An overview of different types of running shoes, from marathon shoes to racing flats
Not all running is the same, as such, not all running shoes are the same. For example, there will be lots of differences in construction, design and feel of a marathon shoe vs a trail shoe.
Your goals, terrain, age, and weight should all be taken into account when deciding the best type of shoe for you. Having different shoes for different runs is also beneficial (a different pair for speed work and long running for example)
We will run (pun intended!) through some different categories of running shoes, their features and their uses.
Marathon/road shoes – These are designed to offer maximum support and cushioning. Usually chosen for slower, longer miles. Designed for a plusher, comfortable feel, to absorb shock and usually have a greater offset of between 8-12mm (thickness under heel vs that under forefoot). They are not exclusively for marathon miles however, the benefits of maximum support and cushioning are reaped by couch to 5k runners, just as much as marathon runners. Firstly, because a beginner on lower mileage may take longer to do shorter distances, secondly a lack of conditioning or adaptation to the loads running exerts on the body, can also be mitigated by extra cushioning and support. An elite marathoner could perhaps wear any shoe for 5km and have no problems, however needs the extra support and cushioning of a marathon shoe due to the cumulative effect of very high mileage training. It’s relative to level of conditioning.
Race shoes – These are performance orientated. Designed to be very lightweight, responsive, and looking to transmit as much power as possible as efficiently as possible. Because of this they tend to less forgiving, suited to shorter, faster activities and more conditioned runners. They usually have lower offsets (typically 4mm) and weigh around half of what a marathon road shoe typically would.
Lightweight road shoe – These are a halfway house between road shoes and race shoes. More responsive than a marathon road shoe and more cushioned than a race shoe. Designed to be worn as a training mileage shoe, or faster speed work shoe, or a more supportive option as a race shoe. Typically, the offset can be anywhere from 4mm to 10mm.
Trail shoes – These are, as the name suggests, designed for trails or off road running. There will be differing levels of grip, versatility, support and cushioning within the trail category. Depending on the terrain you are running on will inform your choice. As a general rule, the more grip and responsiveness, the less cushioning, support, versatility (some trail shoes will be suitable for 50% road and 50% trail, some will be almost exclusively grass and mud) and weight. For cross country running a much ‘grippier’ and responsive shoe may be more suitable, whereas a more supportive, cushioned, less grippy shoe may be more suitable for regular 10-mile mixed terrain runs. Trail shoes are almost always neutral as the terrain they are designed to be worn on is uneven therefore gait changes from stride to stride.
Another consideration, away from running is, different shoes for different activities. For example, a marathon road shoe essentially looks to mask the feeling between foot and ground – not ideal for power transmission or stability during heavy dead lifts or squats, a much firmer solid shoe would be more suitable. Look out for part 4, When should I change my shoes? In our next and final instalment of the running footwear series.
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