Thursday, November 24, 2016

How to Pick the Perfect Pair of Shoes for Long Distance Running

Part of our major project in Technical Writing class this fall was to interview a subject matter expert (SME), who was also part of the class, and write about a topic in which he/she has most knowledge. I was partnered with Aaron, a former employee of an athletic shoe store, so we decided the topic I would write about was how to choose the most suitable pair of running shoes.

Disclaimer: This post aims to help new and prospective marathon runners find the perfect pair of running shoes suitable for their specific type of feet and running distance. It will only focus on two major brands– Asics and Saucony, but will include a comparison between Nike Flyknit(style-driven) and Asics GEL-Nimbus 18(support-driven). It will not discuss shoes for runners with specialized needs. These people must seek the help of a licensed orthotist and prosthetist in obtaining the appropriate running shoes. 

This post is part of a longer document that was edited for brevity.

MARATHONS have become a global trend attracting more new runners each year. A marathon is a long distance running competition that covers a track of 42 kilometres.  As new runners, we must receive proper and sufficient training before joining a marathon for an optimum performance. In addition to solid training and a clean bill of health, we must also possess the right pair of running shoes that will provide support and enhance our performance.  
Photo found in

The first marathon race was held in 1896 in Greece during the first modern Olympics. The event inspired American Olympic Team Manager John Graham to establish the Boston Marathon in the US. It started as a local race but quickly became popular with runners all over the world and even inspired international corporations to organize their own races. The initial race track measured 40 kilometres and was later changed in 1908 to its current length of 42 kilometres in accordance with the Olympic standards.Today, marathons have become increasingly popular that, in North America alone, there are approximately 600 races held annually with more than 500,000 registered runners*.

Types of Feet
Running is a high impact exercise, which causes a direct force on our bodies that can potentially lead to injuries in our muscles and joints. Using a correct pair of running shoes helps us avoid certain injuries and provides our body with the support and stability it needs while in motion. There is no single standard pair of shoes for runners because not all feet are the same and therefore, the way we walk is not the same.  The way our feet touch the ground when we step (or what is called a foot strike) is crucial in knowing what types of shoes are suitable to wear for running long distances. There are three types of foot strikes: pronation, supination, and neutral.

Pronation is the natural way our feet roll inward when we walk and run. When our feet strike the ground, the arches flex down and inwards to disperse the impact. It is healthy and normal for our feet to pronate, because it helps our feet absorb shock.

Supination is the opposite of pronation; it is the way our feet roll outward during motion. Natural supination occurs during walking or running when we dig into our forefeet and toes and lift our heels (also called the push-off) to drive our bodies forward.

Both pronation and supination are natural and healthy foot strikes. They become abnormal and harmful when both movements are prolonged and excessive; the problem starts when we over-pronate or over-supinate.Flat feet usually tend to over-pronate, but it is not necessarily true that all high-arched feet over-supinate.

A neutral gait is the most efficient walking or running posture. If we have neutral foot strikes, we pronate to absorb shock as the foot strikes the ground, then supinate to form a rigid lever for an even push-off. The pronation and supination do not occur excessively but happen at the right time that contributes to good overall body alignment in which ankles, knees and hips are not strained inward or outward. 

How to Know Your Type
One of the ways to determine the type of our foot strike is by looking at the wear patterns of our well-worn running shoes. Pronation shows a wear pattern centralized on to where the balls of the feet and the outer sides of the heels are pressing; while, over-pronation shows significant wear patterns along the inner edge of the shoes where the big toes land. Supination creates wear patterns along the outer edges of the shoes. Neutral feet make even wear patterns on shoes. The worn treads are visible across the heels and under the balls of the feet, with additional wear marks underneath the big toes.

Another way to know the type of our foot strike is by doing the “Wet Test”.
  1. Pour water into a shallow pan and dip foot into it, making sure the entire sole of the foot becomes wet.
  2. Remove foot from the pan and step on to a brown paper bag or manila paper and stand on that leg.
  3. Take off foot and look at the water mark created. 
  4. Check the arch level of the feet by comparing the water mark with image below.
Over time, our foot types may change due to age, weight gain or the cumulative strain of high impact activities. Most of us may develop over-pronation after some time. Knowing the condition of our feet enables us to determine the type of protection and support they need.

Running Shoes - Brands and Tiers
In terms of quality and range, the two most popular brands of long distance running shoes in the market are Asics and Saucony. Asics is a Japanese company specializing in footwear and athletic equipment. It is well known for its patented Gel® Cushioning System. Saucony is an American company that manufactures racing shoes for all kinds of tracks and terrains. 

We can classify a pair of running shoes based on a tier system: high tier, mid-tier, and low tier. The shoe tier is directly proportional to the distance we are running and the price we are prepared to pay.
Low distance = low tier = low price
Low tier shoes are suitable for a running distance of 3 to 8 kilometres a week and usually cost $70 to $100. Mid-tier shoes are good for a running distance of 10 to 20 kilometres a week with a price range of $110-$140. High tier shoes are for running more than 20 kilometres a week and cost $150 and above. 
Design and Support
If we have neutral feet or if we are a mild pronator or supinator, we may choose neutral shoes with medium support and cushion. Since our foot strike is efficient, a pair of lightweight, comfortable running shoes is good enough.  

If we are an over-pronator, we should avoid shoes with excessive cushioning because they lack stability and motion control. We should buy shoes with firm midsoles and pronation-control features, such as stiffer heels or a straight lasted design. If we tend to supinate, we need to pick shoes with plenty of cushion and flexibility.  Well-cushioned shoes will provide our feet with the best shock absorption.

Since running shoes tend to be bulky, some of us may find them unfashionable. Some of us who insist on going after style instead of function need to remember that running marathons requires a pair of shoes that may not look trendy but offer plenty of stability and support during races. Let’s look at how a stylish-looking pair of sports shoes differs from a pair of running shoes with optimal support. 

Nike’s brand is driven by style and image. Its Flyknit models are designed to fit like a sock for a natural and weightless feel. The Nike Free Flyknit, for instance, features a comfortable, sock-like Flyknit upper and a midsole pattern that expands, flexes, and contracts with the feet in every step. These qualities are good for training in the gym and running short distances but will not be sufficient to support the feet for long races. Asics’ Gel-Nimbus models, on the other hand, provide ample cushioning from upper, forefoot, midsole, and rearfoot areas.  They may not match our style preferences, but they will serve us well “where the rubber meets the road”. 

Aside from support and stability, we need to look out for other important features, such as reflectiveness and water resistance when buying shoes. Running outdoors may lead us to areas with low visibility and varied weather conditions. We need to get the shoes with built-in reflective material that illuminates in the dark to enhance our vision. It is also a good idea to look for shoes made with Gore-Tex, a breathable fabric that repels water. Gore-Tex is used by most shoe manufacturers like Asics and Sasucony.

Purchase and Care
1. Try them on! 
Different manufacturers and brand models have different sizing systems; therefore, it is better to go to a shoe store and try on several pairs before buying. 
2. Buy at the end of the day.
The best time to buy shoes is in the evening or late afternoon. Our activities during the day may cause our feet to swell and make them bigger by evening. This will help us to avoid buying shoes that may be too small. We should also wear socks before trying on a pair. 
3. Know your correct size.
When checking for the correct size, our heel must be pushed back into the inner sole of the shoe with our toes leaving a small space, about a half or a full thumbnail in length, between them and the tip of the shoe. 
4. Use different pairs in rotation.
The average life span of a pair of running shoes is a mileage of 500 kilometres. It is recommended that we purchase a new pair after six months, especially if we run more than four hours a week. It is good to own more than one pair of running shoes so we can use them in rotation. 
5. Air dry only.
We should also avoid putting them in the dryer after cleaning, and we must use a shoe horn as we put them on to avoid unnecessary damage.

It is important to pick the correct pair of running shoes because they affect our running posture and impact the whole body. Finding out whether we have pronated, supinated or neutral feet is the first step in knowing what kind of running shoes will suit our needs. The two main brands to choose from are Asics and Saucony, but there are other brands that offer good quality and support. Shoes that offer proper stability, flexibility, and cushion will not only protect us from injuries but will also enhance our running experience.

*Runners World Online Data, October 2016


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