Choosing the Correct Running shoe

Oct 26, 2019

Running shoes

Runners who complete long distances, such as Comrades, place a lot of faith in their running shoes. Having worn the shoes for 90 long kilometres, along with the many hundreds of kilometres of pre-Comrades training, it is essential that you take a good and hard look at the shoes that have carried you over so long a distance.

However, any runner who is putting in the miles of training for any distance should place importance of finding the correct running shoe. When one looks at the choice of shoes available though, this may seem to be an impossible task.

What’s in a shoe? How much should we spend? Which is the best shoe on the market?  How long should a shoe last? Should I stick to the same type of shoe?

Today the runner is confronted with a bewildering assortment of over 80 different shoes, each with a specific distinguishing feature.  The question arises whether all this fuss is really necessary; and whether we could not manage as adequately with a far simpler and therefore cheaper shoe.

Many years ago, Comrades runners were equipped merely with a comfortable pair of tackies. Why do we today need expensive high technology shoes?

As recently as 20 years ago, there were very few long distance athletes around. The reason for this is that in the “old days” only those perfectly designed to run, could run – there was an element of self-selection in that those who had incorrect biomechanics developed injuries and ceased to run long distances. Those who continued to run were a select few who had the correct biomechanics.

Today, even the flat-footed, knock-kneed, and pigeon-toed can participate. This is largely due to the running shoe manufacturers who have spent fortunes on research in an effort to compensate for the incorrect biomechanics of the majority, thereby allowing people of all foot types to partake happily in running.  If it weren’t for these advances in shoe technology, three quarters of those running long distance races would never make it to the starting line, let alone the finish.

This process of shoe development is continually changing and improving, and as new materials and more advanced techniques of biomechanical correction are discovered, so the price escalates. We in South Africa have the additional burden of a poor exchange rate and high import duty. Our choice of shoe is a crucial one – obviously to avoid injury, but also because it can be an expensive mistake to realise a few weeks after acquiring a new pair, that they are not suitable.

75% – 90% of all injuries in distance runners are chronic overuse injuries caused by incorrect biomechanics. When running, we transmit 3 times our body weight through each leg with every step we take. A lot of shock absorption is required to dissipate these forces; otherwise an injury will occur. The body has a natural way of absorbing shock, and this is called “pronation”. It is a perfectly natural and healthy way of running. Let me explain:  There are 3 different types of feet. Firstly, the normal foot – as we land, the normal foot tends to strike the ground on the outside of the heel. In the normal foot, the weight is then passed along the outer border of the foot and then moves across towards the inside of the foot, allowing us to then push off with the big toe. This rolling movement is what is known as “pronation”.  The few amongst us who have this type of foot are fortunate enough to be able to run in almost any type of shoe.

The second type of foot is the flat-foot or “over-pronated” foot.  Here the arch of the foot is dropped or even in some cases obliterated, and the foot tends to over-pronate, i.e. rolls too far over, allowing excess motion of the ankles. This excessive movement is a cause of many injuries, even those which are far removed from the foot. Common examples include shin-splints, achilles tendonitis, and especially runner’s knee. We can correct this largely by buying a firm shoe with a good arch support.

The third type of foot is the high arched or “supinated” foot. We call this foot a “clunk foot”. This foot is a rigid foot with very little rolling over movement, and therefore very poor shock-absorption. This type of person will need a soft shoe, i.e. one with a lot of cushioning, as they are prone to stress fractures.

Each of the major shoe companies have a range of shoes which cater for all 3 of the foot types. In addition, there are shoes with special features designed for the heavier runner, the lighter runner, racing, the lady runner, a wide forefoot, and the cross-country runner, among others. Knowing your foot type and the type of running you will be doing enables you to narrow down your choice to those that are made specifically for your category. Try on different makes of shoes within your category to ascertain personal preferences as to comfort and price.

Gary Sobel

Gary is a physiotherapist based in Linksfield West in Johannesburg. He has a special interest in treating sports injuries, running injuries and orthopaedics. He has also assisted a number of top Comrades and Iron Man athletes with treatment. Read more about Gary here.

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