7 Things You Need To Look At When Buying A New Pair Of Running Shoes
It was a pair of shoes that first got me into running. My philosophy had always been that I would only run if I was being chased. But, then, my only experience of running was in cheap tekkies that I also wore to gym and with jeans. For like, five years. At least.
Now this would get me running…
And then I slipped my freakishly-narrow little feet into a pair of actual running shoes, engineered for the sport. And for the first time in my life, I ran four kays! Just sommer. Without stopping. How? Because my knees didn’t hurt, my feet didn’t feel heavy and I had a spring in my step that made me want to keep going. It was in that moment that I discovered the profound difference that proper gear can make to a workout. For me, it was the OG adidas Boost that got me from not running at all to running 10-kays semi regularly and calling it fun. For you, it might be a different brand. But whatever the logo, here’s what you need to look out for.
So much choice…!
1/ The Heel
If you’re buying workout shoes (say, for a HIT class or weight lifting) you want a flat sole for maximum stability. Running shoes, though, may have a slightly built-up heel that will be described as a “heel drop”. In general, you want a broad heel with a drop of no more than 4cm for stability. If you struggle with pain in your achilles tendon after running, opt for a bigger heel drop for cushioning. If your ankles often roll, opt for a lower heel drop and look for a heel counter – a rigid, durable “cage” around the heel that adds stability. This could be made from plastic, rubber or fabric, but not all running shoes have it.
2/ The Outsole
This is the part of the shoe that makes contact with the ground. It needs to be durable and grippy. You’re probably going to be running in all kinds of weather conditions on surfaces that will vary from a treadmill to tarmac to, potentially, grass and sandy patches. Look for grippy rubber and bumps or grooves. If your running ground is less varied, bumpy soles usually work better on grass or dirt, while wavy soles tend to be better for road surfaces.
3/ The Midsole
This is the most important part of a running shoe. It’s the spongy bit above the outsole and it’s what cushions your foot, absorbs shock and prevents excessive foot motion. It’s also where different brands get most innovative with tech – the signature adidas Boost™ foam, the asics GEL™ and FlyteFoam™ tech and Puma’s IGNITE foam are all midsole innovations. And depending on the midsole, a shoe could be more or less bouncy, cushioned or give you more energy return for every foot strike – that means the shoe propels you forward when your foot hits the ground. If you’re a sprinter, you’re looking for that propulsion in the forefoot area. Otherwise, the mid-foot is generally where you want it.
4/ The Upper
This is the part that goes over the top of your foot. Your feet swell when you run, so you usually want your running shoes to be at least half a size bigger than normal, but some people may even opt for a full size bigger. Also make sure there’s enough wiggle room for your foot to flex. While a rigid upper can increase stability, if your foot can’t flex naturally, you could end up cramping. Ventilation (often in the form of tiny holes or breathable fabric) will prevent your feet from getting too hot and sweaty. There should also be a padded tongue to cushion your foot against lace pressure.
Don’t be afraid to pick the shoe up and bend it. The less it flexes, the higher the workload on your foot, so if it’s pliable up and down, that’s a good thing. What you don’t want is for it to twist sideways. While we’re at it, a lighter shoe is also going to mean less work for your foot and an easier run for you.
6/ The Inside
The lining should be smooth and seamless. Look for any hard, rigid bits on the outside that might cut through to the inside and dig into your foot. Also important: Moisture-wicking, breathable fabric. Look for these words on the packaging. Finally, make sure the bottom is cushioned, not hard, to absorb pressure as your foot hits the ground.
7/ Your Feet
Ultimately, there’s no one best running shoe out there – you need to find the one that’s best suited to your feet. If you have flat feet, there’s a good chance your feet roll inwards (over-pronate), causing knee and hip pain. Look for words like “stability” and “motion control” on the packaging. You may also need to get orthotic inserts, custom-designed for you by a podiatrist. In that case, make sure there’s enough space in your shoe to fit the insert. If you have high-arched feet, you may find your feet roll outwards. Look for flexible shoes with a soft midsole that absorbs shock – words like “flexible” and “cushioned” are your key. And be sure to get your feet measured when you get new running shoes – if you run regularly, your arches can drop over time, making your feet longer. Finally, if the store has a treadmill – and many do – don’t be shy to hop on and take the shoes for a spin.
One last tip: Make friends with the sales assistant. The running shoes you end up buying can have a major impact on your performance…