Running is a truly amazing pastime and one that you can’t fully appreciate until you give it a proper chance.
Many scientists now believe that the human body is designed for running – that we evolved to be great runners so that we could track down prey over long distances and outpace predators. And indigenous peoples such as the Tarahumara seem to enforce this idea, running up to 200 miles over a period of two days on regular occasions. They will engage in sports like ‘Foot Throwing’ for multiple days without a break, too!
But despite this, many of us will find that running feels anything but natural when we first try it. Rather, we feel tired, painful and sluggish when we try – and possibly even feel sick!
One issue is that we tend to throw ourselves into the deep end and try to run too far, too fast and too soon. The other problem is footwear – with many people simply lacking the correct footwear to support optimum performance.
Here’s how you can change that…
Every Foot is Different
Before you head out and buy the first expensive-looking pair of running shoes you can find, it’s first very important to recognize that everyone is different and that the right pair of running shoes will vary from one person to another.
This is all to do with where your foot strikes the pavement when you run. Some people will strike with the ball of their foot, whereas others will strike with the middle of their foot or the heel. This will determine what the best type of shoe is for you.
How do you find out? Go and have your gait monitored at a running store (it’s free!), or try running on pavement with wet feet and assess the shape of the marks you leave behind.
Ideally, you should be using a forefoot strike that sees the ball of the foot hit the pavement first. This is the way we would run if we were running barefoot and it allows the leg to compress, thereby absorbing some of the impact. This also allows us to lean forward, which is more efficient as it means gravity will be pulling us along – see ‘Chi Running’.
But, while that’s the ideal, many of us will run instead with a heel-strike. This is what our bodies have been trained to do over thousands of years thanks to the use of shoes with thick, heavy heels.
Now, if you want to improve your running, then you can transition to a ball-strike. But in the meantime, it’s pertinent to use a shoe that is designed for your style of running – as nobody ever changed their running biomechanics overnight!
Minimal vs Structured
It is this distinction that will result in your using either a minimal or a structured shoe. A minimal shoe will allow you to run using a very natural gait and this will even allow your feet to contort to the shape of the floor around you. The most extreme example of this is the Vibram Five Fingers, which is a shoe that fits like a glove with individual toe pockets, allowing full freedom of movement and mimicking true barefoot running.
A more structured type of shoe meanwhile will guide the foot through the stride for a more even run. It will also tend to use more padding throughout its structure, which will absorb yet more impact while also giving you more ‘energy return’ to propel you forward more.
One thing to look for here is the ‘heel to toe’ drop. A bigger drop suggests a more structured ride, whereas a flatter shoe is designed for more experienced runners.
There are other reasons you might pick one type of trainer over the other too. For example, you may choose to pick a minimal shoe if you intend on trail running, as this will prevent you from twisting your ankle while running across uneven terrain.
Conversely, a structured shoe might be necessary if you have flat feet, or a pronated ankle. In other words, if your biomechanics are sub-optimal, then you’ll probably want a little more padding and structure to correct that. The right insoles can also help in this case and your doctor/running store should be able to advise you on this matter.
Finally, most long distance runners will need some padding to help them with running on tarmac over long distances.
Features and Extra Considerations
Once you know the basic design you want for your trainer, the decision then comes down to finding the shoe that ticks all the other boxes you’re looking for and that will offer you the best bang for your buck. For example, you may gravitate more to a specific brand such as Nike or Adidas. Both these companies use their own patented technologies – ‘Zoom Foam’ and ‘Boost Foam’ respectively. It’s up to you which you prefer but different people tend to have different opinions on which is best and you need to make your mind up too.
Other features include the comfort, the breathability, whether or not the insole can be removed and even how light the shoe is. Generally, it is preferable for a running trainer to be as light as possible, as this will make it less noticeable on the foot and allow you to feel much more fleet footed.
Depending on your intended use, you might also look for a shoe that will offer some water resistance, or that will keep you warmer.
Trying on different shoes to see how their materials differ and how they feel on your foot is a very good idea. Sizing conventions can also vary from manufacturer to manufacturer so an ‘8’ might really be a ‘9’. A good tip is to try shoes on in store but then buy them online where you’ll be able to find them much cheaper!