I don't know about you, but I love a brand new pair of running trainers. There's something overwhelmingly motivating about knowing you have an untouched, not yet broken in pair of shoes sat waiting for you to try. And, the past few years, I have managed to start each new year with this exact feeling! When I first began my running journey, I had no idea there was such a grave difference in types of running trainers or individual's running style. The word 'pronation' meant nothing to me. Opening up the Wiggle website, I simply chose a well-known brand and the prettiest colourway I could find thinking that was the best way to choose my first pair. But, since spraining my ankle in 2019, I really learnt the importance of having the correct running shoes and how much difference it can make to not only your performance but alleviating the risk of injury.
When returning to running after my injury, I noticed a lot of instability in my ankle that did not seem to improve no matter how much strength and rehabilitation I tried. After a trip to the local running shop and a quick run on their in-store treadmill, I found out that quite a bit of the ankle rolling I was experiencing was due to overpronation. In a nutshell, overpronation usually occurs in those with flatter arches and is when your foot 'rolls' in an unnatural way as you run, adding extra strain on your joints. Additionally, I was told that purchasing my regular shoe size was not ideal and I should have been wearing half a size larger to allow my foot the wiggle room it needs while running. Finding the perfect pair to suit these requirements was really easy with the help of the store staff and having shoes that supported me in all the right places made the world of difference. The niggles I have experienced have plummeted and I have thankfully never had any issue arise since injury with my weakened ankle.
However, don't just take my word for it. There are plenty of reasons why finding running shoes to suit your personal needs has been shown to be extremely important.
Firstly, and probably most importantly, having the correct shoes will help prevent running related injuries. Continually running in shoes that are not adequate for the job will not only cause niggles to arise, but could contribute to longer term issues with both your joints and muscles. In fact, the number one cause of injuries in runners is a result of the impact of your feet repeatedly hitting the ground and the trauma this causes in your body. In the first instance, making sure you aren't just running in any old trainers is important. Trainers specifically designed for running are created to handle this shock produced when your foot strikes the floor, up to 2.5 times your body weight. In turn, this feature along with the extra cushioning running trainers provide helps to diminish the stress that is placed on your feet, legs and body whilst running.
Once you are browsing shoes that are designed for running, getting the right fit is the next challenge. If worn incorrectly, friction is caused between your skin and the shoe. Over time, this results in sores and blisters and provides some serious discomfort and unnecessary pain. This is where my experience of getting half a size larger than my usual shoe size comes into play, ensuring there isn't too much friction being created as the foot slides. Secondly, finding a shoe with cushioning that suits your running style is another important factor. If you have low, flat arches (like me) then you'll likely need a pair that offer a bit more stability, or if you have high arches then more cushioning might be needed for optimal comfort.
As I mentioned earlier in my own circumstance, some runners can be susceptible to over or under pronation, which is determined by the way your foot strikes the ground as you run. Getting a gait analysis done in a designated running store, which involves you running on a treadmill while your feet are recorded in slow motion, is the best way to find out if you need shoes to help with this. Your gait is essentially the physical way you run and so this analysis helps determine which running shoes would be best for your particular bodily movement patterns. Many people fall under the term 'neutral runners', meaning they don't need particular shoes to help their running form based on their foot striking pattern. But, as with me, you might require this extra support without knowing it for a long while, so it is always good practice to get your gait checked sooner rather than later.
Finding shoes that work for you can also impact your running performance. Shoes that create too much friction, or that are just generally too heavy, can slow you down. Weighing up whether you need the extra support, and therefore extra weight, is key when choosing the best shoes to help you progress. For example, one research study found runners to run 1% slower for every 100 grams added to the weight of their shoes - unbeknown to them. Although, generally weight is more important for those competing at a higher level in the sport where 'every second counts', as support and comfort shouldn't be sacrificed for weight when choosing trainers.
However, it is important to note that there has also been research conducted that goes against much of the information I have outlined in this post. Whilst common belief, and current best practice, is to buy into running trainers that suit your needs, some studies have found the extra support and cushioning to make no difference in preventing injury or aiding running form. Personally, since wearing more supportive shoes I have found my niggles to be much less. But, given I am only one individual, it is essential you find the shoes that provide you with the most comfort and best running experience. Many trainer company giants have mass marketing budgets to really sell their latest models, but these are only a worthwhile investment if they perform well for your specific needs. As hard as it may be, try not to get sucked into the latest trend or the prettiest colours, try and think about the physical health of your body first and foremost.