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How to Pick Running Shoes

by Jasper Blake

Shoe selection used to be easy. Back inthe early days when the running shoe market was born there were only a few players on the field and their line up of products was simple and limited. Today however, choosing a running shoe is far more complicated. There are literally dozens of companies occupying the market and each of them makes dozens of different products.

Sometimes too much choice can be paralyzing. To help you navigate the running shoe landscape here are four critical shoe elements you should consider when making a purchase.


1- Foot Type

Most companies build their shoes for specific foot types. Although there is a considerable range within the population, a person’s arch can generally fall into one of three categories, flat, neutral and high. Basically this measure refers to the nature of a person’s arch and how well formed it is. Shoes will often come with varying degrees of arch support. However, if you fall into one of the extremes you may need to seek the advice of a foot specialist for alternative solutions.

The other factor often considered is the width of the foot. Some people have narrow feet and others have wider feet. Some companies make varying shoe widths to accommodate this. Some people prefer different shoe brands all together based on how wide their shoes are made. One brand of shoe may not have the range you need. Thankfully there is no shortage of brands and inevitably one will suit your needs.


2- Running Gait

Foot type and running gait are often intimately connected. Running gait simply refers to how a person actually moves and lands when running. The simplest analysis usually involves observing what happens to the person’s foot, ankle, hips and upper body upon landing. Some people have a tendency to collapse inward especially at the foot and ankle upon landing. Shoe companies will often have a shoe within their line up that acts to support this collapse through a more stable medial portion and/or higher arch support. Likewise, they will usually have a shoe in the line up that is neutral for the person who has limited or no inward collapse.


3- Heel to Toe Offset

Heel to toe offset simply refers to the difference in height from the heel of the shoe to the toe of the shoe. Shoes that are considered “barefoot” or “minimalist” will often have zero difference in height from heel to toe. Conversely, more traditional running shoes will have 12-14mm of difference between heel and toe.

Although heel to toe offset is not new to shoes themselves, advertising and promoting shoes in this way certainly is. Several shoe companies even include this number in the promotional material or on the shoe itself.

Heel to toe offset might be one of the single most important factors when considering a shoe. If you have been running in a shoe with a 14mm offset and suddenly start running in a shoe with a 0mm or 2mm or even a 4mm offset it will stress your body differently. Lower heel to toe offsets will stretch the Achilles tendon and calf muscles to a greater extent. If your body is not ready for this it can cause injury. If you want to progress to a barefoot or minimalist running shoe I highly recommend that you work your way there gradually.


4- Terrain

The fourth and final factor you will need to consider when choosing a shoe is the terrain you will be running on. This is perhaps the easiest of the four. Most companies make both road and trail versions in their line up. The most forward thinking companies usually line up the foot type, running gait and heel to toe offset factors into both a trail and road version of the same shoe. This makes it easy to select a trail shoe with all the key elements you need personally built into essentially the same shoe as your road version.


The brands that align themselves more deeply with trail running often take the terrain factor a few steps further integrating some great technology into a shoe that helps you maximize performance off road. Some examples of this technology include the following

  1. Impact plates made of carbon fiber or harder plastic that help protect the foot when landing on rocky terrain
  2. Vents at the bottom of the shoe that allow water to drain out should you be running in wetter environments
  3. Light cabling instead of laces to avoid waterlogged laces and to maintain the integrity of the snug fit if the shoe becomes wet
  4. Tread patterns that allow for more significant gripping when off road
  5. Lighter weight or water repellent materials that do not become water logged and heavy when wet.


Running shoe technology has come a long way since its’ birth. Too much choice can be daunting but if you stick to these four aspects you should come out with the right one for you.


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