Despite the triple digit heat, there seems to be no shortage of runners and walkers out on the road these days, many of whom are no doubt preparing for the San Antonio Rock and Roll Marathon and Half Marathon slated for Sunday, November 17.
Whether you're one of those folks training with a group, or are just a casual exerciser getting in a few miles, you can't overlook the importance of shoes; the only real piece of equipment every runner needs.
While the simplicity of running and walking seems to draw throngs of enthusiastic road warriors, start investigating shoes a bit, and it's easy to be overwhelmed by all the brands, styles, and marketing philosophies that go with them.
Shoes are no longer just fashion statements, or pieces of rubber that protect your feet from the road.
What you wear (or what you don't wear if you choose to go barefoot) can also be seen as an extension of your dogma.
So then, what's the biggest error we make when picking out these vitally important and sometimes high-priced pieces of footwear?
"The most common mistake people make if they just walk into a store and grab a pair of shoes is short fitting themselves," says Rob Kaufman, owner and CEO of New Balance San Antonio. "And especially for runners, that can lead to losing a toenail or two."
Kaufman should know better than most. Tall, lean, and still regimented about his own workouts, he directs a staff of specialists at three areas stores which he started more than 10 years ago.
"To know a shoe is right, the longest toe should be a thumbs width from the end of the shoe - not necessarily the the big toe, but the longest toe," he said. "The right shoe should be snug, but not tight, and it should feel really good right away."
The other common mistake people make is buying a pair of shoes they expect to feel better with time. "If you think you need to break it in, you should probably pass on it," Kaufman said.
That's where specialty shops have an advantage over going big-box athletic megastores. Smaller, niche shops often have experienced staff on hand specifically trained to find the right shoe for your foot. "If you don't have experts on hand that fit you well with the right shoe, you could compromise musculolskeletal integrity, and that could lead to problems," Kaufman said.
That's why his store and local running specific retailers like Fleet Feet Sports, Soler's Sports, and others tend to incorporate a more thorough fitting process which may include measuring multiple aspects of the foot, and going the extra mile with motion analysis, and foot pressures feedback. "Once you have that," he said, "you can narrow down the options that are best suited for your foot shape, size, and natural walking and running style."
Speaking of options, you should also know that there are three major categories of running and walking shoes, and that we're all best suited for one of them, be it motion control, stability, or neutral.
- Motion control shoes have a relatively straight, flat outsole, and are usually for larger, heavier folks, or those who have severe over-pronation (excessive rolling toward the medial, or middle, sides).
- Stability shoes tend to have a little more curve to them, and offer some medial support which you can often see highlighted by the use of different compounds.
- Neutral shoes are best suited for persons with medium to high arches and usually offer cushioning over support.
But what about those funky shoes that look like gloves for your feet, or the trend toward shoes with a lower profile?
"Minimalist footwear has been a strong trend, as well as shoes with lower heel drops," says Kaufman. "And that trend toward less of a differential between the height of the heel and the toe has extended forward and even into non-minimalist footwear."
"Those types of shoes (minimalist style) tend to recruit lower extremity muscles quite a bit, and for some it's a more efficient way of running if used appropriately."
As far as the next trend on the horizon, Kaufman says every season there seems to be a breakthrough in technology which allow companies to offer shoes that are lighter without sacrificing cushioning.
Regardless of what type of shoes you pick up, know that just like the tires on your car, they do have a limited life span. That's usually 300 to 500 miles for runners or walkers, says Kaufman, but for a general gym-goer not doing much high impact work, a shoe may last as long as two years.
Tom Trevino is a writer and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. His column, “The Feed,” covers anything and everything related to health and wellness. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas at San Antonio, with certification and training from the Cooper Institute. He has a fondness for dogs, NPR, the New York Times, and anything on two wheels. When he’s not writing, training, or cooking, you can find him wandering the aisles of Central Market.