1. There is a best running shoe.
“What is the top running shoe now?” I’ve been asked this question too many times. It would be nice to be able to name a best shoe every year, give a star rating (4 out of 5), or even put a simple “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on new models.
Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Running shoes are designed for different types of people, strides, feet, and types of running. What may be my “perfect” shoe (itself a myth, we’ll get to that latter), may be completely wrong for you. The very characteristics I like in a shoe may make it uncomfortable for you. When Runner’s World gives a shoe an award like “Editor’s Choice” all it means is that it works well for what it is designed to do and was rated highly by many testers.
Bottom Line: Running shoes and runners are too diverse to be able to provide an overall ranking or ratings of shoes. The only question a shoe guide or shoe guy can help with is, “Would this shoe work for someone like me?”
2. All Nikes are created equal. (or Brooks, Asics, New Balances…)
How many times have you heard runners say, “I only run in Asics,” or “What do you think of Mizunos?”
Brand actually tells you very little about a shoe because every brand has a range of shoes for a variety of runners, from minimal racers to motion-control masters. What is true is that each company has their own unique lasts—the foot-shaped mold a shoe is built around. Thus, if one Adidas shoe fits your arch height, foot curve, and toe length, another with the same last will likely feel right, too.
But every company also has multiple lasts for different shoe categories. The Brooks Pure Connect last differs greatly from the Adrenaline last, for example. The New Balance Zante is built on a different last than the 860. And companies change designs regularly, so what you liked last year might not be true anymore.
Bottom Line: Blind brand loyalty or distrust is counterproductive. Every shoe company makes a variety of models that differ in performance and fit.
3. A shoe is a prescription.
Here’s a typical story: Jane starts running, wearing her department store sneakers. She develops some small pains and decides to get real running shoes. At a specialty store, she gets “fitted” by a shoe salesman, diagnosed as an overpronater with weak ankles. She’s told she needs this specific type of shoe, or even a specific model.
Too often, Jane then carries this “prescription” with her for years, believing that this shoe is the only one she should run in.
The specialty shoe store can often help you find the right category of shoes that may work best for you, and some runners do have genetic characterizations (like the geometry and angles of your ankle bones) which may predispose them to certain problems. But many other factors affect your gait and the type of shoes you need, and these factors can and do change over time. Factors like how much you weigh, your muscular strengths, range of motion, balance, stride habits, efficiency, and speed.
What is more, that original “prescription” may not have been as accurate as you think. Assessing a running stride is a difficult task. “You could take 10 physical therapists, 10 podiatrists, and 10 rehab doctors and have them look at a runner on a treadmill and you’ll get 30 different descriptions of what they see and the significance of what they see,” says Paul Langer, president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine and avid runner himself.
Plus, ongoing research by biomechanist Benno Nigg indicates that the best method for evaluating shoes may be whether they are comfortable for you—if they feel right on the run.
Bottom Line: Finding the right shoes for you is a personal and ongoing challenge. You need to experiment to find what works, and as your fitness and running characteristics change, your shoes can and should change as well.
4. Monogamy is a virtue.
When it comes to relationships, monogamy keeps you out of trouble. When it comes to shoes, monogamy can hurt you. Once they’ve experimented with several models, many runners find one shoe they like and state their lifelong loyalty. They then run in the same shoe every day, replace them with the same model and even stockpile them for the coming apocalypse of discontinuation.
But running in different shoes can make you stronger, faster, and less prone to injury. Studies show correlations between running in a variety of footwear and reduced injuries. Every time you put on a different pair of shoes, your interaction with the ground changes slightly, thus you stride differently. This strengthens new muscles and connective tissues while reducing the repetitive stress on the same body parts.
Bottom line: Play the field with shoes. You can do this at the same time (have a different pair for speedwork than for long runs, for example) and consecutively—try a different pair when you replace your shoes. So many shoes, so little time.
5. Shoes can make you fast.
It’s the oldest and most persistent myth about shoes. The right shoes will put jets on your feet, propel you to PRs, and place you on the podium.
The truth is that great shoes can make you feel fast, protect you from some of the stress of running, and stay out of the way—not interfering with your stride or weighing you down. But running prowess comes from your muscles and heart and lungs, developed by running often.