A Perfect Pair
If you’re going to put your best foot forward at your next race, you'll want to trade in those battered trainers for shoes fit for more than popping to the corner shop.
But with the baffling quantity of shoes on the shelves, conflicting advice and dodgy designs out there, it's hard to know where to start. Should you go for the chunky-soled kicks that are a bit too reminiscent of clown shoes? And what was all of that fuss about running completely barefoot? Not to worry: we’ve been around the block a few times (and worn every type of running shoe to do so) and come up with this handy guide on purchasing your perfect pair of trainers for the miles ahead.
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room right now: you can’t get the best runners (for you) on the cheap. You should expect to spend anywhere between £80 and £150. This doesn't mean the most expensive pair is the best for everyone but it's important to choose your shoes based on how they feel, not which ones are cheapest. If it means skipping those takeout lattes for a couple of months, do it. Your feet will thank you.
It's not just a marathon itself that puts your feet through their paces. Across your 16 to 20 week training period you'll be laying down hundreds of thousands of steps, each of which forces an impact of up to three times your body weight through your legs and joints. You strike the ground differently with your left foot and your right foot, plus your pace and cadence (the number of steps you take) will adapt depending on your energy levels. Your shoes need to be able to cope with all of that.
Read our basic guide to what running shoes you'll get for your money here.
Ask An Expert
DIY gait analysis is not, admittedly, as risky as DIY spleen removal or DIY flying lessons – but it’s always best to consult an expert. You won’t know yourself how your foot really lands on the floor because you’re used to your own body and whatever you’re doing feels normal, which means you won’t really know what you need, says Jason Curzon, Manager at the London Marathon Store (1-3 Norton Folgate, Bishopsgate, London E1 6DB).
“On a basic level people have either low, high or normal arches,” he says. “This means that some people’s feet roll excessively inwards, and some excessively outwards.
“Add to that muscular weaknesses, old injuries, stiff joints, weak ligaments and all manner of individual characteristics that need to be taken into consideration and you soon realise it’s important to seek expert analysis to find the right shoe.”
So what can you expect when you go for analysis? “At the London Marathon Store we offer detailed guidance that you can’t get from the internet,” says Curzon.
“Feel and fit is most important for each customer. Additional requirements can be lighter weight, more or less cushioning, more support features, a minimal design, off-road traction and so on, so we are trained to work with each customer’s requirements.
“We use various high-tech machines to look at the way a customer runs, walks and even just distributes their weight when they’re standing still. We build a picture of their foot structure and identify any notable features such as high arches, curved Achilles, prominence on the medial [inside] side of the ankle, toes visible on the lateral [outside] side, and then give feedback.
“The customer can have a customised insole made for them that’s moulded to the shape of their feet, which they will try in at least three different types of shoes that best suit their gait. To finish, we video them running on the treadmill in the final choice of shoe to make sure that all the boxes have been ticked and that the shoes are doing what they’re supposed to for the customer.”
Celebrate Your Individuality
If you’ve bought a pair of running shoes before, you'll know that shoes used to be broadly split into four categories: neutral cushioned (for high arches or excessive outward foot rolling); stability (for normal arches or mild inward foot rolling); motion control (for low/flat arches and excessive inward foot rolling); and performance (for runners with no biomechanical issues). This traditional method is now dying out, replaced by a more individualised approach.
You may well have seen the odd runner dashing along barefoot or wearing those glove-style shoes – what's all that about? Well, after Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run (£8.99, Profile Books) came out in 2009 about a reclusive tribe of Mexican hill-dwellers who wear next to nothing on their feet, the barefoot running trend really kicked off. Many sports-physio bills later, that fad is over but a lasting consequence is the realisation that having your foot lower to the floor, and having better ground feel (‘responsiveness’) is a good thing. And as a result we are now seeing lighter, less built-up shoes; new materials being developed; and a much wider range of trainers, which provide many shades of grey between the black and white of the old system.
If you want to find the perfect pair of trainers, you'll need to put a bit more thought into it than your average shopping session. Timing-wise, plan your trip for late afternoon – this is when your feet are at their most swollen – and buy shoes a half to a full size larger than normal, as this allows your feet space to expand on lengthy training runs.
At the risk of sounding like your mum, make sure you try on both shoes too. We've all got one foot larger than the other, and you don't want to get caught, quite literally, short. When it comes to style, let your feet – and not your fashion sense – make the decision on which shoes to buy. You won't care how Instagram-worthy those kicks are when you're nursing a black toenail and blisters from hell.
Avoid nasty injuries with our simple tips for avoiding common foot problems.
Know When to Say Goodbye
You've found your perfect pair and laid down the training miles, but how do you know when your shoes are more past-it than pro-standard? As a rule of thumb (or toe), it's worth replacing your shoes roughly every 500 miles as they'll wear out over time. Work out your average weekly mileage and use that to calculate when the 500 miles will be done, then write the date somewhere on your shoe in permanent marker.
In the meantime, look out for worn down soles, looseness in the upper and a permanent imprint of your foot in the insole – these are all signs that your shoes are past their prime. If you're experiencing pain in your feet or lower legs and the shoes have lost their bounce, it means the cushioning in your shoes has stopped working and the stability features aren't as effective.
If you're in the market for new running shoes, check out our review of the adidas UltraBOOST Uncaged.
You’re Worth It
And there you were at the start of this guide thinking that running-shoe buying was a lottery, but if you’re still wondering whether this quest for the perfect shoe is worth it, then trust us, it definitely is. It’s a simpler process than it sounds; it’ll give you better knowledge about the workings of your own body; and best of all it’ll help to give you an optimal chance of arriving on the start line of your next race fit, injury-free and raring to go.