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Happy Feet

Di Brander

Jun 6, 2023

We’ve all been there as a newbie runner. We started running for our own personal reasons; from weight loss to mental health, time on our own or as a social hobby and besides, it’s a free or cheap hobby, isn’t it? Everyone says so. You may have had a pair of trainers taking up space in the cupboard. They look good, they’re clean, and they’ve only been worn for walking about in, or for an exercise class. They’ll do. And anyway, Adidas/Nike/New Balance/insert other, is a good brand so they’ll be comfortable.

This is all very well to a point, but if you have ever done this you will know that appearances can be deceiving. The brands may be well-established and make good trainers, but they also make shoes for a more specific purpose – running – and that’s probably not what you have in your cupboard as a beginner runner. Even if you have been running for a while, it’s important to have the right shoe for you. Working in a running shoe shop, I hear it regularly. “My partner says this brand is best” – or - my dad says I should buy a *insert brand here* shoe.” We all have different foot shapes, sizes, and overall biomechanics which means there is no one shoe. What works for one does not work for all. 

Running shoes are constructed of a variety of foams and cushioning materials and are designed to offer different running experiences. For example, some technologies aim to reduce the impact on muscles and joints while others additionally look to improve running efficiency. A soft, cushioned shoe will slow down the rate of pronation, while a shoe with a carbon plate will put some pep in your step and have you bouncing along like Tigger. Of course, there is also a middle ground where runners can enjoy the best of both worlds – soft as well as responsive.

The shoe construction doesn’t end with cushioning, there is also the need to consider how much support the runner needs in their shoe. You may have heard of neutral and stability options. What’s the difference? Most running shoes have an element of support in them. The main difference would be that stability shoes are made with structures that actively reduce pronation. The word pronation is widely misunderstood, and we often hear people in the shop asking for help as they “overpronate” or “pronate badly.” Pronation is the body’s way of absorbing shock as the feet land. We land on the edge of the foot and roll in. Most people won’t be aware it is happening unless they experience a high degree of inward rolling - once referred to as “overpronation.” Both neutral and stability running shoes will help to lower rotation of the ankle joint but the greater the degree of pronation, the more chance there is of experiencing an overuse injury and this is where a stability shoe will come into play.

The best way to find out which level of support is right for you is to have your gait analysed. These days customers are spoiled for choice when it comes to specialist running shops and most will offer this as a free service. From the perspective of someone who has done this as both a customer and now several times as the shop manager, this is hugely beneficial. We can explain to the customer what we are seeing on the video for their initial run, and after recording short runs in several pairs of shoes, they can see for themselves which shoes and support levels are having a positive impact on their running form, and feel which shoe is most comfortable and supportive for them. It’s a collaborative effort which has the desired outcome of finding the best shoe for the individual. It may sound trite but it’s like doing a jigsaw, matching up the right shoe for the foot. 

This is a great thing to do whether you are a beginner or have been running for years, as your running gait can change over time through a variety of factors; increase in or variation in training, injury compensation and recent pregnancy, as some examples. Or, from wearing the wrong type of shoes. So, next time you are shopping for running shoes, forget about the well-meaning advice from your friend, spouse, parent or internet review and pop along to your local, friendly running specialist shop.

Have a demonstration and conversation about what’s best for you.

Happy running!  

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