Finding the “perfect” running shoe?

Finding the “perfect” running shoe is a lot like hunting for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Wishing it exists doesn’t make it so.

Fitness-minded consumers tend to be over-enthused about footwear because sneaker companies have done a great job of convincing them the apparel has everything to do with speed, endurance and injury prevention. They throw out gimmicks like patented insoles, breathable fabric, stability promoting heels and shock absorbent treads. Some of the advancements are certainly beneficial, but far more is hype to get people to shell out a lot more money for foot fashion than they need to.

Those in the market for good running shoes should first understand there are 26 bones in the foot with numerous muscles, ligament and nerves that all contribute to the extremities’ functions. The running shoe is an adaptable covering that seldom causes athletic injuries. It’s far more common for bad things to occur as a result of improper stretching, poor running form, deconditioning and overtraining.

Dr. Tamara Elzey, a physical therapist at Kenner, has an excellent YouTube channel with spot-on information about various types of stretches for running and much more. One tip she shares is to spend 5-10 minutes at the end of each workout to focus on very low pull 30-60 second stretches of the major muscle groups including quadriceps, hip flexors, hamstrings, calves and lower back. The act of stretching itself can lead to injury if done incorrectly, so it’s recommended to get tips from experts or watch Dr. Elzey’s video walkthroughs.

Anyone experiencing discomfort while running should first take a look at their form. Experts agree that the preferred long-distance running cadence is 180 steps-per-minute. Some use a metronome to develop an ideal pace. There also is music available that can help runners achieve the correct steps per minute. 

Incorporating sprints at distances less than 400 meters weekly will help with endurance and muscle strengthening. Runners should pay attention to their stride, making sure their legs aren’t “leaping” or overextending toward the next step. How each foot is contacting the ground is important as well. The mid portion of the foot should be making initial contact, not the heel or the ball of the foot.

Occasionally one’s feet might start to feel sore and tired before finishing a run. This can be caused by overtraining. Until recently, an increase in mileage per week of greater than 10 percent was considered excessive.  More current research from April 2019 in the Journal of Orthopedics and Sport Physical Therapy showed that more people were injured when increasing their mileage between 20-60 percent compared with those who increased less than 20 percent. 

That means someone running 10 miles one week, then increasing total mileage to less than 12 miles the next, would be on the right path to limiting injury and increasing fitness.  Considering most advanced individual training Soldiers run around six miles per week at BCT, their first week in AIT should not exceed 7.2 miles.

Ok, back to running shoes … starting with the question of, “when is a good time to buy them?” First, look at your current pair and figure out what’s wrong. Don’t go by arbitrary numbers of miles, days between purchases or discoloration. Go by what is changing in your run.

Are your knees, feet, hips or back bothering you?  Did it happen initially when you purchased those shoes or after some time?  If after around six months you notice some aches and pain, then it could be your shoes.  

Remember that “motion control” footwear can inhibit good form. When it comes to running shoes, look for products with plenty of flexibility in the front and cushioning in the back. Pick up the shoe and bend it from front to rear. You should notice the front half will flex and the back half should not.  This will mimic the human foot with the front flexing with the shoe and the back half becoming the support base before pushing off.

Put on the shoe and walk around the store. You should notice nothing in the way of resistance or a soft comfortable extension of your anatomy. The perfect shoe will have no tight spots or rubbing. Also, they will not “stretch out,” so buy the right size.

Running shoes tend to be a half to one full size bigger than boots or dress shoes, so don’t be embarrassed when your size 8 foot is in a size 9 shoe.  The width of the shoe helps when you need a good base to push off. Many individuals seen with foot issues tend to wear narrow shoes and should consider a wider version for comfort.

The final tip is to find a good, reasonably priced shoe that you can use for at least six months while concentrating on your running form and making corrections as needed. It might be a challenge, especially if you’re trying to improve speed, distance or a combination of both. Just remember that the best results happen in the long run and nobody wants to finish the race early as a result of an injury.