The expert’s guide to picking running shoes
Getting the right pair of runners isn’t as simple as just picking your favourite colour. If you’ve ever tried running in a pair of shoes that didn’t suit your foot then no doubt you experienced plenty of pain, possibly some cramping and a great deal of frustration (running shoes aren’t exactly cheap!) To make your next purchase a bit simpler, not one but two of Sydney’s leading podiatrists gave us their insider’s tips on how to go about picking your perfect pair.
What are the main characteristics we should be considering in our perfect running shoe?
Karl: This depends on your foot type and how your feet function. Generally, you will want some cushioning inside the shoe – to assist with shock absorption (especially while road running and if you are a “thumper’). The perfect mid sole for you will either remain fairly neutral and not so heavy if your feet don’t pronate so much, or will have heavier, more dense material under the arch / inner heel area, if you do pronate.
A nice 10-15mm heel drop is beneficial as the minimal shoes without a heel drop can “work your feet harder” and can cause injuries such as plantar fasciitis and achilles tendinosis, if your feet don’t suit these kinds of shoes.
Tom: Something that when you first put on, you feel is an extension of your foot – light, flexible and the sensation of working with your natural movement pattern – usually, this is simply felt as a sensation of supreme comfort.
What we should be looking for based on distance, running style and previous injuries?
Tom: Look for a shoe that has similar characteristics to what has worked in the past. It’s also a good idea to visit a running shoe specialty retailer to get experienced staff that are passionate about running (and running shoes) to help direct you in the right category of shoe. In many cases, they will encourage you to run in the shoe on a treadmill in-store or out on the footpath to get a real feel of how the shoe performs while you run. Never buy a running shoe without actually running in it first! Try to avoid buying online unless it’s the exact model you have worn previously and know works well for you!
Does it come down to personal preference or is there a certain amount of firmness better suited to long or short distances?
Tom: For most, it comes down to personal preference. However, the longer you go, or the harder the surface you run on (e.g. concrete), a softer or thicker midsole cushioning should be considered. I’m also a big advocate for variety – distance running is a very repetitive activity that leads to a high rate of overuse injuries, so if you can have two pairs of running shoes on rotation with slightly different characteristics (like the level of cushioning) you may help prevent overloading the same areas.
If we experience tight or sore calves, is there a shoe that can sort this out?
Karl: Yes, if you have tight calves then you should avoid the minimal shoes! The regular heel drop in a typical road running shoe will lift your heel closer to the calf muscles and hence reduce the strain. In the minimal shoes, as your heel sits lower to the ground, the calves have to work harder to lift the back of your foot off the floor.
Tom: Look at the drop* of your shoe (a simple Google search of your shoe model and the word ‘drop’ will usually provide you with the info you need), if you’ve been wearing a lower drop shoe (e.g. 2-6mm) you may want to see if a 8-12mm drop shoe helps.
*’Drop’ is the difference in heel height vs forefoot height of the shoe midsole.
How do we avoid arch cramps?
Karl: Arch cramps are common in the higher arched foot if the patient has insufficient support. Most liners that come with a running shoe have a soft material (offering cushioning but not support) that is shaped to suit the “average foot / average arch height”. The foot type with a higher than average arch would benefit from customised orthotics that are made to measure and offer better support. This reduces stress / fatigue on these plantar muscles which can reduce cramps.
Tom: Arch cramps are usually from muscle fatigue, not dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. I would recommend more cushioning, support or a higher drop running shoe if arch cramps have been an issue during or after running.
How much room do we need at the front of the shoe?
Karl: As a general rule, a centimetre is good. When running , your foot will extend slightly so you dont want the toes to jam against the end of the shoe – especially when running down hill.