Buying the best running shoe

Woman runner tying her shoes laces preparing for a morning run

By Michael Costello, Physiotherapist

So you’ve managed to squirrel away some extra money during the ‘Covid-era’ of no overseas holidays and no creamy indoor pints of Guinness. If you’re at a loss as to what to spend your money on, take it from me, it’s completely acceptable to spend that money on a shiny new pair of shoes. I’m not talking about Jimmy Choo’s or Louboutin’s, I’m talking about running shoes! There is no better purchase than a brand new pair of kicks to give you the extra motivation to get out the door and chase that new 2022 running goal! That being said, it is easy to get confused when buying a new pair of running shoes. Even as a physiotherapist and a keen runner, I still get overwhelmed when buying a new pair with hundreds of brands, materials and types to choose from. Below I have compiled a list of things to look for when purchasing your next pair. 

  1. Comfort 

A running shoe must be comfortable; this is paramount! Doing a short run on a treadmill after buying the shoe is a handy way to keep the shoes clean so they can be returned, whilst also learning if they are the right fit for you. Check for excessive fatigue, rubbing marks or points of discomfort and trial a few different ones to find what’s right for you. 

  1. Width 

Enough width at the toe box (front of the shoe) is crucial to allow the front of the foot to spread out when it hits the pavement – a natural shock absorption mechanism of the foot. Inadequate width through the middle of the shoe may irritate the foot. Some people love a snug fit but you should be wary of forefoot or midfoot pain developing. 

  1. Weight 

Shoe weight has a direct effect on how much energy you need to exert during your run. It might be suitable for you to have a heavier shoe for everyday training or trail running and a lighter one for race day (lighter = faster!). However be careful with transitioning to lighter shoes as they commonly have less supportive features.

  1. Activity-Specific 

Trail, track and road shoes all have completely different designs. A common mistake that beginner runners make is having the wrong shoe for the job. For example, trail shoes have a firm outsole to prevent rocks banging off your foot on rocky terrain and also have a firmer grip underneath which provides traction when running up and down slippy or mucky mountains. Choose your runner specific to the activity you will be doing. 

  1. Heel Pitch 

The heel pitch is the difference in height between the heel and the metatarsal heads (balls of your feet). It varies from zero drop, all the way up to 14-16mm. The pitch can influence how load is distributed through your legs, especially your shins, ankles, and feet. Higher pitches often put more load on the front of the shin and foot and lower pitches put more load through the achilles and calf muscles. 

  1. Stack Height 

This is the height between where the foot lies in the shoe and the road (in other words the depth of the sole of your shoe). This height can cause reduced stability and may pose a higher risk of ankle sprains for some runners who are susceptible to this injury. However, they do offer better cushioning, so they can be excellent for things like heel pain and shin splints due to their shock absorption abilities. This cushioning can be excellent for long distance races like ultra marathons where it provides support and comfort deep into the latter end of the race. 

  1. The comparison to your old running shoe 

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it! If you like the feel of your current shoes, then maybe don’t stray too far from that fit. You can look up the specifications of your current shoe on most shoe brand websites and compare them to newer options. Brand websites offer info such as weight, stack height, heel pitch, and a whole lot more. 

As always, bringing your current shoes into a Physiotherapist is a great way to get some more specific advice. Happy shoe shopping and happy running! ☺

Checkmark ok sign on gray sidewalk with woman legs in sneakers, top view