Running shoes are the most important part of a runners ‘kit’. They are the only part which can really affect injury occurrence (other than things like chafing and bleeding nipples from ill fitting clothing!).
When it comes to injury prevention, there are several factors to consider with running shoes:
Running Shoe Age / Wear
The old guideline for running shoe wear is 400 miles. If you reach 400 miles in the same pair of running shoes then chances are they are well past their best – the cushioning is probably depleted to half what it used to be, the tread is worn (often unevenly) and on top of that they probably stink! (note – don’t wash your running shoes in the washing machine! It can affect the support the shoe offers).
I think this guideline is still about right. And if 400 miles sounds a lot to you, even the most average of runners may run 10 miles a week which works out at only 40 weeks – around 9 months! And if you run more than that, it comes round even quicker!
Many runners will alternate running shoes which I think is a great idea. Switching between two pairs helps to ensure that the transition is not as big when you do buy a new pair. It allows you to wear in the new shoes on shorter runs and still have the older, comfy ones for the longer slogs! As well as comfort, this allows the body to adapt more gradually to the new shoe. Even if they are the same make and model you’ve had before the fact that they are new means they will feel quite different and support the foot differently (better) compared to the older, worn ones. Just make sure you keep a note of when you bought each pair and roughly how many miles you have run in each!
Running Shoe Type – Foot Support
When it comes to choosing running shoes based on foot type there is a lot of debate. Traditionally – road running shoes come in two types: Neutral and Motion-control.
Neutral shoes are those with a standard arch and cushioning for those with a neutral arch and average pronation. Some shoes in this category (or you may make a third category) may be described as ‘cushioned’ running shoes. These are aimed at those who supinate and so have a foot with a high arch and reduced shock absorbing properties.
Motion-control shoes are designed for those who overpronate. This occurs when the arch of the foot flattens and rolls in when running. These shoes have a more rigid material under the arch which helps to control and reduce overpronation. Some places will also sell ‘stability’ shoes which are somewhere between cushioned and motion control shoes – for those with mild overpronation.
Getting the right running shoes for you can be really important in preventing injuries. Overpronation can contribute to lots of problems, such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinopathy and patellofemoral knee pain to name just a few!
If you’re not sure what you need, have a look at the gait analysis page!
There is also the option of barefoot or minimalist running shoes. These are designed to mimic the movement patterns and forces involved when running with no shoes, whilst still providing a little protection to our less than tough feet! If you are new to running then I wouldn’t recommend going for this type of shoe. Once you have established yourself as a runner and built on your fitness then you might come across people are articles which swear by ‘barefoot’ running. My advice is to read all of the available information carefully and make up your own mind. Whilst many people advocate barefoot for reducing injury rates, no-one really knows for sure at this stage and it is likely that whilst the rates of some injuries will fall, rates of others may rise as the forces involved in running have to go somewhere!
Type – Terrain / Racing / Spikes
This won’t apply to that many people and it’s certainly not my area of expertise. But you also want to consider the type of running you will be doing.
Most people run on roads and pavements the majority of time and nothing more adventurous than a country lane or track. But for some people, running on more challenging terrains is all part of the fun. There are specialist shoes known as trail shoes which are designed with more grip and also a more hardwearing and durable upper with more protection for the foot. They tend to be neutral shoes which is because the foot needs to be able to adapt more to the surface beneath it.
Racing shoes are more lightweight and responsive than your standard road running shoe. They are ideal for race days and also for short, fast runs and sprint sessions. Due to the reduced cushioning, they are not suitable for long runs.
Spikes are only ever worn during track running. They are very lightweight with next to no cushioning or support. For this reason they aren’t suitable for long events, but then track events don’t go longer than 10k. Who’d want to run a marathon round and round in circles! (I make that 105 laps of a standard 400m track!)