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How to choose your next pair of running shoes

running shoes

by Larry Carroll

For ultra-runners, selecting a pair of shoes is like Han Solo bonding with his spaceship or John Wick picking out a certain weapon of choice. You’re about to head into battle together, the two of you are about to share a special bond — and when showtime hits, you want to make sure you won’t be let down.

Another unfortunate reality of endurance running, however, is that you need to replace your kicks with frequency, and innovation is constantly changing your options. With that in mind, below is a simple breakdown of some questions you should be asking yourself when the time comes to select your footwear.

Trail-runner or road-runner? – Although you’d be hard-pressed to find a lengthy run that doesn’t combine the two to some extent, the first choice you must make is which kind of shoe your needs require. For this discussion we’ll assume trail runner shoes, which are generally designed to prevent foot rotation injuries over control of pronation (the degree to which the arch of your foot collapses upon impact). 

Is my store up to the task? – It sounds obvious, but far too many runners put more thought into shoe brand and style than they do fit. Even if you think you know your shoe size, don’t take it for granted. Make sure that your selected shoe seller has the measuring abilities, staff, and selection to properly fit your feet — then take the time to do so before you do anything else. You’d be surprised at how much impact a half-size difference can have when you’re out on the trail.

Light, rugged or off? – Trail running shoes can largely be divided into 3 categories. If you tend to run on well-groomed trails, then you want something close to traditional running shoes, weight-wise, because a brisk pace is most important to you. Rocks and roots aren’t as much of a concern, so you want to go with a light trail shoe. Rugged trail shoes, meanwhile, will generally give you additional underfoot protection, toe guards and lug patterns to keep you upright and protected — and can range widely based on how crazy you plan on getting out there. Speaking of which, the last category is Off Trail shoes, which offer the most resilient materials and actively guard against twisted ankles while simultaneously satisfying all your weatherproofing needs – but remember, the more weatherproofing you take on, the less your feet will breathe out there.

Be realistic – While some people might think it could be inspiring to buy shoes for a 100-mile race when your training level is only around 5 miles, it’s really just overkill. Be honest with yourself about where your training currently stands, and shop for the races/training in your immediate future. Don’t worry — when you’re ready to run Badwater, you can always come back and get another pair.

What’s your stack height? – Some runners swear that thick, protective shoes will make your runs more comfortable and less likely to result in injury. Others desire less cushioning, wanting a feel so natural that it’s almost like running barefoot. Ultimately, it’s a personal choice — but if you lean towards minimal footwear, just be sure that you build up gradually.

Give yourself a wide berth – For some, a wide forefoot is best. If you’re running very long distances, for instance, or if you happen to have wider feet and need a bit more wiggle room. Shoe width is an important decision, however, because losing fit precision could lead to clumsiness on the course.

What’s the off-set? – It seems like a minor decision, but when you plan to spend mile after mile with a pair of shoes it’s one worth asking: How much lower do you want your toes in relation to your heel? With each stride, shoes with less of a drop encourage you to land on your fore-foot or mid-foot; a bigger drop is ideal for striking with your heel.

Once you’ve considered all this and made your purchase, you get to enjoy the best part: Busting some new shoes out of their box, strapping them on and taking them out for a maiden voyage. Is it weird to bond with a pair of sneakers? Remember, what happens on the trail stays on the trail.

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