Editor’s Note: Brian Metzler has wear-tested more than 1,500 pairs of running shoes over the past 25 years. This is the first installment of Brian’s recommendations on how to navigate the complexities of the running shoe market in these minimalist-maximalist-and-more times. He is the founding editor of Trail Runner magazine and former editor of Competitor.com.
What the hell is up with running shoes?
Do you remember your favorite pair of running shoes from six or seven years ago? You probably wouldn’t buy them now, even if you had the chance. Why? Running shoes have gone through a storm of change over the past decade, a whirlwind that has included a minimalist revolution of lightweight, low-to-the-ground “barely there” shoes, and then an infatuation with high-off-the-ground, thickly cushioned maximalist shoes that look doped up on ’roids.
So where are we now that the squall has subsided? Well, we’re all better off for having gone through the storm. We’ve learned a lot in recent years, and the key learnings from the uprising are represented in the shoes you’ll buy this year. For starters, shoes are generally lighter, more flexible, more durable, and less built-up in the heel than they were 10 years ago. Gone is the three-point paradigm of motion control, stability, and neutral shoe construction.
Here is the first of six points to consider when you shop for your next pair of running shoes, no matter if you’re using them for training, a trail run, or your next Spartan race.
Part 1. Fit
How a shoe fits your foot is still the most important element of choosing what to put on your feet. The key is finding a shoe that fits the shape of your foot, and the best way to do that is to try on several pairs at a specialty running store before you buy. “If you don’t have a good fit, you don’t have anything,” says Kris Hartner, owner of Naperville Running Company in suburban Chicago. “It’s an individual process because every shoe brand and model will fit slightly differently. The best way to find out what works is to try on several models.”
Generally speaking, you’ll want the fit to be snug in the heel and mid-foot or arch area, but otherwise it should fit or adapt to the specific size and shape of your feet. If you have a wide foot or narrow ankle, you’ll quickly learn that different brands of shoes have slightly different shapes. One of the new characteristics to emerge over the last several years is the idea of a roomier toe box. Having that extra room no only gives your toes a bit more wiggle room, but it allows your transverse arch to flex properly, allows your big toe to remain straight and un-compromised and provides room for the other toes to splay out naturally, both of which contribute to your performance (i.e., better control and agility, more power, and greater range of motion) and the long-term health of your feet. Several brands have made a roomier toe box part of their design DNA, but especially Altra, Topo, and Inov-8. “Having the shape and the space in the toe box means the shoe can accommodate the natural and preferred movement path of your foot,” Altra founder Golden Harper says. “And that’s the best way to get your feet—and the rest of your body—to move and perform most effectively.”
Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of the series: Cushion in your running shoe: Good or evil?
Put those shoes to good use. Download the Spartan 2018 Training Plan as your blueprint.