It's Not About the Shoes, or is it? Part 2: Which shoe is best?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog about how we do run differently in different shoes, in particular minimalist shoes resulting in reduced stride length and increased stride rate. This article has prompted many to ask the following questions;

How many pairs of running shoes do I need?  

If my personal running shoe collection is anything to go by then the answer is too many for my wife to read, so I will just say that I regularly wear about 8 different pairs. I have runners for sprint and speedwork on the track, shoes that I wear specifically for foot strengthening, a couple for shorter race distances ( 5k to half marathon), others for longer races (marathon), then others for slow long runs, and trail runs, & cross training.

These shoes range from very flat, and light; ranging from zero drop, to 2mm, 4mm, 6, 8 up to 10mm drop; and they range in stiffness from ultraflexible to stiff & responsive. Importantly, they all serve a different purpose.

My current shoe collection, not including the ones that love at work. Not an Asics in sight!

My current shoe collection, not including the ones that love at work. Not an Asics in sight!

And the next question invariably is;

 " Which running shoe is best for me to get next".

There is no simple answer of course. Running shoes are designed for different types of people, strides, feet and importantly types of running. What may be the ideal shoe for you, may not suit someone else. What is important is to understand what a particular shoe is designed for, and whether that suits your ability and needs. 

Runners, like running shoes are all different and diverse, and as a runner's fitness and running characteristics change, your shoes can and should change as well. Depending on what we are training for, we often perform different types of runs, so it is reasonable to suggest we need different types of runners for different types of running. 

Furthermore, running in different shoes can make you stronger, hence faster and ultimately less prone to injury. Studies show correlations between running in a variety of footwear and reduced injuries. Essentially, when you wear a different pair of shoes your interaction with the ground changes slightly, thus your stride alters as does the loading and impact forces taken by your feet, legs and body. This helps to vary this impact loading, thus stimulating & strengthening other muscles and connective tissues whilst reducing repetitive stress on the same body parts. 

You should have a different pair of shoes for different running types. A sprinters running shoe for on the track is completely different to the running shoe that marathoners wear. hence, your running shoes should differ for speed & track work, for tempo running, shorter racing, and longer distance running.

So, what's the difference?

The flatter and closer to the ground the shoes, the quicker you will react to the ground, potentially helping you to run faster. At the same time, these shoes will serve as a strengthening tool as your feet will be reacting quicker & working harder in response to the ground. As these shoes typically are flatter ( low heel height to forefoot height or heel-toe drop), this will also place additional load through your plantar fascia, foot muscles, Achilles and calf muscles. These muscles are the very important spring that propels us when we run, and to strengthen this area will benefit your running. These types of shoes are commonly known as minimalist shoes, have a thinner sole, and lower heel-toe drop (less than 5mm) and are suited to faster running training, as in Interval running, track workouts, and racing.

In contrast your marathon shoe is suited for longer distances, and slower runs might have more cushioning, hence a higher heel height, and heel-toe drop. This will serve to slow the rate of impact forces which over the longer duration & distance helps to reduce repetitive stress through the foot and lower leg structures.

This information has often been tricky to find, and for many years I have used a popular running shoe site, runningwarehouse.com to determine this information before advising on a particular shoe recommendation. However, I'm very grateful to Pete Larson from Run Blogger who has recently compiled a complete list (from the same reference site) of shoes that he calls the Tool- Shoe Finder that can be easily accessed here.

This tool can provide you with the critical information to make an informed decision on what shoe to try next. Information such as shoe weight, heel ( stack) height, forefoot height and hence drop ( heel height - forefoot height), and level of stability within the shoe are all listed.

My only advice is do not change the type of shoe too drastically in one go, better to gradually work your way down to a more minimalist variety over time. This allows your body to gradually adapt to the changed conditions as you wear the new shoes more often and for longer runs or run sessions, and after 6 months or so, provided you have no injury concerns, you can drop down again.

If you are looking for specific advice on shoe selection, I am only too happy to help. You can contact me here.