Running really is just one foot in front of the other – add whatever enhancements you like, but the main thing you really need to get right in your kit is your trainers. Getting the right pair of running shoes can be the key difference between running your personal best, and losing weeks of running to an injury.
Here are the main considerations to make when you choose your next pair.
The most obvious yet potentially overlooked factor, this applies even if you’ve run in the same brand of trainers for years. Revisions of running shoes have minor tweaks that can really change the fit and comfort of a model, even if it looks similar. Your running shoes must fit properly to avoid everything from minor annoyances like lost toenails and blisters to full-blown injuries. Ideally, they need to be a great fit with secure fastening to avoid your feet sliding around, while at the same time providing a bit of slack if your feet are prone to expanding when they are hot.
Again, this may be obvious but you’re going to need different trainers for racing around a track compared to being out on a wet, sticky trail. Look carefully at the type of shoe you’re considering and what you’re getting from it in terms of grip. Make sure it’s suitable for purpose and consider that it’s unlikely one shoe can do everything if you’re someone who runs on varying terrains.
Larger tread will suit you for trail running, while minimal grip flat shoes will help you to run fast on the road, but offer little in terms of protection anywhere else. Take your new shoes for a spin on a treadmill before you commit.
Just like the general fit, the insole is a factor that may change with each new model or version of a running shoe. The insole is a really important consideration when choosing your trainers, and not one to overlook. The depth, feel, and cushioning offered by your insole will change the fit and lacing, and even how your foot moves around as you run. If the insole isn’t quite right but everything else works, look for an alternative whether that’s something you can get custom made by a podiatrist or an off the shelf insole for added comfort.
Drop is the measurement of height in millimetres between the heel and toe of the shoe: how much you ‘drop’ towards your toes. While descriptions of trainers often show drop, it’s easy to overlook the specification as the measurements are so tiny. Drop should be an important factor in choosing your next pair of trainers, as going for a running shoe with a drastically different drop to what you’re used to can cause injury, especially around your calf and Achilles, as your muscles adjust to you running at even a slightly higher or lower height.
Higher drop shoes may cause you to land more heavily on your heel, and if you already consider yourself a heel striker this may cause some discomfort, while minimal or ‘zero drop’ shoes might compromise your natural running mechanics. Most trainers will offer eight to 12mm drop and that’s generally a good place to start.
The stack height is the amount of material between the ground and the foot. It is worth looking at this height in order to get the best out of any running shoe purchase. Generally, a higher stack height means a more supportive (=> safer) but heavier (=> slower) shoe – so the ideal height would be a trade-off between the two depending on your tendency towards injury and intended use.
The final and most important factor to consider is that your running shoes are a really personal thing that shouldn’t be hugely influenced by anyone else. Getting recommendations from friends and social media is a great place to start but it shouldn’t be the only research you do. Take time to read reviews online and try on as many pairs as you need to.
If you have an injury or a niggle that keeps coming back, get advice from a running specialist physio or a podiatrist. They are likely to be able to offer a gait analysis that should throw up some recommendations too.