The perfect running shoe needs to suit two things: your foot, and the terrain you intend to run across.

running shoes

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How to match a shoe to your foot

If you are a regular runner, you will already be familiar with what you need to take into account when choosing a running shoe that suits you.

  • Cushioning. Generally speaking, the lighter the shoe, the less cushioning it has.

  • Flexibility. How much your trainer bends is closely linked to what kind of additional support it provides to the natural movement of your foot.

  • Motion control. Shoes with motion control are specifically designed to help create the ideal running style. Your gait naturally involves two phases: the pronation phase, when your foot rolls inward, and the supination phase, when your foot rolls outward.

    A neutral foot-strike will have your foot land in a slightly supinated position, roll through a mid-foot plant, and reach a slightly pronated position at toe-off. Motion control shoes will help you to achieve this ideal if you suffer from overpronation.

What an off-road shoe needs

For those running off-road, there are a few further elements to keep in mind.

  • Shoe tread. The wilder the running you plan to undertake, the more aggressive your shoe's tread will need to be. Grassy, steep or boggy terrain calls for deeper lugs, which will provide traction without getting clogged up with mud.

  • Grip. The grip a shoe provides on rock and pavement or when running in the wet depends on the rubber compound used in the sole. Typically, softer rubber will "stick" better but wear out more quickly; harder rubber might last longer, but will provide less traction.

  • Microspikes. If you're venturing out when ice and snow is on the ground, then a pair of lightweight microspikes will transform even a slippery run into something safe, easy and great fun. Microspikes consist of steel spikes or chain links with a tough elastic harness that fits over your shoe. They're not a permanent addition, and can be carried in a bum bag or rucksack when not in use.

  • Profile. The profile of a shoe refers to how close to the ground your foot sits. Low-profile shoes provide a much flatter foot position. These tend to be preferable for rougher off-road running. They give a more stable foot plant on constantly changing surfaces. Not only can they help you "feel" the ground better, they can help reduce the likelihood of acute injury caused by twisting or going over on your ankle. The downside of most lower-profile shoes is that they tend to be less well-cushioned and can put a greater strain on your Achilles tendon and calf muscle.

  • Protection. Most off-road shoes have a slightly tougher and more robust rand. This is the strip of rubber that joins the sole to the outer. It protects against impacts and reduces the chance that sand and grit get into the shoe.

  • Fit. When running off road, your foot tends to move more within your shoe due to the ever-changing nature of the terrain: it's rarely smooth. This leads to a greater risk of bruised toes, blisters and rubbing. Fell-running shoes in particular have a much tighter, narrower fit for this reason, and some trail-based shoes do much the same.

Types of running shoe

A broad summary of the different types of running shoes goes as follows.

running shoes

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  • Road shoes have a wider fit. The heel is more built up, there is greater cushioning, and there are options to include motion control as required.

  • Trail shoes have a wider fit, a semi-aggressive tread, protective toe cap and rand, good cushioning, a medium profile and some motion control.

  • Fell shoes have a snug fit, low profile, aggressive tread, protective toe cap and rand, limited cushioning and motion control.

    Runners who wear orthortics may struggle to fit them into some of the pure fell shoes due to the narrower last and, in some cases, the shoe having a non-detachable inner.

In practice, there are many shoes that are best described as crossovers, designed to cope well on road and trail or on trail and fell.

It is, however, unlikely you will find any shoes that excel both on fell and roads! Make sure you keep the terrain of your chosen trail in mind when picking out shoes for your run, and bring different types of shoe with you if necessary.

Running shoe trends

© Chad M

"Barefoot" or "minimalist" running has risen in popularity of late, and drawn a lot of attention to the drop of our shoes.

"Drop" refers to the difference in height between the front of the shoe and its heel. Traditionally, most running shoes had a drop of around 10-13 mm, with racing shoes nearer 7-5 mm.

Barefoot trainers can have a drop as low as 0 mm, and this has led the industry as a whole to focus more on this area. Many shoes have had their drop height reduced as a result.

"Maximalist" running may well appear to be the polar opposite of the minimalist trend. Inspired by off-road technology in other sports, where the emphasis is placed on increased contact area, maximalist shoes resemble a shoe upper sewn onto a big foam cushion. This is rockered at the front.

Maximalist shoes have gained a growing band of converts, especially among ultra and trail runners, who swear by the cushioning and stability of the shoe.

Please note: if you are looking to experiment with either the minimalist or the maximalist trends, we advise you do so on single-day runs well before your holiday begins.

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