Today I want to talk about the world of running shoes. They are the most important item in the runner’s equipment, probably the only one we really need. Yes, there are also the heroes of barefoot running… I consider them a separate category, and adapting our feet to this requires many miles and should be done gradually.

For the remaining 99% of us, selecting the right running shoes is not only unavoidable, but a very important choice, that can influence our performance, and most importantly our personal experience. I already wrote a small article about this, but I would like to give more details to who is approaching to this world.

Before starting, I would like to tell a story about how I learned the hard way the importance of this. (You should know, most of the lessons about running I learned the hard way, and this is one of them!)

How did I learn the importance of running shoes

I ran my first half marathon in Berlin, in 2016. I did in a pair of worn shoes. They were not suitable for running, but at the time I did not know that.

They had a cool combination of colors, they were of a brand that also sells running shoes, but they had really no cushioning, and were quite worn off when I had to run my first 21K.

I must add that my preparation was far from ideal, so my longest run was not in line with what should have been. Moreover, I did part of the training on the threadmill. Nothing wrong with that, but the conditions of the belt are well different from the hardness, the irregularity of the road – although as flat as Berlin is.

If I had had a proper training in similar-to-race-day condition, I would have noticed something wrong, but I did not. This reminds rule #1 of running races: try to test everything before race day!

I finished the race and I loved it, but I could not walk until the next day, since I overloaded my knee and hip.

A recap of what went wrong:

  1. I used shoes worn out, and not suitable for running, so not able to absorb the shock that running long distance has on the body.
  2. I did not test long enough (say, 2/3 of the running distance) the equipment I wanted to use.
  3. I did not prepare well, and I think being tired at the end of the race made thing worse.

So, what is the learning?

First, there is a world behind running shoes. As many of you know, there are many categories shoes are actually classified, depending on the degree of cushioning, or if you will, how minimal the shoe is. Many runners rotate the shoes depending on the type of training they do. But you can also buy a do-it-all shoe, and use it for everything. Find below the main categories described, but consider that some shoes – also given the evolution – may fall in between two groups.


Running shoes classifications
A0 – Minimalist
These shoes are the closest thing to barefoot or natural running, and offer zero or limited cushioning.
A1 – Ultra-light
Running Shoes A1 are the fastest, and very light, most suitable for race day and for fastest paces. Many race shoes today have a carbon plate in the midsole, to increase the energy return.
A2 – Intermediate
The weight of these shoes starts raising, above 250g, but so the cushioning and protection. A lot of the daily trainers belong to this group.
A3 – Cushioned shoes
This category group shoes with higher degree of protection: they can easily reach or go above 300g, but most importantly they ensure high protection. This becomes more important with the body weight, or the distance of the run.
A4 – Stability Shoes
In category are the so-called stability shoes, useful if you are an over-pronator. Pronation is a natural running act, representing the internal rotation movement that gives the grip to move forward. In over-pronators, this act can be too extreme, resulting in harmful solicitations. These shoes have a support that helps avoiding the eccess of pronation.
A5 – Trail running 
The Shoes A5 are specific to trail running or running on uneven terrain. main characteristics: sole with more grip, waterproof upper sole, and good protection. Anything helping the experience of running in the open nature.
From this list you can already see there are quite some differences: I want to highlight three: type of terrain, weight/protection, and type of pronation.
Surely you will know if you want to use the shoes in the wild (trail) or on the road. And you may have a say on the level of cushioning you want. But very important is the third item, related to your level of pronation. How do you assess that?
I am not an expert, and I already said something about pronation and its opposite, supination. You can find here a link where more is explained, with some helpful pictures. Often, but not always, flat foot are subject to pronation, while high archs less.
So which shoe is the right one for me?
As you would expect, the answer is… it depends.
But I think this is the best advise I can give: the first time you want to buy running shoes, go to a specialized shop, where they will perform a gait test.
You can learn few interesting things like:
  1. If you pronate, supinate and therefore if you need (moderate) support, or not
  2. How do you land: are you a forefoot striker, or do you land on the heel
  3. You can also try the shoes and feel them on your feet: nothing is better than your real feel of it.

We are all different in the way we land and pronate

I want to spend few words on point 2 too. Shoes they are designed with a parameter, so called drop, which is the difference between the heel stack minus forefoot stack. This has nothing to do with cushioning: a cushioned shoe and a minimal one could have the same drop (for example: 6mm). A cushioned shoe could have 36mm of midsole in the rear, and 30 in the front. A minimal one, 12mm in the heel and 6mm at the toe level.

Usually, forefoot striker are more confortable with a low drop, while a higher drop is preferable by a heel striker. I personally used all kind of drops, I have a personal opinion on that, but the most important is our own feeling.

Conclusion? The selection of the right running shoe is very important, because it can influence your running experience. There is not a superior shoe for anyone and for everything, although some are dominating the market. Knowing more will help you to deal with potential issues and have a better experience. And the best way to do that is to visit a specialized shop that will support you in the best way.

Have a nice run in your new shoes!

Did you like this post? Please contact me for any question or feedback.

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