provides great traction to prevent you from slipping on uneven or wet surfaces.

These types of shoes have a harder and more durable upper to lock your feet in place when needed.

The main feature of this type of shoes is the level of grip they offer. Denser and harder rubber make up the outsole (or bottom) of these shoes. Many brands use carbon fibre to provide tread pattern. Mainly because of its durability against off-road terrain.

Midsoles for trail running shoes tend to be harder. Stiffer midsoles are designed to provide more support on rugged trails and muddy surfaces.

Treadmill Running

Consideration when choosing treadmill running shoes is almost similar with road running shoes. Treadmill is one of the most consistent and flat surfaces you can run on. Often without any irregularities. With an added cushion on the treadmill, you can choose a lesser cushion shoe if you prefer a lighter weight option.

Cross Training

Cross training shoes are designed for indoor activities like gym workout, cross training, or zumba. These shoes do not need a thick-cushion on the midsole, which makes it lighter. This also means that you’ll feel your feet are more in contact with the ground.

Second: Which Type of Running Are You Using Your Shoes For?

Casual Running

If you are like me, sometimes you get charged up, and go running 5 days a week, sometimes you go months without running at all.

Once in a while you can finish a mile under 6 minutes, and proceed by not looking at your running sneaker for 2 months. Sound familiar?  For people like us, the majority of running shoes can be our choice. The standard-to-extra cushion running shoes will get the job done for your daily runs. The last thing you need to do is spending extra cash on extra-thick cushion shoes or minimal shoes that don’t last that long.

Long-Distance Running

I met a lot of marathon runners and personal record(PR) chasers. One of the mistakes many of them don’t make is choosing the right sneaker. If you are looking at >30 miles a week, it’s essential to get extra cushioned running shoes. As mentioned, better cushioned shoes is better at absorbing shock.

Improper support can lead to long term damage to your knee and spine. Especially when you are repeatedly striking against the hard ground for long time. You’ll want to pay a lot more attention to what’s underneath your feet.

Stopping halfway due to any reason impacts your stamina and momentum . Other than comfortable shoes, pulling on an extra pair of athletic socks will add extra comfort to your running journey. Long distance runners often track their total running distance for each shoe using apps like Nike Run Club or Runkeeper. The lifespan of running shoes only has a range from 300-500miles. It’s advisable to replace your running shoes after 500 miles. This is to reduce the chance of injuries due to worn shoes.

Racing and Faster Running

If you are running for races, tempo runs, or other activities that require sprinting. Racing shoes is what you need. Racing shoes are generally lighter and less cushioned.

A lighter weight or performance running shoe is for you if you need to perform short run or sprinting. It’s worth noting that these minimal shoes tend to have shorter lifespan than road running shoes. If you’re doing both casual running and race running, a hybrid running shoe is a better choice. Hybrid shoes work well for both types of activities by providing balance between cushioning, weight, and grip.

How much cushioning do you need?

Fast RunningCasual RunningLong Distance Running
MinMediumMax
Light weight, Shorter LifespanNormal weight, lifespan depend on usageSlightly heavier, lifespan depend on usage

Third: Understand your gait type and support you need

Beginners are often overwhelmed by the terms shoes specialist used during gait analysis. Gait analysis helps specialists to decide which type of shoes is for you.

They test your striking pattern. It can be heel strike, forefoot strike or midfoot strike. More importantly, they identify which pronation type you’re in.

It can be overpronation, underpronation(aka supination), or neutral pronation. It might seem daunting at first, but not after you finish this running shoes guide. (#Note:There is nothing wrong with overpronation or underpronation. Majority of people have mild overpronation)

Your running gait is the way you’re moving on foot. Your gait is generally determined by your posture and how your foot interface with the ground. Gait analysis is what shoes store used to determine your gait type and give you professional advice on what type of shoes you need. You can get gait analysis at your local shoe store, or online (at a cost).

But if you are at home, there is a way to get your gait analysis at home, for free.

Wet Test

  1. Wet the bottom of your foot
  2. Step onto a piece of paper (preferably darker colour)
  3. Wait for 10 sec.
  4. Examine the footprint you leave behind
High archoverpronationNormal archNeutral pronationLow archUnderpronation
Arch TypeHigh ArchNormalFlat or Low
IndicationOverpronationNeutral PronationUnderpronation
Running ShoesStability, Motion control if severeNeutralCushioned

Official ASICS website provides a good explanation regarding this topic. 

Overpronation

Runners usually hit the ground with their heel, and push their toe off the ground when running.

For overpronation, the ankle continues to roll inward when the toes should start pushing off the ground to propel the body. So, the big and second toe do all the work to push the body forward. When the foot rolls inward or downward more than 15% , we’ll call in overpronation.

This condition often happens to runners with flat feet. Although not everyone who has flat feet overpronate. They are not running efficiently and their toe might be working a lot harder than it needs to. 

Overpronation can cause a certain part of the toe (big and second) to get injured easily. Especially if proper running shoes are not used. People with  severe overpronation also tend to have lesser stability when running.

If you are interested in this topic, verywellfit.com provides an detailed explanation on this topic.

  1. Stability Running Shoes – To slow down overpronation rate. Stability shoes have extra support added on the medial side. They’re designed to restrict too much motion from your ankle and foot.
  1. Motion Control Running Shoes(severe overpronation) – Few runners need motion control shoes. These shoes are designed to reduce the rolling action of your foot.  Thus helping to correct your gait cycle and provide additional shock absorption. Motion control shoes are usually the most rigid type of shoes. it is definitely not suitable for regular runners with neutral and underpronation. 

Supination (Underpronation)

When the foot rolls inward or downward less than 15% , we’ll call it supination. The foot does not pronate enough at the toe-off stage. This condition is usually experienced by runners who have high arches. As a result, the small toe area does all the work to push the body forward. If the correct running shoes weren’t chosen, runners might experience hip and knees pain (aka Iliotibial band syndrome)

Shoes suggestion for supination: Neutral running shoes. It comes with medium midsole cushioning. The shoes usually have enough supports for runners when small toe area strikes on the ground.

Neutral Pronation

Neutral pronation is when the foot rolls inward for around 15%. Which is perfectly normal for a regular runner. During running, the foot lands on the outside of the heel as usual. The pressure during push off for the toe area is evenly distributed. Arch type of this type of runner is neutral (We call them neutral runner), injuries due to toe striking on the ground are less likely compared to over and under pronation.

Shoes suggestion for neutral pronation: Neutral running shoes

Don’t ignore pain

Mistake a lot of runners make is disregarding the discomfort felt in the joint area after each runner, thinking it might be a short term pain. Recording and specifying the pains will help you to know more about pronation. Overpronation will usually cause pain in shins and knees.

Underpronation causes pain in your ankle, if you are not using the correct running shoes.

Running shoes Anatomy and Lingos

Know the language of running shoes, so you can speak with experts at local shoe stores without worry!

Shoes Anatomy

Running Shoe Upper

Everything above cushioning. Advice: Look for an upper that matches the shape of your foot. It should be smooth, fit and touches your foot with chafing. 

Running Shoe Midsole

Advice: Look for a midsole thickness that is suitable for your need. If you are running long distances, certain thickness makes your journey smoother. If you are running fast and short, seek out a thin midsole to reduce shoe weight.

Heel to Toe Drop (Running Shoes offset)

Heel to Toe Drop

The difference in height between your heel and ball of your foot when you wear the shoes. Advice: Look for a shoe that has a drop that feels right to you when the heel strikes the ground and toe pushes off.

Running Shoe Outsole

Running shoes Outsole

Advise: Choose a pair of shoes with aggressive tread if you are running on trails or muddy suface. Otherwise, most outsole in normal running shoes is good enough for daily usage.

Ankle Collar

Ankle Collar

The wrap at the back on the shoe that provides stability around the heel and ankle. Advice: Try the shoes on, observe how it interacts with your ankle, it should be well fit and not irritating to your ankle. Some people like stiffer collars while others may like softer one.

Heel Counter

A little plastic insert used to reinforce the heel cup. A good heel counter locks the foot in place.

Toebox

Shoes toe box

Upper part of your shoes that surround your toe. Advice: Look for shoes with toe boxes that allow your foot to spread out width without difficulties.

Stack Height – Term used to refer to the height between your foot and the ground when you are standing. Stack height of modern running shoes can range from maximal, which is extra-cushioned, to barefoot.

How to determine if you shoes is fit

Here are the few important things to do before your final buying decision.

Try them with socks

Try your running shoes with socks you wear for exercising. You can fine tune your fit with the thickness of your running socks.

Shoe length and Width

Push your foot forward until your toe touches the front end of the shoes. Slide your thumb right into the back of the shoes, your thumb should be able to enter the shoes without force.

Raise your heel

Hold your foot to the back of the shoes and raise your heel, your foot shouldn’t move or slide forward. If they do, try picking smaller size shoes.

Heel Fit

Try lifting your heel while pressing the toe area of your shoes. Your shoes should lift together with your heel. This is to make sure your heel is fitting right into the shoes to prevent excess chafing. Chafing can cause some blisters in the long run.

Try testing your shoes in the right time

Our feet tend to swell a bit throughout the day, and shrink when we are not using them as much at night. Trying your shoes(in the afternoon or evening) when your feet are in its largest possible size does provide a better fit.

Choose your Shoes Right

Hope you find this post helpful! Choosing a pair of good running shoes needs time and some research. Right shoes not only reduce the chances of injury, it tend to encourage you to stick with your habit for a long time. With these 3 factors in mind, you can narrow down your choice and make a better choice! 

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