By Rehan Iqbal
As with many items that we use regularly, we take shoes for granted. As long as a shoe fits, is comfortable and looks the part, we’re happy with it. Running shoes, however, are a different case. Running shoes are designed for the specific purpose of using athletically – for running – and there is more to choosing the appropriate running shoe than simply finding one that fits. In the following article, we are going to explain the different areas of running shoes, what they do, and also talk about your feet.
Your Foot Type
Before we talk about running shoes themselves, let’s talk about feet! Your feet are among the hardest worked parts of your body, and there are many differences between individual’s feet. The important factor we are looking at in this section is the type of foot you have, which is determined largely by the shape.
In short, the foot is defined as being one of three shapes, these being: neutral, low and high arch. The arch is the part in the center of the foot which arches upwards underneath, and it is the level of this arch that influences how your foot moves when you run or walk.
The technical term for this is how your foot ‘pronates’, or put simply, how it rolls. How your foot pronates is very important in determining the right running shoe, so let’s have a brief look at how you determine your type of arch.
The best way to do this is to have a close look at a pair of your current running shoes that have been used on a regular basis. Look at the soles – both inner and outer - and take note of the location of the area where they have worn.
Even wear across the entire soles indicates that you have a neutral arch; you are what is known as a ‘normal pronator’, as your foot pronates in the healthiest position. Should the wear be mainly on the inner sole, then you are an overpronator, and have a low arch. If the wear shows mainly on the outer sole, you are what is known as an underpronator with a high arch.
So, we’ve determined how your foot pronates, now let’s talk about different types of running shoe, and which may be suitable for you.
Types of Running Shoes
If you are an experienced runner, you will most likely be aware that there are three main types of running shoe: the stability shoe, the motion control shoe, and cushioning shoes. You can also find neutral pronation running shoes, designed for the specialist purpose. It’s notable, however, that some runners with neutral pronation choose to run in stability or cushioned shoes, with no effect on the runners pronation.
Which shoe goes with which type of foot? Here’s a brief guide!
Let’s start with stability shoes; these are designed for use by runners suffering from overpronation, and those with the problem of flat feet. It is also notable that many, but not all, runners with flat feet suffer from overpronation. This type of shoe will provide you with greater side support and may also be fitted with high-density foam for added stability. The design of these shoes is in the form of a very gentle rise from front to back, to give the foot the ideal movement it requires.
Motion Control Shoes
If you have severe overpronation problems you should look at motion control shoes. These will have an arch that is reinforced or filled in order to try and compensate for the roll. The design – which will be a very rigid shoe – is intended to prevent your heel from rolling outwards, which is what happens when you overpronate.
Finally, the cushioning shoe is one that is designed to be less rigid and more flexible than the above, with a curved design that is intended to help prevent you from suffering from underpronating feet, or high arches.
It’s important to know that when you go to a shop to buy specific types of running shoes, the type of shoe may not be openly displayed. It helps if you purchase your running shoes from a speciality shop, in which case there will be an attendant who has the knowledge to help you find the right sort of shoe for your type of foot.
Before we look in more depth at some of the main components of the running shoe, here are a few tips for choosing the right one.
Now that we have the basics about types of shoe and types of feet, we think we ought to go into more detail about the different parts of the running shoe – the anatomy of the shoe itself.
The Main Parts that Make Up a Running Shoe
You might think a running shoe is a simple construction. In some ways it can be considered so – a shoe is a shoe after all – but as we have already seen, different types of running shoe include a variety of features. The general make-up of a running shoe includes the upper, the midsole and the outsole, so let’s start with the upper, and the bits and pieces that go with it.
The upper of a running shoe is the part that covers the top of the foot, and is made from fabric designed to be durable and breathable. You may find that your running shoes have an overlay – a further mesh part for strength – but this is not present in every running shoe.
The tongue is the part of the shoe that covers the gap beneath the laces. In some more sophisticated running shoes, the tongue is attached to the sides of the shoe via flexible gussets, in order to prevent debris such as stones and dirt getting into the shoe itself.
At the very front of the shoe is the toe box; this is sometimes rigid, and it’s a part you need to be sure you are comfortable with before you buy your shoes. It should provide plenty of room for the toes to flex in, while affording them protection.
You shoe may have a heel protector too, although these are not always present on a running shoe.
The midsole forms the core of the shoe – the part you actually stand on – and is specifically designed for providing a comfortable cushion, and for efficient energy return when running. There are many different materials that can be used to achieve the desired effect of what is a technically important part of the shoe.
Different types of midsole foam provide different levels of bounce and support: for example, among the most popular is EVA, which is used in general running shoes as well as specialist ones. It is versatile, cheap and does the job, but in the cold will lose its flexibility. PU, polyurethane, does not have this problem, and also provides adequate bounce, but is much heavier than EVA.
Other types of foam are TPU, a sophisticated double-layered form of PU which is also heavier than EVA, and Pebax, which is lighter and more flexible, and is rapidly gaining favor in the world of high-end running shoes from the likes of Nike.
The final major part of a running shoe is the outsole, the part that forms the contact with the ground. Usually made from rubber – either solid rubber or what is known as blown rubber – the outsole is designed to provide grip and will feature specific cut-outs for the type of terrain it is intended to be used for.
While solid rubber soles will last longer, the advantage of blown rubber lies in its flexibility, and it is often the choice for more expensive, serious-use running shoes.
The sole will be designed to incorporate a part between the heel and the front, which is known as the shank or footbridge, and this is the part designed for stability, to reduce twists and rolls. The heel of a running shoe is usually sculpted for more comfortable landings, and you may find other design touches that come with more specialized soles.
So, now we’ve touched on just about everything to do with running shoes, we’ll finish with a quick recap of important points to remember.
Our Final Points
The running shoe is, as we have shown above, a sophisticated take on the standard footwear theme, with many unique features. Designed for comfort as well as practicality, these shoes can be chosen for a particular type of foot, so let’s list a few points to remember when choosing a running shoe.
A running shoe needs to last a sensible amount of time, and for the better models you may find you pay more than for budget shoes. However, as with all such products, we strongly advise that you buy the very best your budget allows, so enjoy running in your new shoes!