20 January 2003

The right shoes can help you run

It is all very well having your heart sing because of your choice of exercise, but if your knees are aching, or the ball keeps plopping to the ground directly in front of you, the song has some boringly repetitive lyrics!

It is all very well having your heart sing because of your choice of exercise, but if your knees are aching, or the ball keeps plopping to the ground directly in front of you, the song has some boringly repetitive lyrics!

I have detected two diametrically opposing approaches to the purchase of expensive hi-tech sporting equipment: Either you do, or you don’t!

The majority of those who do will purchase in sublime ignorance, supreme acquisitiveness or in a fit of keeping up with the Joneses.

The majority of those who don’t won’t purchase in sublime ignorance, supreme selfishness or in a fit of irascible individuality.

Both categories do themselves a disservice.

The simple fact of the matter is that better equipment will make a difference to the way you play the game. Of course, there is a point of diminishing returns, and no graphite shaft, jumbo head, or automatic acceleration zone – or whatever – is going to put a tiger in my golf bag.

But the first time I took a graphite-shafted squash racquet on court, I hit the ball harder than I ever had with an aluminium frame (or even with the strings held by that frame). And the first time I wore a thigh pad while batting in cricket, my confidence levels against fast bowling soared.

There is more to it than that. Having worked with running shoes for nearly 20 years, I can categorically state that good running shoes are responsible for turning more people into runners than Bruce Fordyce ever was when he looked so ridiculously good while winning the Comrades Marathon so effortlessly.

The converse, I am afraid, is also true: Good running shoes are responsible for more running injuries than all the overtraining in the world – that’s of course assuming they are on the wrong feet.

Of all the equipment you will purchase for your game, footwear is probably the most critical. That’s probably true, even if you’ve chosen bodysurfing.

So, familiarise yourself with the options available to you before you make the huge effort, and the hugeness will seem a little smaller, and a little more productive.

While you’re browsing through options, here’s what to look for in sports shoes:

Upper: Look for an upper (the material that encloses the foot) that fits properly. It helps the shoe stabilise the foot.

Laces: Look for laces that aren’t too long and slippery. If they are, cut them or replace them.

Tongue: Look for a tongue that’s thick enough to protect the top of the foot from the pressure of the laces, yet not so long that it irritates your leg just above the ankle.

Heel notch: Look for a slight depression cut into the shoe’s heel collar to reduce Achilles tendon irritation and provide a more secure heel fit.

Heel counter: Look for a snug yet comfortable fit. Too loose a fit can cause blisters on your heels. If you require extra stability, look for a stiff heel counter or an external heel counter or ring that wraps around the outside of the heel.

Heel height: Look for heel heights that match your cushioning needs. If you are a bigger runner, chances are you are more of a heel striker and want more foam under the heel, so you need a greater heel height. Faster runners tend to strike more in the forefoot and need a lower heel.

Stabilising technology: Look for stabilising devices that reduce overpronation. Stabilising technologies are almost always in the shoe’s midsole on the medial side (arch side). Many shoes have firmer densities of midsole foam to combat overpronation. Some also have an external device such as a footbridge or a plastic medial post moulded within a second midsole density.

Midsole: Look for one of two midsole foams – polyurethane or EVA. Polyurethane is denser, heavier and more durable than EVA, which has a softer, cushier feel. Generally, bigger runners do better with polyurethane midsoles. EVA is more common because of its lightness and more cushioned feel.

Toe box: Look for adequate room for your toes in front of the shoe. Make sure there’s enough room (approximately a centimetre) between your longest toe and the end of the shoe, as well as between the top of your highest toe and the top of the toe box.

Outsole: Look for one of two kinds of outsole rubber – carbon rubber or blown rubber – or a combination of the two. Carbon rubber is more durable, but is heavier and stiffer than blown rubber. There isn’t a reliable way to differentiate between carbon and blown rubber, so determine which you prefer and ask to see the specs of the shoe at the store. Many shoes have a combination of carbon rubber in the high-wear areas of the rearfoot and cushier blown rubber in the forefoot for a softer ride.

Flex grooves: Look for single or multiple grooves in the forefoot outsole of most shoes, allowing the foot to roll more naturally at toe-off. To make sure the shoe flexes properly, try flexing it with your hands. It should flex in the forefoot.

Split heel: Look for a two-part heel structure that separates the outer and inner sides and contributes to a smoother heel-to-toe transition.


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