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The Tools of the Trade: Which Shoes for What Running
If you've shopped for a fresh pair of road or trail runners at RunUphill, our technical experts most likely asked you a variety of questions about your running. The same way a doctor or a physiotherapist asks about your medical history, we ask about your running history to recommend to the best of our knowledge the best tools for what your running is like.
The truth is, there is no one-shoe-quiver that works for all feet and all runners. Different shoes serve different purposes and understanding these different tools and what they are meant for can help you make well-informed decisions for your feet. At the end of the day not all shoes serve a single purpose, but here's how we generally organize them in categories.
Important General Information
- The best shoe for you is the most comfortable one. That’s the first step to getting your perfect shoe. Colour, aesthetics and your friend’s recommendations are always secondary to what feels fun and comfortable to run in.
- Cushioning doesn’t mean injury prevention. As a matter of fact, a very cushy shoe reduces the stress on the feet and the calves, but increases it at the knee, the hip and the lower back. The opposite is true for thin shoes with limited cushioning; they increase the stress on feet and ankles, but they are more gentle on your knees, hips and back.
- How many millimetres of drop a shoes has matters a lot less than you would think. No matter what you choose, a smooth transition is the key to avoid aches and pains. The body will adapt given time and patience.
- Shoes don’t really cause injuries, runners do (most of the time).
- There is absolutely no correlation between running and osteoarthritis or shoe cushioning and osteoarthritis.
- If you run a lot, avoid doing all your mileage in the same shoes. Variety can help preventing some overuse injuries. Think of shoes as different tools for different jobs. Is the trail flat and fast? Is it your long run? These factor and many more can influence your shoe choice for the day.
- These shoes feel the fastest and the most natural.
- They are designed to feel the lightest and let your feet do their job as efficiently as possible
- They encourage a more efficient running form.
- These shoes can be less durable since they use thinner, lighter materials
- Not often meant for very rugged terrain. Better suited for runs below treeline.
Who these are for: If you like your shoes to feel fast and you like the feel of having little on your feet, racing shoes are for you. Also, if you suffer from knee, hip or back injuries, shoes that encourage more natural mechanics will reduce the stress on these parts of your body. Racing shoes also encourage a more efficient and dynamic stride. Shoes of this class are usually better suited to faster trails like horseshoe, the Nordic centre and Highline to name a few.
Who these are not for: If you are looking for a shoe specifically to run ultra-distances (50km +), racing shoes won't offer as much cushioning and comfort once your legs get really tired. Keep in mind that well-adapted runners often run up to 50 km or 50 miles distances in racers. Runners with a history of frequent foot, ankle or calf injury should choose a shoe that offers more cushioning to lower the stress on the foot and the ankle.
Lightweight training shoes
- These shoes offer more cushioning and more protection, but they still let your feet move naturally.
- Ideal for most types of runs and most runners.
- Generally offer more durability in more technical terrain (keep in mind that not many shoes last long in sharp scree...!)
- Swiss-knife of trail running shoes, good versatility
- Good starting point for newer runners.
Who these are for: Most runners should have a shoe of that category wether it is their only shoe or part of their quiver. These “light-trainers” shoes combine good protection, adequate cushioning and solid performance. These shoes should feel at home on just about any trail, but really come in handy on mid distance trails with tons of variety of terrain. From lesser-technical trails around town to ascents like Ha Ling and longer trails like the Rockwall, lightweight trainers are almost always a solid option.
Who these are not for: Again, you might want a shoe that offers more cushioning for ultra-distance racing. Runners looking for a mountain-specific shoe for scrambling and loose terrain should be looking for burlier options whereas runners looking for fastest-feeling high-performance shoes should look at racers.
“Mountain Running” Shoes
- These shoes are designed to perform the best over technical and rugged terrain
- Ideal for alpine terrain, loose rocks, scree and harsh environment
- The best traction and the best protection
- Usually the best durability at the expense of a stiffer/firmer feel
- Heavier than racing shoes but sometimes surprisingly lightweight for such good protection.
Who these are for: If your jam is bashing scree and tagging summits or if you are looking for a hiking or scrambling crossover, these shoes are at home in the most rugged places. Most people keep these shoes for mountain runs like the Yamnuska loop, Northover ridge, EEOR and other lesser-traveled alpine circuits.
Who these are not for: These shoes are surprisingly versatile, however they often feel stiff or provide too much support for less technical terrain. Runners with wide feet have a bit more trouble finding shoes in that category since the fits are usually more precise.
- These shoes are designed to offer as much cushioning as possible.
- The extra cushioning is helpful in ultra-distance events when the body becomes really tired and runners need help with absorbing the impact of running.
- A softer and higher ride means a shoe that will feel less stable on uneven terrain
Who these are for: Runners who run lots of ultra-distances will almost always have a maximalist shoe as part of their quiver. Runners with a history of frequent foot, ankle or calf injury can benefit from using maximalist shoes. Think of these shoes as specialized tools for really long runs and ultra-marathons rather than shoes to do all your mileage in.
Who these are not for: Runners looking for a fast-feeling shoe should look for something lighter and thinner. If you suffer from knee, hip or back injuries, or if you want to develop a more efficient stride you should spend more time in thinner shoes.These shoes aren’t usually designed for technical terrain and looser terrain. As a result they will have poor durability if you encounter scree or sharp terrain on your runs.