Choosing a pair of sneakers has much to do with the shape of your feet and the workout you undertake. The material they are made of is just as important as the fit
“I don’t wear shoes,” says Milind Soman when I ask him what kind of shoes he prefers while running. “Running barefoot is the most natural way to run, if you know the roads.”
But such runners and roads are both an exception than the norm–which is why the market for running shoes is so big and people are willing to put in the moolah for a quality of good pair of shoes.
Gymming is out and group fitness classes or community-based workouts are a big no-no. The paranoia about Covid-19 has led to a resurgence of close-to-nature fitness activities such as running and cycling, for which one doesn’t need a partner and can perform at one’s own pace, space, time and intensity.
A shoe for every foot
There is a shoe for every runner and there is a shoe for every foot. There is whole art and science in selecting the right pair.
Do different people need different kind of shoes? The answer is yes-–whether you need shoes with a wider toe box, a neutral shoe, a specific heel to toe drop, depends on the shape of your feet. Says Nivedita Samanta, Adidas Runners- Performance Lead Coach, “My recommendation is do a wet paper test. Keep a newspaper on the floor, wet your feet, stand on the newspaper. You will quickly get to understand the contours of your foot and will get to know what its structure is like.” She adds that her company’s research on Indian feet reveals that most Indians have wider feet than, say Europeans and Americans, because “we have literally grown up walking bare feet”.
Anatomy of a shoe
Running shoes are made from a combination of materials. Several shoes nowadays have textile married with reinforced or recycled plastic. The sole has three layers: insole, midsole, and outsole. The insole is generally a thin layer of man-made ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA). The components of the midsole, which provides the bulk of the cushioning, will vary among manufacturers. Generally, it consists of polyurethane or capsules of compressed air, while outsoles are generally made of carbon rubber. The rest of the covering is usually a synthetic material such as artificial suede or a nylon weave with a leather overlay.
The sole is, well, the soul of a shoe. It should be made of rubber for extra grip and many have it from well-known tyre companies. Sketchers, for instance, has Good Year written on the shoe sole that claims to be anti-skid and four way stretchable.
Leading brands in running shoes include Adidas, Reebok, Nike, Kalenji by Decathlon, Sketchers, Asics, Puma, Under Armour, Fila, Liberty, Alberto Torresi and Von Wellx Germany. Every shoe maker has a category called “running shoes” these days.
The lighter the shoe, the better the run. Puma has just released UltraRide, its latest performance running sneaker built on reductionist theory. In order to guarantee the best possible feeling for runners, the UltraRide has been designed with a focus on removing excess weight and is stripped to the bare essentials. Says the Puma spokesperson, “Only the key essentials are used in the shoe. This means there are cutaway sections from across the outsole, while the upper is merged with the supportive midsole plate through a bridge design. The sneaker is finished with PROFOAMLITE for cushioning.”
There are shoes that can be directly connected to apps that will guide you on how to run. Hovr shoes by Under Armour, for instance, can be connected to MapMyRun app and serve as your personal running coach, helping you work out better and improve your form, while reducing the risk of injury. The tagline reads: Become a better runner with ‘Shoes that coach you’. Download, connect, run.
Selecting a pair
Fit is most important. Says Ashish Jain, CEO and Director, Von Wellx Germany: “It should neither be too loose nor too tight. A little tight is okay as it will adjust to your feet in a few days and would open up. It’s important to look for flexibility in the outsole, a solid heel grip, enough room in the toe box so that you can move your toes easily.”
Comfort is another factor. Shoe manufacturers these days are using high-grade material and technology such as top quality padding in the collar and tongue areas of the shoe, and advanced flow-plus technology for multi-directional traction and good grip. Says a spokesperson from Liberty shoes: “Comfort is the prime factor that should be looked for while buying shoes. The right pair of shoes will make your walk or jog very comfortable and natural. When you walk, the pressure must not be there on the pressure points of your feet.”
Buy shoes in sync with your running style. The question is how will you know your style. Says a Puma spokesperson: “Every runner should undergo a thorough analysis of his running style, because it is a vital measure to prevent pain, injuries and long-term medical issues. A good running shoe should protect the foot, knee and hip movement without restricting natural foot movement and flexibility.” An important guideline is pronation control. Pronation is part of the natural movement of the human body and refers to the way your foot rolls inward for impact distribution upon landing. Understanding your pronation type can help you find comfortable running shoes. Says Ishaan Sachdeva, director, Alberto Torresi: “Look for an upper that is shaped like your foot and smooth wherever it touches, not binding or chafing anywhere. Pay attention to whether your heel slips, how the padding interacts with the bones on the side of your ankles, and whether the curve on the back irritates your Achilles tendon. A heel that allows comfortable ankle motion. The shoe should wrap comfortably around your foot. It should not pinch or feel sloppy and your foot should be centred on the platform of the shoe.”
Another aspect is breathability. Shoes should keep you relaxed especially in hot and oppressive weather. A good shoe is one that soaks in sweat and keeps your feet cool.
Support is all important. Between upper and sole of the shoe, there is a foam, usually made of EVA, which gives support. But if that foam disintegrates, the shoe won’t give bouncy support when it strikes the ground. Says Samanta: “I recommend we change shoes after every 700-800 km. If you have been running in the past and are suddenly feeling a lower back pain, or your shoulders are hurting, legs are feeling heavier than normal, then it’s time to change your shoe.”
Once you get the right pair, it’s important to get the running technique right too. There are some rules here. Set realistic goals, not those that are overbearing, especially if you are a beginner. Says an Adidas expert: “It’s okay to have a goal to run 10 km in six weeks rather than just wake and try to run 10 km at one go. If you are not used to running, your joints, ligaments, muscles will not be able to taking such a huge impact. Give yourself 4-6 weeks. A lot of people get demotivated by trying to hurry up. The main thing is do not be too hard on yourself. Be patient and nourish yourself with water and salts.”
Another rule is ‘do not run every day’. Start with three days a week and gradually add more running days.
Third, it’s essential to warm up for 10 minutes so that all the big joints of body are ready. One can do rotation exercise of the shoulder, hip, and ankle, as those joints take lot of weight when in motion.
Fourth, a 3:1 ration is fine – three minutes of jogging followed by one minute of walking is good for beginners and this can be done for 15-20 mts. Later one can replace 3:1 ratio by 5 minutes jog followed by a 60 seconds walk.
Also, do not hold back, if you have lifestyle diseases. Says Samanta- “We have a lot of diabetic runners below 35 years of age. Everyone needs 15-20 minutes of cardiovascular activity, and this has been scientifically proven. During Covid times, we all have been sitting much more than we probably should. And as they say, sitting is the new smoking, injurious to health.”
Experts urge everyone to not worry about prices. People should take an informed decision after checking out the options in the market, and reading up a little on the blogs of runners. Says Samanta- “A good quality shoe will cost anywhere between Rs 7,000- 9,000. So, treat this investment into a good shoe as one that will prevent that injury and those visits to the doctor. Be very mindful of this investment and make sure it is well thought out of.”
Every time you put on a different pair of shoes, your interaction with the ground changes slightly and you stride differently. And yes, Cinderella is correct, the right pair of shoes can change your life.
TABLE: What a pair of running shoes will cost you
|Shoe Brand||Price Range (Rs)|
|Kalenji by Decathlon||700-10,000|
|Von Wellx Germany||2,999-5,999|
Source: Market Research