The Anatomy of a Running Shoe
The struggle to find the right pair of running shoes is real. But once you do, you feel you have transformed your feet into two powerful engines. Whether you are starting out as a runner without a clue about proper gear or an experienced runner with a history of injuries, picking between the hundreds of styles of shoes out there is a serious process. Many runners spend years running in the same style of shoes without a problem, but what if switching to an updated version or an entirely different brand makes your running experience more pleasant, or even better—improves your performance? Having a good understanding of your own foot anatomy is important when choosing a running shoe. It is also extremely helpful to learn about the different segments of the shoe itself.
Ideally, the best running shoes are the ones that provide the lightest feel with a perfectly cushioned sole and make you feel like they push you to your next step. There is not one shoe that provides this feel for every single runner because everyone’s feet are formed differently. Some have high arches, or are flat-footed, or possibly contain bunions or other bone deformities that may affect the fit of a shoe. When testing out running shoes, the way to know which is right for you is quite simple. The best shoe should feel good from the moment you put them on until the moment you take them off. Your feet should not consistently ache every time you use them, or should you get blisters or chafing when using them.
Components of the Running Shoe
This top layer is made up of the parts that encase your foot. You will find most current running shoes have an upper made up of a variety of materials such as mesh, fabric, or leather. The materials used in any part of the shoe are used for different reasons, such as to enhance breathability, prevent chafing, or to decrease the weight of the shoe.
As the name states, this is where the toes would be encased. When trying on shoes, the toe box should feel roomy and allow you to expand your toes. In order to prevent too much pressure through the toes during running, it is important to choose a size that has about a thumbprint more room in the front of the toe box.
Collar and Heel Counter
This part of the upper is usually made up of cushioning that wraps around the sides of the rear of the shoe connecting to a more rigid component that helps keep the foot in place. Think of it as the part of the shoe protecting your Achilles tendon.
This middle portion of the shoe is what controls excessive movements of the foot, such as over-pronation or ankle rolling. The most common material used for midsoles is ethylene vinyl acetate, or EVA, due to its lightweight and cushioned nature. The only problem with EVA is that it wears away much quicker than other materials. Within this portion of the shoe is where you will find cushioning devices that do the job of shock absorption.
Usually made out of plastic, the medial post is found in the inner portion of the shoe. The purpose of this component in running shoes is to prevent over-pronation, which can lead to the development of plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, Achilles tendinitis, and IT band syndrome.
Lastly, the bottom portion of the shoe is what provides traction, flexibility, and is used to show signs of wear and tear. This portion of the shoe is most important for trail runners, as it is the part that protects against rocks and dirt. The main materials used for the outsole are carbon rubber or blown rubber. Carbon rubber is more durable but may feel heavier and stiffer. If you are looking for a lighter shoe with more flexibility than blown rubber is best. The shape of the outsole is important, especially for pronators, who will need a more rigid and less curve-shaped bottom.
Once you learn about the anatomy and function of your feet, picking the right shoe should be based on those findings. The materials used can play a role in the development of blisters and calluses on those with foot deformities like bunions or enlarged bones. If you are flatfooted or tend to pronate while running, the stiffness of the shoe is important to prevent other problems either in the feet or joints higher up in the body. The structure and component of some styles of shoes may feel light and fast, but most likely do not last as long as others. The rule is to switch shoes at the range of 300-500 miles of use but to keep in mind that some lighter pairs may last much less time. If your feet are aching after long use and the sole of the shoe looks worn out and the upper wasted in some places, it is time to get a new pair.