Road running shoes are designed for pavement and occasional forays onto packed surfaces with slight irregularities (fire roads, nature trails, wood-chip paths). Light and flexible, they're made to cushion or stabilize feet during repetitive strides on hard, even surfaces.
Trail running shoes are essentially beefed-up running shoes designed for off-road routes. They are enhanced with aggressive outsoles for solid traction and fortified to offer stability, support and underfoot protection. If you routinely encounter roots, rocks, mud, critter holes or other obstacles during runs, choose trail runners.
Tip: If you can't find a trail shoe with the right fit for your running mechanics, it's better to go with a road-running shoe.
Shop REI's selection of running shoes.
Foot size: If you're unsure of your shoe size or if one foot is larger than the other, it's best to have your feet measured at REI or other shoe retailer with a Brannock device. (That's the flat metal tool with sliders that measure the length, width and the toe-to-ball length of the foot.) Whenever possible, try the shoe on to see if it fits. Shoe lasts (which determines shoe sizes, described below) vary by manufacturer and even from one shoe model to another. You may need a half-size or even a full size smaller or larger than you think.
Most men wear a D-width shoe; most women wear a B-width. You don't have to wear a shoe of your gender—the lasts are basically the same. Men: Try a women's shoe if you have a narrow foot. Women: Try a men's shoe if you have a larger or wider foot. If the shoe fits, wear it!
Arch shape: As you get out of the tub, shower or pool, take a look at the footprint you leave on the bathmat or cement. The shape of your footprint will indicate the type of arch you have. Your arch shape affects the way your foot moves as you run.
Your foot shape is closely related to its movement as you walk or run. With every stride, your heel typically strikes the ground first. It rolls slightly inward and the arch flattens to cushion the impact. Your foot then rolls slightly to the outside and stiffens to create a springboard to propel your next step.
As runners, however, we each experience different levels of these sideways motions as we stride. The key characteristics:
Pronation is the foot's natural inward roll following a heel strike. Basic (neutral) pronation helps absorb impact, relieving pressure on knees and joints. It is a normal trait of neutral, biomechanically efficient runners.
Overpronation is an exaggerated form of the foot's natural inward roll. It is a common trait that affects the majority of runners, leaving them at risk of knee pain and injury. Overpronators need stability or motion control shoes.
Supination (also called under-pronation) is an outward rolling of the foot resulting in insufficient impact reduction at landing. Relatively few runners supinate, but those who do need shoes with plenty of cushioning and flexibility.
The illustration below shows these mechanics on a runner's right leg:
How can you be sure which running style is yours? A podiatrist or physical therapist could undoubtedly tell you, but a simpler answer is probably in your closet. If you own a well-used pair of running shoes, check the wear pattern on the soles.
Cushioning shoes provide elevated shock absorption and minimal medial (arch side) support. They're best for runners who are mild pronators or supinators. Cushioning shoes are also good for neutral runners during off-pavement runs. Reason: Minor irregularities in surfaces such as dirt roads give feet a little variety from the repetitive, same-spot strikes they typically experience on hard surfaces.
Stability shoes help decelerate basic pronation. They're good for neutral runners or those who exhibit mild to moderate overpronation. They often include a "post" (see Shoe Construction 101, below) in the midsole.
Motion control shoes offer features such as stiffer heels or a design built on straighter lasts to counter overpronation. They're best for runners who exhibit moderate to severe overpronation.
Here are some general guidelines:
|Foot mechanics||Normal inward roll||Excessive inward roll||Excessive outward roll|
|Foot shape||Low arch||Flat foot to low arch||Medium to high arch|
type of shoe
This refers to the upper part of the shoe above the sole.
The midsole is the cushioning and stability layer between the upper and the outsole.
The "last" refers both to the shape of a shoe and also the form, or mold, around which a shoe is constructed.
When referring to the shape of a shoe:
Also referring to the shape of a shoe:
When trying shoes on:
Lacing techniques for various foot types:
Running barefoot has, of course, been around since the beginning of humankind. Running-specific shoes, on the other hand, are a much more recent phenomenon, but one that quickly dominated the running landscape.
Today, the barefoot running motion has suddenly become popular again. Why? Research has shown that when wearing traditional running shoes, one tends to hit the ground heel first. This is because a shoe heel has an elevated cushion. However, with barefoot runners, it is the mid-foot or forefoot that strikes the ground first. Proponents believe this more-natural foot strike causes less impact and, possibly, fewer impact-related running injuries.
Running truly barefoot is, not surprisingly, hard on tender feet, especially when on rough surfaces. If you're interested in trying barefoot running, first consider "hybrid" minimalist shoes. With a modest “heel drop” of 4-5mm, these offer a nice transition between traditional running shoes (with a 10mm heel drop) and the totally flat heel (“zero drop”) of the so-called barefoot shoes. Both minimalist and barefoot styles encourage a natural running motion.
New to barefoot running or minimalist shoes? Our advice is to start out slowly, then gradually increase your time and distance so your feet get used to using different muscles.
For more information, see the REI Advice article, How to Choose Barefoot/Minimalist Running Shoes.
Q: How snug should a running shoe fit?
A: Aim for a thumbnail's length of extra space in the toebox. This helps you avoid losing toenails since your toes won't jam against the end when running downhill or when your feet swell. The width should be snug but allow a bit of room for your foot to move without rubbing. Laces should be snug but not tight.
Q: What is the typical lifespan of a running shoe?
A: In general, a pair of running shoes should last between 400 to 500 miles of running (3 or 4 months for regular runners). This varies depending on your running mechanics. Take a look at your shoes. While the uppers will often look good, check the midsole and outsoles to see if they are compressed or worn.
Q: If I wear an orthotic to correct my pronation, do I still need a motion-control shoe?
A: You may be OK with a neutral shoe, but a motion-control shoe will offer additional support.
Q: Can I use a road shoe for running trails?
A: Absolutely, just keep in mind that a trail shoe will give you more traction on rough or loose surfaces than a road shoe.
Q: If I supinate, can I wear a shoe that is for overpronators?
A: You shouldn't. It's best to go with the shoe that coordinates with your body mechanics to avoid any injuries.
Q: Is it OK to do a race or long run while wearing new shoes?
A: The best approach is to do a short run first to see how your new shoes feel. You want to make sure the shoe is right for you before hitting a trail or pounding the pavement in a race.
By Linda Ellingsen
Read Author Bio
Last updated: 03/15/2013
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