One of the beauties of running is its simplicity. Any time of day, for any length of time, at any pace, in any place – it’s the perfect exercise for busy people.

And the only essential equipment is a good pair of running shoes that suit your feet.

Here’s where a beautiful sport can turn byzantine, unless you get expert help to keep it simple.

The number of shoe models has exploded in the last 30 years. While the good news is quality and choice, the bad news can be you, as customer, knee-deep in shoe technology bafflegab, staring up at a huge wall of shoes.

Shoe types and pronation

There are a few terms that don’t change with the seasons. Generally, all running shoes fall into one of three categories: “cushion,” “stability,” or “motion control.” Roughly speaking, where you belong depends on the shape of your arches, and how you run.

All of us hit the ground on the outside corner of our heels, as evidenced by worn heels. Then our feet rotate back inward or “pronate.” If you’re biomechanically blessed, your feet will pronate and then toe off in a fairly straight line. While pronation is normal, some people with lower- arched or even flat feet keep on pronating inward as their arches collapse. This can lead to knee pains, shin splints, plantar fascitis and more – if you don’t have the right shoes.

The wear pattern on your shoes will tell part of the story. Don’t be fooled by looking at the heels. Instead, see where they’re worn off at the toes. Over-pronators wear down the inside (medial) portion. More “normal” runners toe off down the middle of forefoot.

All shoes have a “last” or mould. A slip-last shoe has literally been slipped over the last and sewn up at the bottom. A combination last has an additional fibre board glued on top of the stitching in the rear half of the shoe for additional rearfoot and midfoot stability.

Cushion shoes have a bedroom-slipper feel. If you’re one of the rare, blessed creatures with rigid high arches and good biomechanics, go for the cushion category – you don’t have to pay a lot of extra money for gizmos you don’t need. All cushion shoes are slip-lasted, and can be semi-curved or curved.

The majority of people have moderate arches and need stability shoes. These offer great cushioning, but also some support against mild over- pronation. There’s a whole range in this category: some offer more cushioning than motion control, and vice-versa. These can be slip- or combination-lasted.

Motion-control shoes offer maximum support to serious over-pronators. Strong heel cups, straight and combination-lasted, with extra-firm plugs under arches, this category helps stop arches from collapsing inward, and allow a neutral toe-off.

A word of warning for rigid-orthotics wearers: ask your podiatrist to recommend a type (not model) of shoe. The combination of a rigid orthotic with a motion-control shoe may over-correct your problem. A stability shoe might be sufficient.

If you’re a genuine greyhound, lightweight trainers and racing flats may be sufficient. Beware: their unbearable lightness of being is low on durability. Consider saving them for morale boosters in quicker workouts and races. Now that you know what you need, how do you find it?

Here are some additional tips from experts:

  • Take your time buying shoes – be prepared to try on several pairs
  • Be fussy about sizing, e.g., a nine in a Saucony may be a 10 in Asics, or a 9.5 in a Nike or Brooks. You need a thumbnail-width space at the end of your shoes: your foot expands with the heat of the exercise, especially later in the day, and elongates on footstrike. Widthwise, the shoe should fit snugly but not too tight or you’ll cramp up. Check the heel area for slipping – again, you need a snug fit for stability and to avoid blisters. Try them out on the treadmill at the store and have us watch you run. If the shoe doesn’t feel good at the store, it definitely won’t feel any better later.
  • Don’t buy a shoe because of brand, colour, a magazine’s endorsement, or a running partner’s glowing recommendation. Remember, you must buy a shoe because it meets your own individual running needs.
  • Be prepared to spend $100 or more. However, good-quality cushion or stability shoes can be found on sale from $60-$100.
  • Running shoes are good for 500 to 600 kilometres or 12 months, whichever comes first. Generally, if it feels good and meets your particular needs, run with it.