The Almighty running shoe! Most runner’s get a zip of excitement looking for that next pair of shoes whether its going to a running store or pressing the online buy button. Deciding which shoe to use for training and racing is a question that often comes up. How do you decide which shoe to use for a workout or race to maximize your training and racing? (See your PT to determine what shoe(s) would be a good fit for your biomechanics).
1. Typical Running Shoe (Motion control, Cushioned and Neutral shoe): This shoe typically has a high somewhat cushioned heel (larger drop) and fancy anti-pronation devices for stabilization. Most new runners will want to start out using a shoe in this category. Anyone with significant orthopedic impairments will likely want to stay in this category in general, as it provides cushioning and/or extra control of the foot. This shoe will generally be the shoe used for long slow runs, recovery runs after a tough race on pavement or concrete for recovery and most basic training. This is also a good shoe if you have lax ligaments, such as during pregnancy.
2. Transition shoe: (Light weight shoe with a drop of around 5 mm): These shoes are generally lighter in weight with less support and a slight drop from heel to toe. Runners will need to have good calf, foot flexibility and foot strength before using (see below). These shoes are good to use for the transition from a typical running shoe to more minimalist and barefoot running. They also provide a great opportunity to train at faster paces. They are a good alternative to use for track sessions or shorter runs from ~3-5 miles once the runner is accustomed to using them. While they don’t provide as much cushioning or leverage as racing flats (they are very flexible), some runners can get away with using them during racing.
3: Minimal Shoe: Minimal shoes are very lightweight and flexible with as little midsole and upper as possible. Runners must have sufficient range in ankle dorsiflexion (30 degrees) and first MTP extension (30 degrees) for use. These shoes provide the runner with an opportunity to transition to as close to barefoot as possible without having to significantly worry about running surface issues. For the experienced minimalist user, these shoes may be all the runner uses for running. The newer runner can also use these for foot strengthening and increasing proprioception (joint and tactile foot propriception) for improved overall balance.
4. Trail Shoe: There are a variety of trail shoes (some typical running shoe style and some minimal) but the basic premise is they have an outer sole usually have a special tread made for increased traction. A runner can use these shoes to help take the monotony out of everyday running to get off the roads and onto the trail. This helps a runner learn to slow running down (for long runs), use their propriceptive system more (eyes, joint and tactile foot propriception) on trails and strengthen ankles on the various terrain changes. This may help alleviate the overuse work from the same forward motion in flat surface running.
5. Racing Flat: The racing flat is not a well known shoe (typically used in track and field and cross country) but worth a look. Racing flats now have ironically increased in the amount of cushioning and heel rise in recent years, headed in the opposite direction of minimalist shoes. But they tend to be slightly stiffer and are worth a look for the serious racer who wants to run fast in intervals and races with a little more support.
6. Spikes: These are typically a track shoe only. They are similar to a minimal shoe with a very stiff mid and outersole and of course spikes (usually 1/4 or 3/16 length depending on what type of track is available). Most average runners won’t don a pair but they are worth trying if the runner is serious about running a fast mile or shorter distance. These are good to try for the runner who wants to test their all out sprint speed, increase turnover and improve running form. If you have the chance, try a willing friend’s pair on and you will note that full out sprinting and using forefoot landing is very different than mid-foot landing running and it will give you a new appreciation of running form drills. The proper way to use these is a few trials during practice over several weeks (3-4 100 meters) to work into the use and then a trial in a race.