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Which Shoe Should I Buy?

A major area of confusion facing most joggers occurs in their shoe selection process. Although a wide variety of running shoes are available in most athletic and retail stores, the decision making process is often based upon effective advertising, magazine ratings, or such factors as color and word of mouth. As a foot specialist involved in sports medicine, I feel it essential that the level of understanding and sophistication in selecting a running shoe should definitely be improved upon. In short, the consumerís knowledge of the available products as well as the inherent characteristics of the shoes themselves are essential in order to raise the level of selectivity.

In discussing basic running shoe qualities, a good deal of the following material is the opinion of this author based usually on personal and clinical experience. The following ten features are those qualities, which I believe comprise a good quality shoe:

    1. The type of rubberized tread pattern should be selected to fit the particular running needs of the athlete. For example, the typical waffle or "snow tire" variety is usually suggested for outdoor surfaces where uneven terrain is common. A flattened smooth type of tread surface is often recommended for outdoor tracks and class activities such as dance aerobics and gym floor exercises. The common herringbone pattern is a type well suited for both indoor and outdoor running but as we suggest, essentially on even surfaces.
    2. The weight of the shoe is an important consideration, particularly in marathons. Although an individual determination, the assessment can readily be made thorough a comparative examination of the available shoes.
    3. The durability of the outer sole to a large extent, determines the life of the shoe. Certain types of materials generally speaking, demonstrate a more durable quality than others. The black carbon rubber sole, so common in the waffle patterns, is a long lasting material as compared to its counterpart, the crepe and/or gum rubbers. A white foam-like material (EVA) is now available in certain shoe lines, which appears very durable as well as shock absorptive.
    4. Ventilation or breathability of the shoe is another important quality. Essentially, the choice becomes one of nylon, nylon mesh, or leather and suede combinations. I usually suggest the nylon or mesh uppers for warm weather running due to its lightweight and maximum level of ventilation. For cold or wet weather running, I suggest the suede and leather type of shoe for its increased warmth and lessened permeability.
    5. One of the most important features of a quality running shoe is adequate flexibility in the ball of the foot. During the toe- off phase of the gait cycle, it is essential that the sole of the shoe be flexible enough to allow proper motion and weight bearing to occur. With rigidity in the sole at the ball of the foot, an excess strain is placed upon the achilles tendon with possible symptoms resulting. One can easily evaluate the factor by flexing the various shoes in his hand and making a comparative judgment.
    6. A shoe with ample toe room is another essential necessity in order to prevent possible complications. During the running gait cycle, there occurs excessive sliding and compression of the digits within the shoe. There must be adequate room to compensate for these existing motions and pressure or else painful ailments of the digits and/or nails will soon develop.
    7. The topic of heel flare is indeed an interesting issue, for there is definite confusion as to how much is actually good. A flaring out of the heel is a sound principle in that a wider base of support provides additional foot and ankle stability during the contact portion of the gait. However, it is my feeling that in certain shoes where the outflare has become excessive, from a comparative standpoint, the gait cycle itself can actually be interrupted, with subsequent problems resulting.
    8. Most of the running shoes today have a padded tongue extension up the back of the heel. The purpose of this segment seems twofold. One; it provides added grip and conformity of the foot in the shoe and, two; it serves to protect the achilles tendon. My only comment regarding this feature is that one should lean toward the softer, well padded, and flexible type in order to reduce the possibility of irritation. Certain individuals cannot tolerate this extended piece and find it necessary to remove it entirely.
    9. An adequate type of insole padding is essential in reducing the pressure and friction upon the bottom of the foot. It has been my experience that for the most part, the available insoles are inadequate for this purpose. Commercial and professional insoles of better quality are available for dealing with these factors. Adequate padding for both the heel and ball of the foot is essential for foot comfort in the runner.
    10. The final trait is perhaps the most important one of all. Simply stated, "How does it fit?" After all is said and done, the shoe must feel good on the foot. Since each manufacturing line has its own inherent styling and structure, seemingly minimal differences can produce major changes in fit and feel. I caution runners as to the frequently used statement regarding break-in periods. Do not allow your body to pay the price while the shoe undergoes its supposed adjustment fitting. Purchase a shoe that fits well and feels good.

In closing, we have reviewed some of the more essential traits of what this author considers to be a good running shoe. Essentially, the end product is a summation of the majority of factors, which make the shoe right for a particular runnerís needs. It is true that sufficient empirical data is lacking to support many of the expressed claims, yet any effort toward improving consumer product selectivity is worthwhile. We, as runners, must strive to improve our understanding of the basic shoe characteristics, in order to better select the most favorable product for our own needs

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