Hip, lightweight shoes may look great, but they will do little to protect your feet from rigours of a 5km run, Alison de Souza discovers.
Sports medicine professionals will tell you that running shoes are not all that different from stiletto heels — both are often picked on the bast of aesthetics rather than practicality. Vanity can be insanity, however, if you plan to run 5kin or more in them, as do the thousands who take part in marathons and fun runs here throughout the year.
A good number of running injuries are caused or exacerbated by wearing the wrong shoes, says podiatrist Tye Lee Tze. The list lends new meaning to the term -fashion victim” — blackened toenails, shin splints, knee and ankle pain, tendonitis, corns and bunions.
Seasoned roadrunner or weekend jogger, “many look for the lightest shoes with the fanciest colours and features”, he says. But these may not be right for your type of foot.”
Changing this approach is the idea behind on-track.com.sg — a new website set up by Mr Tye, visiting podiatrist for the Singapore Sports Council, together with Dr Patrick Goh, team physician for the last Singapore Olympic and SEA Games squads, and Gino Ng, a physiotherapist and national triathlete.
Runners themselves, they personally tested out various models for each foot type, and offered guidelines on choosing the right one.
Mr Tye breaks it down:
PICK A REAL RUNNING SHOE
Always use activity-specific shoes, he says. “Different activities place different demands on the foot. Use tennis shoes for tennis, which has a lot of stop-start and side-to-side motions, and running shoes for running, which is more uni-directional.”
Cross-trainers are “neither here nor there”, and he does not recommend them for most activities, unless all the exercise you get is the odd aerobics session or 2.1cm run once a week. If you run 5km a week or more, you need running shoes.
FIGURE OUT YOUR FOOT TYPE
One way to do this at home is to wet the sole of your foot, step on a cement floor and then look at the imprint. The result will fall into one of three categories — a neutral foot, which needs a cushioning shoe; a mild to moderate flat foot, which needs a stability shoe; or a moderate to severe flat foot, which needs a motion control shoe. Check out the website at http.//on-track.com.sg/what-is-pronation.htm for more information.
“Cushioning”, “stability” and “motion control” were not dreamt up simply to make these products sound flash — each denotes a different response to pronation, which is the natural collapsing-in or rolling-in of the foot. People with flat feet do this more. Called overpronation, it can lead to pain or injury when they run.
The most common foot type tends to be mild to moderate overpronator, according to the On Track team. “But the most common running shoe on the market is the cushioning shoe, because these shoes are the most lightweight and they sell. However, they are not suited to everyone,” says Mr Tye.
GETTING THE RIGHT FIT
Once you know your category of shoes, get your size measured using a Brannock device. This metal contraption looks a bit like a mediaeval torture instrument but any decent shoe shop should have one, to measure the length and width of your foot.
Next, put them on and get moving. “Don’t just sit there, because when you stand up and walk, there is soft tissue displacement in your feet and their volume changes,” Mr Tye explains.
The shoe must not be too tight or too loose, of course, and when you are standing, there should be at least a one thumbnail width between the tip of the longest toe and the end of the shoe. You should not feel the top of your foot hitting the top of the shoe.
Also, do not expect the shoe to feel more comfy once it is broken in- “The major shoe manufacturers we asked said there is no break-in period for shoes these days. So if they don’t feel comfortable immediately, that may not change once you start using it.”
Other pointers: Bring the socks you intend to wear, and go shopping at the end of the day, when the foot tend to swell.
SHOES HAVE A LIFESPAN
Most running shoes have a lifespan of about 500km, which can translate to anything from six to 12 months. “This is why major shoe companies put out new lines every three to six months,” says Mr Tye.
If you leave a brand new pair on the shelf and do not use them, the materials and cushioning properties degrade as well. “So don’t buy bargain basement or discounted shoes that are more than a year old.”
LIGHTER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER
A popular myth is that the lighter or softer the shoe is, the better. “It’s like soft mattresses or waterbeds — they may feel nice, but a person with back problems will tell you they don’t feel so nice the next day, because they didn’t give him the support and stability he needed.”
If you have a flat foot, you need to get used to wearing bulkier, heavier shoes that do not look as sleek as most of those on the shelves. But it’s also not a case of the more support, the better. Mr Tye cautions that if you have too much arch support for your foot type, the foot may roll in the other direction, causing a whole different set of problems.
In the end, runners need to know what is best for their feet, because chances are, many sales people will not. Alternatively, go to a shop where a request for “a stability shoe for a mild to moderate overpronator” is not greeted with a blank stare.
Says Mr Tye: “We need to stop choosing a shoe based on looks and whether it goes well with your ensemble, or whether your friends say it’s good and the top athletes use it. Just know what works for you.”