Q: How important is it for a runner to invest in some proper running shoes?
A: Well if somebody is new to running and walking or jogging anything up to 5k, and perhaps doing so on maybe 1-2 times per week, a very basic training shoe will be sufficient for them. Once they start to go over and above this eg jogging 10k’s, running 3 times per week etc it becomes more important to get some properly fitted running shoes. The main reason is to help prevent injuries.
Q: Why are we prone to injuries and how can a running shoe help?
A: Pretty much from the moment that we can walk as tiny toddlers, our parents put us straight into shoes. First of all these shoes protect our feet and hence essentially throughout our lives, walking in shoes weakens our feet. You should have quite a nice arch in the bottom of your foot. Any engineer will tell you that an arch is a strong shape, it directs forces being applied on top of it, around it. That is at least until you start to support it from underneath when it becomes weaker. That’s essentially what has happened with our feet from wearing shoes. Our arches have become weak. With some people they have become so weak that they need a structured running shoe to support the foot and allow them to run. With these people I always recommend some strengthening exercises to help prevent further weakness.
Q: You mentioned a structured shoe, what other types of running shoe are there?
A: Yeah there are quite a few different types of running shoe. Structured, which we have spoken about already, cushioned, neutral, lightweight racing flats, and even combinations of these. If you want to go off road you can get some trail shoes or even spikes for cross country and running on a running track. For now though I think we will just stick to road running.
Q: How can these other types of shoes benefit the runner?
A: Essentially a cushioned shoe does exactly what it says, it gives you cushioning for a soft and comfortable ride. Somebody who is planning on doing lots of miles might benefit from a bit of extra cushioning to absorb some of the impact from constant foot striking. A neutral shoe is generally for somebody who has a good strong foot arch and typically runs with a nice running style, ie less risk of injury. Lightweight racing flats are the more serious runner who normally does training runs in structured or cushioned shoes but wants something lightweight for a race.
Q: How does a runner know what type of running shoes he or she should be wearing?
A: I would strongly recommend going along to your local sports shop or running shop. The staff are pretty well trained and should be able to put you in the right shoe. The shoe has to of course fit properly and feel comfortable to the runner.
Q: What can we expect the staff in the shop to do to get the right shoe?
A: There are various ways to get it right. The important part is sizing the foot and taking a good look at the foot arch. Some shops can essentially “scan” the sole of your foot and get an image of your foot arch, which gives some immediate feedback as to what type of shoe you should be wearing. At the very least, have a walk around the shop and the shoe fitter should have a look at your walk, and how this shoe supports your foot, controls the ankle, Achilles tendon and if there are any unusual movement patterns further up the leg. Some shops will also have facilities for you to try running in the shoes on a treadmill which can be a bonus.
Q: It all sounds expensive, what if someone is on a budget?
A: The shoe fitting service should be done free of charge, especially if you are buying the shoes from that shop. You can get a good pair of running shoes from about £40 and they will last most people for about a year. A small investment to look after your body! Oh I would also say that a pair of running socks can be effective in preventing blisters!
Q: There are so many different brands out there. Are you willing to recommend any?
A: Well for a recreational runner they are all much of a muchness. Asics, Brooks, New Balance, Saucony and Mizuno are the main sellers and all do a good job. Elite runners tend to go for something lighter like Adidas and Nike. What I would say is get the pair that suit your feet and your running style rather than going for the colour that you like! Looking good can be important sometimes but being comfortable and running pain free are even more so.
Q: Have you tried barefoot running and what are your thoughts on it?
A: Yes I have. In an ideal world we would all be running barefoot. By that I mean running in very lightweight shoes, only giving us some protection from the concrete and any other hard substances that we might be at risk of standing on. However, we live in what is far from an ideal world and the vast majority of us have weak feet, and our week feet tend to need some help from some kind of support or cushioning from the shoe. Having said that, it is a good idea to walk about your house in bare feet and give your foot arch some kind of work to do in a safe environment.
Colin is a freelance Physiologist, writer and speaker who helps runners, beginners to elite, all over the world to reach their running goals. He has spent time in Kenya with some of the world’s best coaches and athletes. A runner himself with a current marathon pb of 2.33.