If the shoe fits…
(part one of a two-part series on footwear)
Sneakers is an American word used to describe soft rubber-soled athletic shoes. They have been around since the mid to late 1800s and go by many names. In England, they are referred to as trainers or joggers. Other names include: Tennis shoes, running shoes, runners, track shoes, sports shoes, gym shoes, kicks, and a plethora of other slang terms relating to usage, style, or manufacturers. Sneakers are so ubiquitous that they have crossed the divide from athletic usage to everyday casual footwear, and the dreaded fashion sneaker.
Just as people come in all shapes and sizes, so do sneakers. Just as all people are not runners, all sneakers are not running shoes. You should NOT be running in fashion sneakers. So if you’re going out for a run (an ACTUAL run, not a metaphorical one), or you’re gearing up for a race, leave the Chuck Taylors and Vans® at home.
It’s probably easier to pick out a car than it is to pick out running shoes. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, not all sneakers are running shoes, but all running shoes are sneakers, so for the remainder of this article, when the words sneaker or shoe appears, it is specifically referring to running shoes.
Just as there are many auto manufacturers, makes, models, and colors, the same holds true for sneakers. The list that follows is by no means exhaustive, but it was exhausting to compile. (If I missed any popular ones, let me know in the comments)
Adidas. Allbirds. Altra. APL. ASICS. Brooks. FILA. HOKA. Inov-8. Karhu. La Sportiva. Mizuno. Merrill. New Balance. Newton Running . Nike. Puma. Reebok. Salomon. Saucony . Sketchers. Under Armor. Veja. VJ Shoes . Xero Shoes.
There are high end brands, and low end ones. A sneaker does not have to cost an arm and a leg to be good, and sometimes the extra bucks are just paying for the company logo.
Brand loyalty will lock you into a particular company with shoes faster than you can say ‘RUNNERS, READY’. And sometimes, you will have a very limited color choice in that style. You may have a strong desire to own a particular brand, only to discover that they don’t fit your feet properly. Running is a very individual sport and everyone’s foot is different. Small, large, narrow, or wide all play their part as to what shoe is best for your individual foot. Just because your BFF running partner wears the latest from Saucony, doesn’t mean that they make it in your size.
When it comes to buying sneakers, you really have to do your homework, and you can’t buy cut-rate. Stick to well known brands and get your shoes fitted at a shoe store, one where they specialize in running shoes like Fleet Feet does.
Most quality running shoes will set you back about $150. Do NOT go to a place like a department store and buy $20 sneakers. You get what you pay for. Before I actually committed to becoming a runner, I didn’t know any better. When you’re a newbie, sneakers are sneakers. I purchased a pair of no name running shoes in 2018 which I barely ever wore before I got my Nikes. I was on vacation August 24th 2019 and I had ONLY the ‘no-names’ with me, so I decided one morning to go for a run on the boardwalk in Ocean City MD. This happened:
Yep. I ran so fast that my sole left my body.
So two lessons learned that day:
- NEVER EVER EVER buy cheap no-name, or counterfeit running shoes.
- ALWAYS have two to three pairs of running shoes in rotation, and a spare pair with you in your gym bag.
When you do get around to shopping for your shoes, don’t fret about the color or obsess over a brand and style.
There are only two real considerations you should be concerned with.
- What surface are you running on? Road, or trail. Some brands have both types, others specialize, but you need trail shoes for trails, and road shoes for roads. They are made different for a very good reason!
- How do they feel on your feet. It doesn’t matter if they’re the prettiest pink shoes you’ve ever seen, and all the girls in track have them. It doesn’t matter if your hero who took the Gold at the Olympics wears them. If they don’t fit, and they hurt YOUR feet, they’re worthless. And when you do go to buy shoes, always wear the same type of socks that you usually wear when you run, because you want these shoes to fit perfectly when you hit the road. Never wear brand new shoes for a race, or a long run. It takes five to ten miles to break-in new sneakers so take them out for two or three 5K training runs before you race with them.
BE PREPARED to spend about $150. You might get lucky and catch a sale, or a closeout on last year’s model, but don’t get your hopes up.
BUT EVERYONE WEARS THEM
Look , I understand that you may love your special brand, and that’s wonderful. My road race sneakers are my Nike Initiator running shoes, and for trails I don my Inov-8 X-Talon 200 trail shoes. I always wear MudGear brand socks.
The reality is, when it comes to sneakers, most Olympic runners wear Nike. Does it mean you should wear Nike? Not at all. I wear these particular shoes because I have an odd size foot, and finding shoes that fit me is a challenge. If you find a brand that appeals to you, run with it! The only wrong running shoes are cheaply made no-names. If that’s ALL you can really afford, run with it. It’s better to run with inexpensive (but inferior) shoes than to not run at all. Just buy the sneakers you can afford without breaking your budget.
As for why elite runners chose Nike more than any other brand, the answer is simple. Nike is courting these athletes and seeking endorsements, while the athletes in turn are looking for sponsorships to pay for their training costs. For professional athletes and corporations, it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Plus if everyone is wearing the exact same shoe at the Olympics, They’re all competing on a level playing field. The moment someone breaks the trend for something ‘new’, everyone cries foul!
The Nike ‘Alphafly’ prototype shoes worn by Eliud Kipchoge when he became the first athlete to run a marathon in under two hours in October 2019 have now been banned.
In 2019, 31 of the 36 podium positions in the six world marathon majors were won by elite athletes wearing Nike Vaporfly, as reported by the Guardian.
According to Runnersworld, at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials, 404 of the 565 finishers wore Nikes.
Vaporflys have not been banned, but Nike must adhere to strict new guidelines. Critics state that these shoes which have thick, foam soles and carbon-fibre plates to improve speed give the wearers an unfair advantage during competition, but again, if all the athletes wear them no one can complain.
As of this writing, a pair of men’s Nike Vaporflys cost about $425 depending on size and style. No, I’m not planning on buying a pair. I would never spend THAT MUCH on a pair of running shoes, plus Amazon doesn’t have them in my size.
All good things must end
Remember the car buying analogy I made at the beginning? Just as car manufactures retire a certain style and replace it with a new model, the same applies to sneakers. The new model offered by your favorite brand might not fit the same or feel as comfortable as the old style of the same shoe. I’ve heard many a runner moan over the changes made to a specific shoe that they felt was ‘perfect’. The reason manufactures do this is planned obsolescence. The shoe must wear out after so much usage, and styles get changed and updated to keep the customers coming back to try the latest model. If a particular brand and model feel AMAZING, buy two or three extra pairs and stockpile them as soon as possible. I am down to my last brand new pair of Nike Initiator running shoes, and I my ONLY Inov-8 X-Talon 200 trail shoes.
These are no longer in production, and as soon as they wear out, I’m going to have to find new sneakers that make my feel ‘happy’.
Running shoes last about 300 to 500 miles depending on the runner’s weight and running style. If you have an uneven gait, and you get edge wear, or on the heal, your sneakers will not last as long. Uneven sole wear will kill your shoes.
Also the more you weigh, the heavier you pound the pavement. A 250lb male will wear out his shoes faster than a 99lb female even if they both run identical distances on the same trails with the same frequency. It’s not ‘fat shaming’, it’s science. Just another reason why it’s tough to be a Clydesdale. (But Clydesdales ARE tough!)
Lastly clean your sneakers regularly, spraying the interiors with a sneaker spray to kill bacteria and mold which can form in dark, damp areas of your shoe.
If you have additional running tips and tricks, please leave a comment. If you are local to me, you can find me at these upcoming races:
April Foolish 10 Hour Endurance Trail Run April 18 @ 9:00 am – 7:00 pm Elverson, PA 19520
Be sure to check back in two weeks for part two of this series on running shoes, The Bare Facts.
As always, I wish you success and happiness!