There is so much nonsense in the shoe community now-a-days, it’s not even funny. How do you pick out your shoes? Is it feel? Stability level? Simply whatever is the “hip and new” minimalist or maximalist shoe? Whatever you’re running idol is wearing at this time? Or a certain brand-name? Whatever it is, I am not judging, but I encourage you to use a rational thought process when deciding.
There are so many things to take into consideration when deciding what shoe to wear for the next 200-500+ miles. Shoe structure is very complex and usually requires a bio-mechanics knowledge base to understand to the fullest. When looking at shoe structure it is important to consider: weight, stack height, heel-toe-differential or “heel-drop”, the upper, the sole/tread, arch support, seams vs. seamless, flexibility, amount of cushioning, type of cushioning, toe-box width, narrow vs. wide, ankle support, and other materials. I’m probably missing some, but you get the point, it’s complicated.
I honestly believe that you need to try a substantial amount of shoes to figure out what works for you, but many people believe one-type of shoe is the “go-to shoe” and “ultimate-fix” for any ailment you may be suffering from. This concept is flawed due to the uniqueness of running gait and specific physiological characteristics we all possess. If you walked into a running store, they would insist they analyze your gait. I can tell you right now, that these [mostly] high-school and college students don’t know what they’re looking for or talking about. I have a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology (Kinesiology/Biomechanics involved) and a Doctoral degree in Physical Therapy and I can tell you that it is not that simple. It takes specific and proper training backed by a profound knowledge base of anatomy/physiology, and kinesiology, not to mention a substantial time in a clinic practicing in order to properly evaluate gait. That’s just talking about walking; running gait is faster and usually requires video-analysis in order to properly catch each “gait-deviation”, followed-up by investigation to find the cause with a research-backed treatment approach to fix it. With that in mind, I hope to educate whoever reads this article on basic components that they should be aware of when picking their running shoes.
Many of us know that a lower heel-drop is usually associated with a more minimal shoe, and conversely. But why? Yes, running barefoot is equivalent to running with “zero-drop”, but what does it mean? As you can see in the above picture, if you take the stack-height of the heel and forefoot parts of the shoe and subtract them, you get the “heel-drop”. So obviously, with a higher heel-drop your foot will be slightly pointing down while standing still. This concept is important because it directly relates to the position of your Achilles Tendon. With a higher “drop” shoe, your Achilles Tendon will be in a shortened position. This relates to the flexibility of your Achilles Tendon. I will use a short example of why this is important.
Tony Krupicka (if you don’t know who he is, go look him up ASAP) was leading the Ultra-Tour du Mont Blanc in 2013 more than half-way through [arguably] the world’s most competitive/hardest mountain ultramarathon, Tony had to DNF the race due to Achilles Tendon issues. Before Tony DNF’d, he changed his shoes. Why? Tony is known for being a “front-man” in the minimalist world, but this day he switched to shoes with a higher heel-drop. He did this to off-set stress on his Achilles Tendon. He was able to hobble a couple more miles before DNFing. So basically, if you have touchy Achilles, stay away from zero-drop shoes.
“Drop” also affects the way we strike our foot onto the ground. The higher the heel-drop the more apt we are to heel-strike. Heel-strike is a whole other controversial topic that I’m not going to get into right now, but basically, you don’t want to force a heel-strike because it is inefficient. So when looking at heel-drop for new shoes, take into consideration the effect on the Achilles Tendon and the effect on foot-strike.
What people mean to say is “overpronation is bad”. Overpronation may be more of a concern but is still over-hyped. “Most studies have found no relationship between injury and amount of pronation, and those that have found a relationship reported that the link was weak.” There is always someone who swears by something, and there happen to be a lot of people who take “pronation-control” seruously. But there is simply not enough powerful evidence in research to suggest we should. Try some shoes, see what works for you, but start with something neutral.
More people have flat arches than arches that are too high. So, how do we fix this? Stick something underneath the flat and weakened arch to support it, right!? Maybe not. Sticking supports under your arches can make your arch weaker in the long run (no pun intended). A faulty arch needs to be stressed in appropriate doses so that it can adapt and strengthen. The posterior tibialis muscle functions as our “natural arch support”. Runners should attempt to strengthen this muscle before going straight to inserts and possibly making the situation worse. Once again, there are people who swear that inserts have worked for them, but we are all different. If you are looking for longevity in this sport, I would not rush to a “quick-fix”.
Lets explain the purpose of maximum cushion. Simply comfort, and force absorption. The more soft material underfoot, the more forces will be dissipated before they reach your body. Sound awesome? Well, there are some draw-backs and they aren’t minor. First off, more material means added weight. More weight means more effort required to move your feet. These companies have tried to make up for this by adding “rocker-bottom technology” (making it easier to translate the foot forward) and simply using very light material such as EVA Foam.