Of all the gear available for runners, shoes are far and way the most important. Not only is there the fact that each foot-fall lands with anywhere from three to five times a person's weight, which makes cushioning key, everyone's feet fall in to one of three categories, so the right shoe is essential for comfort and to avoid injury.
People who overpronate, meaning their feet and ankles roll inward excessively, will need a motion-control shoe. Those who underpronate, whose feet and ankles roll to the outside, will need a cushioning shoe, while normal pronators are best suited to stability shoes.
While shoes today promise all sorts of bells and whistles, starting with the right category for you is crucial.
"Before you can find out what to look for, you have to know what type of foot you have," says Kel Sherkin, a Toronto-based podiatrist and author of The Complete Handbook of Athletic Footwear.
And since combing through all the shoes in each different category can be a chore, we've selected three new shoes, one for each type, that could have you running smoothly this summer.
Asics Gel-Kayano 16
Type: Motion control
Why you should get it: The Kayano is an ideal shoe for overpronators (it's also the shoe of choice for John Stanton, founder of the Running Room). The newest version features a guidance line to help runners make sure they have a consistent foot strike and is also a half-ounce lighter than the previous incarnation, which is a plus for people putting in longer distances. As well, there is more gel in the heel, and the heel of the women's version has been raised by three millimetres, which reduces the chances of Achilles tendon injuries.
Adidas adiZero Boston
Why you should get it: A lightweight shoe designed for long-distance runners looking to nail a new personal best, it features adiPRENE+, a cushioning material, in the heel for shock absorption and has a torsion system in the middle of the shoe, which helps ensure improved mid-foot integrity as you hit the ground. The air mesh on the upper portion of the shoe helps runners putting in longer mileage to keep their feet cool. With an overall cushioning system designed for maximum stability and comfort, this is a great shoe for marathoners out to beat the clock.
Why you should get it: Nike's new running shoe features Lunar Foam, a technology initially developed by NASA. The foam can compress and return to its original shape better than traditional cushioning material. The dynamic support system includes two different cushioning types to allow for a more uniform transfer of force from the heel to the toe. And the snug, padded lining allows for a very comfortable run. It's bouncy without sacrificing stability. Named "best debut" by Runner's World magazine, the LunarGlide+ also includes gender-specific heel pockets for better fit and comfort.
A quick gait analysis to determine how your feet hit the ground can mean the difference between running free and easy or putting yourself at risk of a multitude of injuries.
"It's not very long, but it really does make a difference," says John Stanton, founder of the Running Room.
Do you underpronate? Do you overpronate? You need to know in order to make sure the shoe fits.
While it's possible to figure out your foot type by wetting your feet and standing on a piece of paper, specialty running stores have trained staff that offer gait analysis free of charge.
The test, which lasts about five or 10 minutes, involves just walking or running. A trained observer will be able to tell you your foot type and point you in the direction of the kind of shoe you need, whether that means a motion control, cushioning or stability shoe.
If possible, bring your old shoes with you, since the wear pattern on the sole can help staff figure out your foot type and get you in the right shoe, Mr. Stanton says.
When to replace your shoes
Just because you've bought a fancy new pair of shoes doesn't mean you can run in them forever.
Shoes should be replaced every 1,000 to 1,200 kilometres, says Kel Sherkin, a Toronto-based podiatrist and author of The Complete Handbook of Athletic Footwear.
The tread may still look fine, but the mid-sole, the part between the tread and your foot, begins to break down after that distance, Dr. Sherkin says.
Keep running on shoes that have begun to breakdown and you put yourself at risk of a range of problems, including plantar fasciitis, runner's knee, Achilles tendonosis and IT band problems, says Andrea Reid, a sports physiotherapist at the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre at the University of British Columbia.
In order to know when it's time to replace your shoes, Dr. Sherkin says, runners should keep a record of their daily or weekly distances.
"That will give you an indication as to when you should buy your shoes," he says. "When you get your shoes, on the inside tongue of a shoe, take a permanent Magic Marker and mark the month and year you bought the shoes so you never have to remember when you bought them."