The science of selecting shoes

Wear regular seasoned running shoes to begin with. Photo: iStockphoto

It is important to invest in the right pair of shoes for running. They don’t have to be the most expensive shoes money can buy. They should suit you. That is a very tricky situation.

Shoes are only a tool. Your running form, muscular balance and breathing are going to play as much, if not a bigger, role, topics covered in previous articles of this series.

Remember, you shouldn’t be forcing your feet to suit the shoes. It has got to be the other way round. Don’t buy running shoes out of loyalty to a particular brand. Don’t stick with a brand just because your favourite sportsperson wears its shoes. Also, if you have been running for a while, and you know a particular model in a particular brand works for you, there is a good chance that next season’s model just might not work for you.

People often say “I bought the best running shoes” but that doesn’t mean much because there is no such thing.

Most people assume that any shoe from the top brands will work for them. But you need to understand what would be a good match for you and your feet. Don’t depend on the salespeople. Running is a good habit you have picked up. You owe it to yourself to be better informed. Otherwise, injuries will follow soon. For that, it is important to become more self-aware. Educate yourself and listen to your own body and feet.

When starting running, don’t attempt to run barefoot or in minimalist shoes. Wear regular seasoned running shoes and, once you’re comfortable with running in a year or so, then you can do what you feel like.

Broadly speaking, you either need neutral or stability shoes. How you find what will suit you is simple. Stand barefoot and in shorts in front of the mirror. Do a few squats. Focus on the inside of your feet—when you squat, check if your feet collapse inwards. If they do, you need stability shoes. If you are not sure, stand on one leg and squat yet again. If the foot you are standing on collapses, you need stability shoes. If not, neutral shoes will work.

I suggest going to the stores of the top running brands, and asking for neutral or stability running shoes. If the salespeople are not aware of these kinds of shoes, don’t bother buying from them. Try different brands. When you try out a shoe, spend 5-10 minutes in it. Then go to the next brand store and do the same. Do this for four-five brands. Make a shortlist of the comfortable shoes.

Do another round of trial, this time of the shortlisted ones. One thing to remember is that running shoes need to be one finger-width longer than your formal or casual shoes. You are going to invest as much as Rs20,000. It deserves some effort.

Once your shoes are sorted, all you need to get on with is miling and smiling.

As for the walking-running schedule this week, start with a 3-minute gentle walk as warm-up. Follow this with a 4-minute run alternating with a 2-minute walk. Repeat four-six times. Do this four-six days a week.

(This is the fourth in an eight-part series to motivate people to take up running in the correct way. For the complete series, visit here.)

Rajat Chauhan is a sports exercise and musculoskeletal medicine physician and race director of La Ultra—The High, held in Ladakh. He has authoredThe Pain Handbook: A Non-Surgical Way To Managing Back, Neck And Knee Pain.

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