Finding the Correct Running Shoe for the Job!

Running Shoes

Choosing the right running shoe for the job! The Author’s personal shoe collection.

Running can be such sweet joy or agony if our feet are not in a happy place. Choosing the correct shoe for the type of running can be just as important as choosing the correct shoe for your particular physiology.

There are millions of opinions about shoes. Currently we are seeing a trend towards minimal shoes which don’t have much support or heel lift in them. There are those who believe that orthotics and super controlling shoes are the only way to go. I can’t give one answer that fits every runner and this post isn’t going to try and weigh in on that subject. What we are talking about here is choosing shoes that fit the type of running we plan to do.

Build a Collection
Every runner should have more than one pair of shoes. That number of pairs is up to the individual but it’s at least two pairs! This allows the shoe to dry out post run and recover it’s shape and smell better. the other factor is that no two shoes are identical. Even the same make and model varies from one to the other. This means that you are presenting different geometries to your feet to minimize repetitive stress injuries. It is remarkable how a degree here or there in terms of heel lift, or lateral angle can change how the muscles and tendons are worked. Since every part of our bodies are connected to our feet on the ground it’s apparent that slight differences in shoes can help make our running easier.

Trail, Road, Track
When you run it’s so important to have the correct footwear. Think of a Formula 1 driver trying to keep up in a 4 wheel drive off-road vehicle, or the F1 car trying to go off-road. Road shoes are for road, trail shoes are for trail. Track and shorter road races have their own specific shoe too – the racing flat.

Trail Shoes

Trail shoes have features that make them ideal to run in off-road conditions. Having run some pretty extreme trail races I can tell you that these conditions may include:

  • Steep climbs and descents
  • Loose rock, sand, gravel
  • Tree roots
  • Mud
  • River crossings
  • Snow

The qualities of trail shoes that address these running conditions include:

  • Deep tread patterns that vary wildly from one manufacturer to another
  • Rock plates in the soles that minimize bruising of the foot on rough rocky trails
  • Some shoes are gore-tex protected which is great for drier feet in snow, but fairly useless for river crossings
  • reinforced toes to protect against banging your toes into rocks and roots
  • Trail shoes are often combined with very small gators that prevent small stones getting in your shoes.
  • If a race includes a lot of descending in mountains then trail shoes should be chosen with ample toe room to prevent undue pressure on the toes
  • Trail shoe makers are experimenting with super thick soles to provide a smooth ride sort of like fat tires on a mountain bike smooth the ride

Road Shoes

Road shoes are designed to allow you to move as quickly as possible on pavement and unforgiving road surfaces like concrete and asphalt. Lighter runners who enjoy solid fundamental running mechanics are able to run in more minimally supporting shoes. Heavier runners often choose shoes that help cushion the footfall. Runners have a variety of shapes and requirements. Some land on the heel and some are mid-foot strikers. There are shoes that address most of these issues and it’s best to find a store with runners who understand this and can properly fit your shoe.

The qualities of road shoes that address road running include:

  • Light weight
  • Cushioning
  • A wide variety of motion control technology that acts to support various feet
  • A shallower tread pattern that’s geared for smooth surfaces
  • Long wearing tread compounds that stand up to the abrasive road surfaces
  • Various energy transfer features built in to the shoe that help propel the runner forward

Racing Flats

These are the original minimalist shoes. Long before the minimal trend began, Roger Bannister ran the first 4 minute mile in leather track shoes with zero cushioning and none of the features of modern shoes. Depending on the race they can be as minimal as track spikes or flats, or they can look fairly similar to the road shoes described above but more “stripped down” versions of them. Elite marathon runners often run in very minimal flats. It’s not for everyone to run a whole marathon in super minimal flats. Your mechanics need to be perfect and your foot fall needs to be very gentle.

I can’t stress enough that racing flats are to be considered only when a runner is ready for them. Training must be in place and no injuries that will be aggravated by the minimal support available.

Racing Flats may have these properties:

  • Very thin soles
  • Very little support
  • Very light
  • Designed to be the minimum protection for your soles and allow the foot to perform naturally

Important Advice!

Go to a reputable running store! You wouldn’t go to your family doctor for tricky brain surgery, so don’t rely on a store that carries running shoes and thousands of other things. Find a local store with runners on staff who know what you need and can help you asses what shoe you need.

Become a shoe junkie! Find out as much information as you can about what’s out there on the market and try to find what works for you and what doesn’t.

I hope that I have shed some light on shoe selection and handling, particularly for novice runners who may be just starting out. Have a great run!

– Nick Brindisi,
Race Director of the Collingwood Half Marathon – www.runcollingwood.ca
Running Coach – www.georgiantrianglerunningclub.org