How to Choose the Right Running Shoe
Learning to choose the right running shoe is important for your running health. Running shoes are arguably the most important purchase a runner can make, yet most runners are completely unaware of the many types of options available. In fact, one of the most common reasons that runners become injured is because of improper or ill-fitting running shoes. With the vast array of running shoe types available there is certainly a proper shoe for every runner; the trick is knowing what to look for.
Anatomy of a Running Shoe
A running shoe is just a tennis shoe with fancier colors and more cushioning, right? WRONG! Running shoes are amazingly engineered and have a number of components that have been developed since the first Waffle shoe was developed in 1971.
This portion of the shoe is the very outer layer of the sole and is responsible for traction on the pavement or trail.
The layer immediately above the outsole is the midsole, which contains all the cushioning and motion control. When comparing two shoes, the majority of differences among brands and models will appear in this portion.
The upper is the portion of the shoe that keeps your foot contained, including the tongue, laces, and material attached to the midsole and outer.
Common Injuries from Wearing the Wrong Shoe
When the improper shoe is worn, cushioning and support are quickly degraded. Overuse injuries then become more likely, and the shoe may even change a person’s natural stride. Tendonitis, blisters, stress reactions, stress fractures, shin splints, misalignment in the hips, and IT band issues can all stem from wearing the wrong shoe.
A big mistake that runners of all abilities make is feeling they must strictly adhere to a certain shoe size. Typically, runners should add a half or full size to their running shoes compared to what they would normally wear for casual sneakers. Not only do feet jostle around during runs (thus making a pair of shoes that fit “just right” feel too small), but feet also swell considerably due to increased blood flow. Some podiatrists even recommend having a pair of shoes that are a half size larger than regular running shoes to be used only for long runs. When trying on shoes, experiment with multiple sizes to find the best fit.
Types of Running Shoes
There are almost as many types of running shoes as there are running shoe brands, which can exacerbate the proper shoe finding process. You need to know the different types to be able to choose the right running shoe.
This is the most common type of running shoe and is intended for a person who is not prone to injury and has a neutral foot strike (meaning that he or she does not land on the inside or outside of the foot).
A motion control shoe corrects for anyone who pronates (lands on the inside of the foot) or supinates (lands on the outside). The midsole of the shoe contains stability control that forces the foot into a neutral position to relieve the strain that is caused by additional movement.
Some shoes offer extra cushioning over traditional neutral or motion control models which may benefit runners who are prone to certain injuries such as stress fractures or shin splints.
A minimal shoe seeks to replicate the conditions of running barefoot. This type of shoe will have less cushioning and a lower heel to toe drop (meaning the offset between toe and heel). The shoes will be manufactured in such a way that midfoot strike, rather than heel strike, will be encouraged.
In many ways the answer to minimalist shoes, a maximal shoe offers a greater amount of cushioning and support, while still providing a more “natural” ride that discourages heel striking.
Not to be confused with minimalism, a lightweight shoe is often a neutral or motion control shoe with less cushioning or made from lighter materials.
Trail shoes have more support and stability control that is necessary when running technical trails that have tree roots, rocks, and other elements that increase the risk of twisted ankles.
Running Shoe Brands
It can be difficult to choose the right running shoe with all of the running shoe companies that exist. Each one is as diverse as the types of people you meet at a party. Every brand caters to a unique audience, guaranteeing that the needs of all runners are met. While the following is not an exhaustive list, it does cover most of the popular brands that are available.
The original running shoe, Nike tends to be best for runners that have a neutral foot strike and are not injury prone. They also arguably sparked the minimalism movement with the Nike Free, which is still available. Popular models are the Pegasus and Lunar lines, and they are known for their highly fluorescent varieties.
Adidas’ new Boost technology has made the running community question the importance of cushioning in a shoe, and has also led multiple companies to follow suit with their own ultra soft and cushioned footwear. Common shoes include the Adios (a racing flat that many recent road race record holders have worn), Response, Supernova, and Boston. Adidas also has a number of motion control shoes that enable pronators and supinators to have a more stable run.
An often overlooked brand that produces high-quality, reputable shoes, Saucony tends to be best for people seeking a wide toe box, yet a narrow fit in the mid-foot. The most popular model is the Kinvara, which is lightweight with a 4 mm heel to toe drop. At $100, this shoe is priced on the lower end of the spectrum. Other Saucony models include the Fast Twitch and the Invictus, but runners should beware that this brand tends to run small.
Brooks consistently produces highly-rated shoes year in and year out, especially with their Ghost, Glycerin, Ariel, and Ravenna models. In 2015, Brooks was awarded first place in a German study of ethically manufactured shoes, beating out Adidas and Reebok, which tied for second. This American company is renowned for its support of the sport, as well as its high-quality product.
A Boston-based company, New Balance is one of few companies that has manufacturing facilities in the United States, which is why these shoes tend to be pricier than those of the competitors. Similar to Adidas’ Boost technology, New Balance has Fresh Foam, which is a soft cushioned material that provides additional comfort and support during runs. A perhaps confusing feature of New Balance is that their shoes are listed by number, instead of by name. A shoe that ends in 40 (such as the 840) has medical-grade motion control; one that ends in 50 is for light running; 60 is for stability; 70 light stability; 80 is for the neutral runner; 90 is for speed workouts; while 00 is for competition.
While most running shoes are beginning to offer wider options, Mizuno is one shoe that tends to run narrow, which may be ideal for some runners. The company, which is based in Osaka, Japan, is one of the oldest sporting goods companies on this list, celebrating its 110th anniversary in 2016. Popular shoes from this brand include the Wave and the Nexus.
A relative newcomer to the shoe scene, Newton Running is based in Boulder, CO and produces a different type of shoe than the traditional brands. These shoes are engineered to be reactive, with a low heel to toe drop designed to mimic barefoot running, yet still containing superior cushioning. Beginning runners should be warned that minimalist shoes can be difficult to adjust to, and often leave calves feeling sore and tired.
Asics, the second Japanese brand on this list, is best known for its gel technology in the midsole. The brand top selling model is the GT-1000, which has hardly changed over the years, unlike other brands which continually update shoe models each season, much to the chagrin of some runners. For reliability of a good neutral shoe, Asics is a great brand to look into.
Although perhaps more well known for basketball shoes than running shoes, Reebok has a wide selection of running shoes, including numerous trail options. Reebok also sponsors a competitive elite team, ZAP Fitness. Although still not as popular for running as other brands, the comfort of these shoes are highly rated.
Hoka One One
Another newcomer to the running scene, Hoka One One has made big waves with their maximalist approach to running shoes. Primarily popular with ultramarathoners, trail runners, and marathoners, these ultra cushioned shoes provide unparalleled support over many other brands. Despite their maximal cushioning, Hoka One Ones are still considered lightweight, and have many other attributes of minimalist shoes, such as a low heel to toe drop. Professional runners such as Leo Manzano (’12 silver medalist in the 1500) and David Torrence (’15 Pan Am Games 5k competitor) are sponsored by the brand.
Primarily known for their soccer shoes, Puma also makes running shoes and are probably most well known in the running community for their track spikes. However, shoes such as the 100r, H-Street, and Faas are quality shoes, yet finding them in a local running store may prove difficult.
Another newcomer to running shoes, Under Armour has expanded its line of sportswear to include a surprising number of running shoes that can be found for a great value due to their relative newness to the running scene. Perhaps not as flashy as other brands, Under Armour shoes are still designed with performance in mind, and models such as the Slingshot are great for road racing. Another brand that is likely not found in many running stores, beginning runners may want to consider trying a few other shoe brands and determining what they like in a shoe (and whether they have a neutral stride) before committing to an online purchase.
Perhaps the most surprising new running shoe brand of the decade is Skechers. Their sponsorship of elite runners such as Olympians Kara Goucher and Meb Keflezighi has made the Skechers Go Run model especially popular. With recent additions to their line such as racing flats and track spikes, Skechers shoes are becoming increasingly popular and will likely become a more mainstream brand in the future.
Another new, niche brand to the running scene, On shoes have unique technology with rubber cushioning elements that give this shoe an exceptionally soft ride. The shoe is considered adaptive, and only provides cushioning when and where it is needed. This shoe is a one-size-fits-all in terms of motion and stability control, so the same model is ideal for neutral runners and pronators alike. Though still a growing company, these shoes are popular among those who try them.
In the past 10 years a number of small companies have shaken up the running scene and Altra is one of these brands. An experimental design made by elite runners in the back room of a shoe store, Altra is a great shoe for someone looking for a different type of toe box, one that provides toes with the ability to naturally spread out. They also have a zero drop, meaning the heel and toe sit at the same level, yet the heel is still cushioned. This zero drop feature improves the posture of runners and is lower impact than traditional shoes.
Another minimalist brand that promotes running “the way nature intended,” SKORA shoes encourage a midfoot plant, rather than a heel strike. Like Altra, this is also a zero drop shoe, and also has a wider forefoot for improved comfort in the toes. The rounded heel on the outsole promotes more response and movement.
This niche shoe brand is known for their high-quality trail shoes that are especially popular among ultramarathoners and trail racers. Although pricey, these shoes are the first to be manufactured specifically with the needs of runners who compete on highly technical trails in mind. Salomon shoes feature aggressive treads, which look more like soccer cleats than running shoes. For anyone prone to running rocky, rutted trails, these shoes are a necessity.
How do you choose the right running shoe? We would like to know. Leave your comments or join us on Facebook.
This is a guest post from Anna Weber. Anna Weber is an elite marathoner racing for women’s clothing apparel company Oiselle. In 2015 she opted to take a leave of absence from graduate school to focus solely on training. She competed in the Olympic Trials in February, placing 56th. To follow more of her story, visit www.gobigorgohome2016.tumblr.com