If the shoe fits

Salina Christmas gets asked all the time about the type of running shoes that would suit a runner. Here, she gives a general advice. Please print this out and stick it on your wall.

Since January 2014 until yesterday, the day before the London Marathon 2014, I have been dealing with customers who sought after running shoes that fit their style of running, not to mention social aspirations.

Different shoes for different type of running. From the front: Nike Pegasus 30+, Puma Mobium Elite, Adidas Kanadia 5 and Adidas Supernova Glide.
Different shoes for different type of running. From the front: Nike Pegasus 30+, Puma Mobium Elite, Adidas Kanadia 5 and Adidas Supernova Glide. © Z Holmes/GLUE

The most frequent question I got asked by the London Marathon participants, as well as those looking for running shoes in general, was: “What type of shoes would suit me?” This question would normally be preceded by voluntary revelation of past and present injuries, and the types of race the customers were training for.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, to arrive at a point of reference, I would direct them to our gait analysis system in which aspects such as the foot arch, the back of the ankle and running movement are scrutinised.

“Runners tend to get attached to brands. They have this perception that certain running shoes are the panacea of their foot predicament”

Looking for magic

However, although the store I work at has a selected on premium running shoes, I try not to make a recommendation based on shoe reputation alone. Yes, it is a given that Asics, Brooks and Mizuno are the chosen brands for the serious runners, but unless the runner specifically requests for any of the brands mentioned, I would get the customer to try on neutral shoes first, regardless of brands.

I find that runners, the advanced ones as well as the beginners, tend to get attached to brands. They have this perception that certain running shoes are the panacea of their foot predicament, and that having ‘Brand A with Dynamic Support plus Spongy Gel Outsole at £170’ will save their knees and ankles from getting busted after months of pounding on the tarmac.

“Good habits are cultivated through training. Don’t rely on the shoes to instil good habit in you. They’re only shoes”

The beginners are worse, especially the exclusive-club types who say “I can’t see myself in Adidas”, or the super sprint tri aspirants whose previous running experience is limited to sprinting on treadmills. These are the types who, accustomed to only one brand they know best from advertisements – Nike – think that New Balance shoes are way too cheap, and that Brooks, “a British brand” (yes, Seattle is in the United Kingdom. Not), are ugly and unpopular. “I want Asics,” they would demand. “Why?” I would ask. “Because my friend says they’re good” would be the reply.

Be a brand agnostic

I tend to be brand agnostic. Of course, as soon as I earn more money, I’ll get those £150 Brooks Transcend shoes because they are good. Nonetheless, even with the gait analysis, I cannot really tell anyone the type of running shoes that would suit a runner.

Rather, after an analysis, I would tell the customer: “This is how you run, and this is what tends to happen when you run due to your posture. How about training to change or improve the way you run in order to suit a certain type of race that you enjoy?”

New Balance 1080v3. Light, neutral support, cheap, but gets the writer moving fast. © Z Holmes/GLUE
New Balance 1080v3. Light, neutral support, cheap, but gets the writer moving fast. © Z Holmes/GLUE

Here’s some shoe advice

The general advice that I would give to any beginner is to first build his or her core strength. There two types of running shoes, neutral and supported. It would be good for a beginner who aspires to race to consider a pair of supported shoes. This is so that the shoes could guide his or her feet to point the right way, that is, straight ahead.

However, good habits such as running stance and front-foot striking are cultivated through training. Don’t rely on the shoes to instil good habit in you. They’re only shoes.

The advanced runners who have developed their strength and understand their running style and temperament can go for neutral shoes, or cushioned outsoles with stronger heel counters which some models like Asics Gel Kayano provide, or thinner outsoles characteristics of shoes with, say, 4mm heel-to-toe drop.

Your gait changes, and so should your shoes

I wear a pair Nike Pegasus 30+, neutral shoes with thick, cushioned outsoles for runs longer than 10k, but also when recovering from injuries such as shin splint, which I am suffering from at the moment. I haven’t run properly without experiencing pain for six weeks.

In the last few days, I have been wearing a pair of Adidas Adizero trainers, which are thinner as they are meant for track sessions. Guess what? They make me more conscious of the ground, forcing me to think about my gait whilst walking and running. But I can only wear Adizero comfortably as my legs begin to improve. Now who’s to say one brand is much superior than the other? I swap them around to suit my changing gait as I progress from limping all over the place to walking properly.

But I know, runners would not stop demanding for elite brands because they are of high quality. I would buy a pair, too, in preparation for a big race. I have, however, raced the 7k handicap in a pair of medium-priced, neutral New Balance shoes, where I shaved three minutes off my time compared with my race in the previous month. The race wasn’t about the shoes, and the shoes certainly did not wear me.

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