The theory goes that people are either dedicated to one particular pair of shoes, or they have more than they can count, but for most people you are probably somewhere on the spectrum of that. When you find something that works for you, there is the tendency to stick to that thing like glue – but there are some benefits to getting a rotation happening and having specific shoes for specific jobs.
Before you jump into buying something new because it’s SO PRETTY (I know, the struggle is real), there are a couple things that you should look at first.
Neutral vs Stability
Neutral just means that your foot doesn’t roll either in or out when you run. If it does, you might like a shoe with a bit more support to stop that happening – which is known as a stability shoe. The cool thing is that most websites now will allow you to search exclusively for neutral or stability shoes so it makes it easier to look at the right shoes for you. One thing to be aware of is that often a pronation might be to do with a strength imbalance – so rather than treating the symptom – it could be worth your while to check it out with your treatment professional. By far the easiest way to tell if you need neutral or stability shoes is just to go find your favourite and most comfortable running shoe and search online to see what type of shoe it is.
This is the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the toe. You’ll find some shoes are zero drop (popular with minimalist running shoes) or low drop (Hoka is famously high cushion but low drop and most of their shoes have about a 4mm drop) and then you’ll have shoes which are more standard with a higher drop (standard is around 10-12mm usually). There’s no right or wrong here, it’s just about what you personally find comfortable. The argument for a low drop is that it is a more natural motion and discourages heel striking, thus engaging your body’s natural suspension system. However, if you are prone to plantar fasciitis, the higher drop can help to take the pressure off your calves. Again, the imporant thing here is not to replace a shoe for actually getting to the source of your issue – but it can help to know the benefits of each.
What about all the technology and fancy words
Research indicates that despite all the jargon used to sell shoes, it all actually comes down to what you find comfortable. So don’t worry too much about the marketing and go with things that feel good for you and your body.
Different shoes for different runs?
In your week you’ll probably have long runs and easy runs and interval runs and sprint runs and tempo runs and probably a whole bunch of other types of sessions too. There are a few benefits to having different shoes for different purposes. One is longevity. If you think about the fact that shoes need to be replaced every 600km or every 12 months (whichever comes first) then spreading out your distance across a few shoes will tend to make them last a bit longer and you will have to break in new shoes a bit less regularly. The other benefit is that there is evidence to show that running in different shoes can reduce your risk of injury. This is mainly to do with the fact that introducing variety into your running movement (which tends to lack variety by design) is a good thing. But the main reason is that different sessions will have different goals. For long runs and easy runs where you have not pace goals a super comfortable shoe with a nice amount of cushion makes sense. But for sprint work, where it’s all about the power you apply to the ground, a larger sole and a bulkier shoe are counter productive. You want something that is as close to the ground as possible. And for tempo runs you probably want something in between. It has to be comfortable, but you want it to be lighter and more responsive as the pace demands.
You’ll notice in descriptions things might be described as a daily trainer (easy running shoe), racing flat (sprints or races) or an uptempo shoe (faster paced sessions like tempo runs) and that can help you find something that’s going to be appropriate for you.
Where do you start?
Chances are you already have an easy running shoe that is working well for you, so take a look at your training and decide which type of shoe you would get the most value out of and start there. Often, a safe bet is going with the shoe brand you already like because there’s a much higher chance their lightweight and responsive shoes are going to be good for your feet too.