How To Choose A Pair Of Running Shoes

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Lots of seasoned runners already know what they want in a running shoe, and will naturally be able to pick out what shoes work for them and what don’t. However, knowing what you want inevitably takes a certain amount of trial and error, and sometimes a little grief. Here, I shall endeavour to help you skip the trial and error part and get straight to the fun part about running.

First and foremost, I will start off by saying that there will be shoes that are simply not for you, no matter how you try to adjust and let your feet get use to the fit and feel. For example, I love the look of the Nike Lunarspider R-series shoes, but these shoes will never work for my foot shape and my running style. Secondly, you need to realize that different shoes are designed with different types of running in mind. Thirdly, there’s no such thing as one brand being synonymous with a particular style or fit of shoe. Almost all the major brands carry a myriad of models to cater to a wide range of foot types and running styles.

How To Choose A Pair Of Running Shoes

With that in mind, the first thing to ask yourself is “what kind of runner am I?” Important considerations are your weight, your mileage, how fast you run, the terrain you like to run on, and finally, special considerations like running style, foot type and past injuries. I’ll address these points in this article, but first, lets look at the 4 broad categories of running shoes.

Running shoes can broadly be grouped into the following categories:

Category Durability Examples
Racers Low Nike Lunaracer
Asics HyperSpeed
NB 1400/1500/1600
Adidas Takumi Sen/Ren Boost
Lightweight Trainers
200-250g in US 9.0
Low-Medium Saucony Kinvara
Adidas Adios Boost
NB Zante
Skechers GoRun / GoRun Ride
Daily Trainers
250-300g in US 9.0
Medium-High Brooks Ghost
New Balance Boracay
Nike Zoom Elite
Adidas Energy Boost
UnderArmour Gemini
Saucony Ride
Premium Daily Trainers
>300g in US 9.0
High Brooks Glycerin
Nike Zoom Vomero
Adidas Ultra Boost
Saucony Triumph

Weight

It is commonly quoted that the maximum force exerted on your legs while running is up to 3x your body weight. It therefore comes as no surprise that your weight plays a big role in determining what kind of shoes you can get away with. I have known two male runners who weighed in the mid-50kg range; one of them wore a very minimal Brooks T7 as his only shoe for every run for months on end, another wore only one pair of Nike Lunaracers for all his runs and made that pair last for more than a year. At the other end of the spectrum, a more muscular or heavy-set runner can perhaps get only 2-3 months out of a pair of Lunaracers if he used it as a daily shoe.

Mileage

How far and how often you run makes a big difference to what kind of shoes you should be looking at. The durability of a shoe is dependent on two main characteristics: a) the thickness and firmness of the midsole, and b) the characteristics of the outsole. Running shoes can only function as they were designed to if both the midsole and outsole integrity are preserved. If either of them fails, then it is time to get new shoes.

The thicker the midsole, the greater its capacity to absorb impact forces, and hence the longer it will last. Additionally, a firmer (i.e. denser) midsole compound will generally last longer than a softer one. Shoe manufacturers often walk the fine line between the durability and “softness” of the shoe.

One example is the very popular Saucony Kinvara. The Kinvara is a very popular marathon racing shoe, because it is lightweight (lighter than e.g. an Adidas Adios Boost), and has a soft feeling midsole. The downside is this shoe does not last very long before the midsole “dies”, because the Kinvara sports a relatively thin layer of soft midsole foam.

How To Choose A Pair Of Running Shoes

Outsole rubber falls broadly into two forms, blown rubber and carbon-injected rubber. Blown rubber is softer, lighter and less durable; it is seen on shoes like the New Balance Zante. Carbon Injected rubber is almost always black in colour, and is a much firmer compound with a higher degree of wear resistance, and is often used in high wear zones like the heel landing zone of the outsole (e.g. on the Asics DS Racer)

Oftentimes, lighter shoes save weight by using exposed midsole foam or minimal use of blown rubber or a combination of the two, and all these lead to reduced durability of the shoes. Examples of these are some Brooks Pureproject shoes, and Skechers running shoes. Hence, if durability is a priority then make sure you get shoes with a generous amount of outsole rubber.

Running Pace

Logically, lighter shoes are easier to run fast in than heavier shoes, but fast and slow are always relative. To an elite professional runner, anything above 4:00 pace is an easy/recovery pace, but that does not mean that anyone who cannot run at 4:00/km should be running only in heavy trainers.

Running should first and foremost, be enjoyable, so choose shoes that allow you to do the kind of running you want. If you are going for an easy run, then a heavier shoe that provides softer cushioning would be a great choice. If you want to run a faster tempo run, then a lightweight trainer or daily trainer would feel easier to pick up the pace as they don’t feel so cumbersome on the feet. If you want to do intervals on the track, then a pair of racers might be more suited for giving you that feeling of running fast.

One thing to bear in mind is that shoes feel different at different running paces for different people. This is a result of the characteristics of the midsole foam, the shape of the shoe, and the runner’s weight and running style. I have shoes that feel great at sub 4:30 pace and horribly firm at anything slower and others that feel great at jogging speeds but feel incredibly mushy any tedious to run in at a faster clip.

The problem is, it is very difficult to predict how a shoe will respond to your running style and speed. It is always good if you can do a short test jog in the shoe if the shop has a treadmill. Herein lies the risk of buying shoes without testing them out. It is not just a matter of walking around in them but running at the pace you plan to use them in, even for a few minutes makes a difference to your decision-making process.

Terrain

By and large, most shoes can be used on pretty much all forms of urban and suburban terrain. Rocky or technical trails will require shoes with higher grip and/or protection and so in these instances, trail-specific shoes may be required; they tend to have firmer outsoles with greater traction patterns to improve grip and prevent sharp objects from poking through the shoe. If you predominatly run on soft trails, then you can probably get away with shoes with lower durability as soft trails wear down shoes slower than concrete.

Special Considerations 

Running style can determine the type of shoe that works best for you. For example, a forefoot strike runner will benefit more from shoes with a lower heel-toe drop, so that the heel does not get in the way when the foot lands. Even within this sub-category of low drop shoes, there are sufficient options in terms of racers and high-mileage trainers to cater to your needs. As a general rule, forefoot strikers prefer low drop shoes (0-4mm), midfoot strikers prefer mid-drop shoes (6-8mm) and heel strikers prefer conventional drop shoes (8-12mm). If you are unsure of your running style, it is best to start off with a shoe in the middle-of-the-road 6-8mm drop range as these tend to be the most versatile in terms of accommodating different running styles.

Foot shape can greatly limit your shoe options as well. Shoe widths are standardized as follows:

Shoe Width Men Women
Narrow B A
Standard D B
Wide 2E D
Extra Wide 4E 2E

All shoes come in the standard width, and a smaller selection (usually the daily trainers) is available in width options, though that tends to be exceptionally limited in Singapore, perhaps due to lack of market demand. By and large, people with low arches or flat feet tend to do better in wide shoes and people with high arches can get away with either standard or narrow shoes.

With the regard to the need for pronation control in shoes, if in doubt always start with neutral shoes. There is a whole body of evidence debating the need for pronation control at all and the easiest way to navigate it all is to see if you have injury or comfort problems with neutral shoes. If not, then there is no need to consider pronation control at all.

Finally, there is the issue of injury history. There is no firm rule on this, and the recommendations are strictly anecdotal, but highly cushioned and soft-feeling shoes tend to work well for people with a history of shin splints or plantar fasciitis. The only time I would highly recommend motion control shoes is when people have a history of issues with ankle stability or ligament injuries that permanently compromise the stability of the ankle. People with a history of Achilles tendoninitis/tendinosis should also avoid low drop shoes and perhaps transition to shoes with a higher heel-toe drop.

Case Studies

We have just gone through a lot of theory but it’s often easier to look at examples.

I’ll start with myself. I weigh 63kg and I have very low arches. Fortunately, I’ve never had any ankle or foot injuries before. My BMI is actually 21.8 which is on the high side even for middle distance runners, and I only focus on running marathons. I tend to run an average of 140-150km a week for most of the year, and peaking at close to 180km during a marathon preparation.

How To Choose A Pair Of Running Shoes

For me, shoe durability is a big priority, as is cushioning, mainly due to my high running volume. Weight is the least important of my priorities when I look for a training shoe. Due to the combination of my relatively high BMI and my high run volume, I almost never use shoes in the sub-200g range except during high speed workouts or shorter races. In fact, the weights of my racing shoes over my two fastest marathons were 228g (Brooks Pureconnect2 in 2:42:01 at Boston ’14) and 206g (Brooks Green Silence in 2:44:06 at Berlin ’14).

In 2013, I did the Gold Coast Marathon in a pair of 186g Nike Lunaracer+ 3 in 2:47 and this year I did the Seoul Marathon in the 195g Nike Zoom Streak 5 in 2:49. This tells me that as much as I’d like to race in light shoes, I simply cannot get away with them for marathons. My daily trainers tend to be in the 270-290g range.

Due to the lack of variety for 2E width shoes in general, I tend to use standard D width shoes. Fortunately, I can get away with them with loose lacing techniques and accepting a certain amount of heel slippage.

I almost always go for neutral shoes because a) neutral shoes tend to feel softer underfoot, partly because in stability shoes, whatever stability wedge is utilized in the medial arch has to be firm to provide support, and b) stability are always heavier than their neutral counterparts. In terms of feel, I do not feel the difference between neutral and stability shoes at all, but that’s just me.

Let’s look at our national 10km runner Melvin Wong. He’s about 60kg at race weight, has high arches and narrow feet. He tends to run with a more mid-foot to forefoot landing style and for all intents and purposes uses neutral shoes exclusively. Based on my observations, he has a proclivity for shoes with a more traditional ground feel.

How To Choose A Pair Of Running Shoes

Melvin does most of his runs in the Adidas Boston Boost. (photo credit: Soon Tong)

Melvin does most of his runs in the Adidas Boston Boost (10mm drop), which happens to be the least Boost-like in terms of feel among the neutral selection, predicated on the entire forefoot using conventional EVA foam, likely Adiprene. Melvin actually does relatively high volume running at around 120-130km a week, but because most of his running is relatively fast, he does not need heavily cushioned shoes.

If you are more of a hobby jogger then this next example might hit closer to home. D is a young lady who jogs 2-3 times a week, usually around 40 mins and not more than an hour each time. She does not pay attention to pacing but for the purposes of this discussion, her average paces tend to be in the 7:00/km range. She is a mid-to-forefoot landing runner with standard width feet and normal arches, and does not over-pronate. She averages about 2-3 runs a week.

What kind of shoes would she like? She has tried shoes from the racing spectrum (Nike Lunaracer), the lightweight trainer spectrum (Adidas Adios Boost, Brook PureCadence, NB 890v4) and the daily trainer spectrum (UnderArmour Gemini, Adidas Energy Boost). G found that for her running style and frequency, she liked the Adios Boost and PureCadence best as they provided her with the right balance of cushioning and light weight.

Both Adios and Purecadence are in fact fast-wearing shoes, and one would never expect them to last more than 500km (in fact, it is advertised as such for the Brooks Pureseries) but for a low mileage jogger 500km is more than sufficient to last 5-6 months of running. She liked the UA Gemini ok, as it was in the right ballpark for cushioning and the fit was comfortable, but the weight was on the heavier side.

How To Choose A Pair Of Running Shoes

Like in most cases, D went through a series of shoes to find her favourite pair.

Conversely, she did not like the Energy Boost at all, finding the shoe clunky to wear (even though the Gemini is less than 10g lighter than the Energy Boost), counterintuitive to what one would expect for someone trotting along at 7:00/km pace. I suspect this may be because the weight of the Energy Boost seems to concentrate around the heel and forefoot strikers don’t like that.

Our last example is P, a semi-competitive runner in his 30s, and runs ~80km a week. He is a heel striker and mild overpronator. He has normal arches and medium volume feet. He has had issues in the past with plantar fasciitis. Looking at these details on paper, I would recommend such a runner daily trainers with a focus on heel and midfoot cushioning, and perhaps shoes with drops in the 6-10mm range; towards lower drop for racers and higher drop for trainers.

As he runs relatively low mileage, he can get away with using a lightweight trainer more frequently. Examples would be the Saucony Fastwitch or NB 1500 for race use, the Asics DS Trainer for daily runs, and perhaps a Brooks Ravenna for longer runs. The priorities in the decision-making process are to ensure that they shoes have stability for the over-pronation, and enough softness in the heel so as minimize the risk of triggering the plantar fasciitis.

Conclusion

In summary, find out your foot shape, then choose shoe types based on the softness and the durability that you need for different types of runs, bearing in mind whether you need stability or not. Again, if in doubt go neutral. Shoes do not make your run faster; they are meant to get out of your way so that you can run how you want.

By | 2017-03-28T20:55:10+00:00 July 22nd, 2015|Running, Training, Triathlon|

About the Author:

Profile photo of Dr Derek Li
Dr. Derek Li is a family physician by profession. He started doing triathlons in 2003, and took part in the 70.3 world championships in Las Vegas in 2011 and 2012. Subsequently he focused on running marathons in 2013. He currently has a personal best of 2:42 set at the 2014 Boston Marathon. He now reviews various running products in his spare time.