I wouldn’t call myself an avid spender when it comes to running clothes. I tend to just run in what I have until it’s obvious I need something else. Which means that when it comes to looking for something I new, I don’t really have a clue as to what I’m looking for. I tend to find that I need to replace my shoes every year, either due to a hole or the shoe isn’t quite as supportive as it once was. But when I go to buy new one’s I try to go for ones that are similar to those I’ve had before. I don’t know what would be better for me or what I should be buying into. So during this post I’m going to try and teach myself these things and share these findings with you. I’m also currently at the time of year where I need new shoes, so I’ll definitely be trying to find lots of sources in order to find the correct shoes for myself.
I’ll be going through different parts of the shoe and letting you know bits of knowledge that I’ve picked up from my searching, starting from the ground up.
Soles – This area of the shoe can get complicated. With midsoles being made of lots of different materials, usually a rubber-like foam. The are there to help create a bouncy feeling as you run. Each type of foam has slightly different properties, and may last longer than others. You’ll find the more expensive the shoe the greater the energy return from the mid-sole and the lighter it will be. So in effect the bouncier and easier the stride will feel. The base of the sole will also have a variety of different things on them to help with certain aspects of running. The patterns on the bottom will help with various surfaces that you’re running on. If you’re road running a sole with flatter grooves and bumps will help. But you may also want there to be lots of different segments to help with the flexibility and responsiveness of the shoe. On the other side, those trail running will want deeper grooves to increase the grip, and give added protection against debris. There may also be guide rails attached to the sole to help stabilise runners with a tendency to over-pronate. If you’re a heel striker (you land on the heel of your foot first), a rounded or angled heel will help lesson the impact of each stride, as well as help propel you forwards a little bit more. All the adaptions on the bottom and aside of the shoe are there to help make you a more efficient runner.
Heel of the Shoe – at the heel of the shoe there’s a few different things I’ve found that you may need to look for. The right is the collar of the shoe, this is the wrap around the heel that will keep your foot in place. If your heel is prone to slipping up and down, you may want to look for a shoe that has more padding around this area to help keep it in place and reduce rubbing/blistering. Equally though, you may find that your Achilles’ tendon (the small fleshy part at the back of the ankle) gets irritated by padding around that area. In which case you’ll want to find a shoe that doesn’t rise too much at the back and also doesn’t add too much width/padding in that area.
The next thing in the heel area is a heel counter. I’ve never actually had a pair of shoes where this has been visible but I can tell it’s there. When squishing the heel area downwards it stops at a part of harder material, the heel cup. You can just make it out when looking at the shoes, mainly because that area has taken hold of the mud a bit more strongly that areas without the counter. This is there for heel support, again with the view to decrease the amount of slipping and blistering. Few shoes will completely get rid of these, only those that are very minimal, as they do help to centre the heel as you land making you a little more stable. For me, I don’t think I tend to have too much of a problem in the heel area of my shoe. So I’d be looking for a shoe with a good mix of everything.
Material – The main impact of the material that’s been used will be found in the upper of the shoe. This is effectively everything above the sole. It’s the part that wraps around the foot. The main upper fabric is usually a mesh or a knitted fabric. Those with a mesh usually have more strength, whereas those made with a knitted fabric fit a lot closer to the foot and have a more sock-like feel. You may also find that the shoes have a overlay on top of the main fabric, these are both decorative (showcasing the shoe’s branding) and structural. Often they may also be made of a reflective fabric to help improve the visibility during night runs.
Tongue – This is simply the part of the shoe that protects your foot from the laces. So many wouldn’t give a whole lot of time to choosing a shoe based on this. However, I’ve found I have a problem with a few types of tongue in the shoes that I own. Having wider feet makes finding shoes the right size a little bit harder anyway, so at the National Running Shoe in January 2020 I took the chance to get my feet measured and shoes recommended by an independent retailer. The programme recommend a bunch of shoes for my feet and I trustingly ordered ones that gave me a 91% match, from a brand I’d never worn. When they came I found that the tongue in the shoes doesn’t move. It’s attached on both sides, making it a tight ‘gusseted’ tongue, but more importantly making it really hard for me to put onto my foot. This experience makes me a little nervous about making a similar mistake again, as I can now not wear these shoes (along with a few other reasons) for running. It is actually a little bit painful when trying to put these on, so I’ve just opted not to. The reason behind the tongue of shoes being connected at both sides is to help keep out debris from the foot, and help the shoe conform and fit the foot a bit better. There is also a burrito tongue, where the tongue is attached on one side. My current running shoes would also be classed as a gusseted tongue. However instead of attaching to the main body of the shoe they attach to a slightly elasticated inside. From my research of new running shoes online, it’s actually really hard to tell what attachment the brands have done for the tongue of different shoes. You can make a best guess, but many brands neglect to show this information, so will only be something you can find from trying them on.
Insoles – Additionally to any shoe you may get hold of. You may need to consider insoles for the inside of the shoe. I often find that when I run in shoes without an insole I have an ache in the arch of my foot. The only way I’ve found to sort this is by getting insoles that are designed to support a high arch. They themselves have an arch in them giving my feet more support, so there’s less impact going through them. Not everyone will need the additional support given by an insole, but if you do find that you get some persistent injuries then it may benefit y up just to give one a try. I now always make sure to test my shoe without my insoles first, just to decide whether it would benefit my running or not. You never know I might find the perfect shoe right off the bat one day!
While I still can’t get in-store I’m going to use parts of this knowledge to help me choose my next set of shoes. I’m thinking about trying a pair of On shoes. Many brands right now are helping us out by extending their returns policy as long as they’ve only been used inside, which will definitely help out a little.