What Running Shoes Should I Wear?

This is probably the most common question people ask me when they’re getting into running or a fitness focused lifestyle in general and it doesn’t surprise me! All you have to do is google “running shoes” and you will be presented with so many options, theories, and articles that you might not even know where to start!

I could go on and on getting into the nitty gritty about shoes, but today we are just going to cover shoe types and categories with some recommendations to get you on your way to making an informed shoe choice. 

There are 4 basic categories of shoes with many sub categories, but here are the basics:

Road – These shoes are meant for concrete and pavement. They often offer substantial cushioning and a number of features such as sticky rubber for wet conditions and reflective overlays for visibility, just to name a few.

Racing/Flats – These are often low profile, lightweight road shoes meant for distances up to 13.1 and even 26.2 for faster runners. They lack bells, whistles and traditional “support” and are often the road racer’s go to for speed work and road events.

Track – Spikes and flats for the Track and Field athletes including Cross Country.

Trail – There are so many different kinds trails out there that we here at ULDT find a lot of value in having a quiver of trail shoes. Trail shoes often have some sort of lug on the outsole for extra grip as well as a thin, flexible piece of plastic in the forefoot (called a rock plate) to protect your feet from sharp rocks. Some trail shoes are best suited for mixed road/trail environments, some are best suited for hard packed trail, some for soft, wet, muddy conditions and there are some that do better on slick rock and alpine/sub alpine environments. I can have one or two pairs of road shoes that I put the majority of my mileage on, but I generally have at least 3 – 4 different pairs of trail shoes to choose from based on terrain.

Corrective features:

There is a lack of scientific data proving the validity of claims that motion control and stability features in running shoes prevent injury, nevertheless, the shoe industry continues to use the terminology as a selling point to consumers. You may have heard the phrase “pronator” as if it’s a bad thing, but the fact is that everyone pronates to some degree. It’s your body’s way of absorbing shock as the arch flattens and the foot rolls inward. Everyone supinates to some degree as well. It’s how your foot lands initially and how it  pushes off through the gait cycle. 

Ultimately it’s up to you to do the research and decide for yourself if you think over pronation and under pronation causes injury, whether or not corrective features in running shoes provide any protection against injury, and whether or not they to work for you. We certainly won’t argue with your findings, because what works for you is what you should do!

Here are the classic corrective features found in running shoes and their claimed benefits:

Neutral Cushioned – For “Supinators” or “under pronators”  who have high arches and land in a more supinated position, lacking an inward roll. They are said to benefit from extra cushioning and curved last (shape of the shoe) to encourage the proper amount of pronation.

Stability/Support  – For people who pronate, but don’t severely over pronate. These shoes feature denser materials on the medial side of the midsole to control the inward roll of the foot and are said to provide support to the collapsing arch and prevent injury.

Motion Control – These shoes are for “severe over pronators”and feature dense medial midsole materials, shanks or even posts within the midsole and often times have heel stability features to keep your foot even more stabilized. 

New (ish) categories:

Maximal – Usually neutral with a maximum amount of cushioning. You can find these in most major brand’s line ups, but Hoka One One started the trend. Proponents believe that the extra cushioning disperses impact forces, delaying fatigue and preventing injury.

Minimal – We saw the rise and fall of the minimalist movement after the best seller “Born To Run” touted the benefits of barefoot running. Proponents believed that running “naturally” in barefoot type shoes prevents injury and reduces impact forces. When the pendulum swung back towards maximal cushion, we were left with some really great options in the middle-of-the-road shoes that can be attributed to the minimal movement such as extremely lightweight shoes with seamless uppers, low heel to toe drops or Zero drop and many shoe companies offering “natural movement” in their line ups.

Guidance – This terminology has seemingly replaced some of the motion control/support verbiage in the footwear industry, but claims added support and structure to help guide foot, albeit gentler than theclassic rigidity of support or motion control shoes.

I checked in with Phil Kochick, Owner of Seven Hills Run Shop in Seattle, to get his thoughts on footwear and the fit process. This is what he had to say :

“I believe today’s fitting process should be steered more by the customer and less by the shop employee.  Five years ago it was standard for running shops to tell you what the “right shoe” would be.  Now it is apparent that whatever shoe feels most natural to someone has the best chance of success.  

It’s not about pronation and supination anymore; it’s about comfort.  Where 5-10 years ago most consumers thought “stability” or “control” couldn’t possibly be a bad thing, the industry has shied away from those terms in favor of “guidance” and “natural motion.” There was a lot of marketing behind the need to correct pronation; and not much science.”

I’m on board with Phil. There doesn’t seem to be much legitimate scientific backing behind the industry standards for different foot types and subsequent footwear recommendations made by retail sales associates – it seems to be a sales gimmick.

Our advice ? Go to a local store where knowledgeable and experienced runners work. Have them take a look at the shape of your foot to match you with lasts that might work for you and try on as many shoes as you can. Pick the pair that feels good to you. You should have a little room between your longest toe and the end of the shoe and it should feel like an extension of your own foot without any points of pressure or discomfort.  You should think “Wow! I could wear these all day!”

You’ll know when you slip the perfect pair on.

Adam Lint helping fit a customer at Seven Hills Running in Seattle

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions abut this blog post or anything else or if you’re looking for a personal running coach, shoot me message.