Anatomy of a Running Shoe
When buying a pair of Running Shoes, it is important to be familiar with its parts and features to make it easier for you to communicate with the retailer. That way, he or she could help you better in finding the right pair according to your foot type and running event, among other things.
There are several basic parts of a Running Shoe that will be discussed in this section. They are the following:
Upper: The entire top half of the shoe
- Lace system: either standard laces or a BOA system, or some alternative. Laces run througheyelets, which secure them to the rest of the shoe.
- Vamp: the toe of the shoe (toebox is inside). Saddle and overlays surround the sides of the foot
- Heel counter: the stiff support that surrounds your heel. The heel tab is the part immediately around your Achilles tendon, and it provides a notch for the tendon.
- Collar: the soft, cushy top of the heel, where you slip your foot into the shoe
- Tongue: cushions the top of your foot from the shoe laces. A gusset at the sides of the tongue keeps water, dirt, and debris from sneaking into the shoe.
- Insole: what your foot directly rests on—can be swapped out for an orthotic, gel insert, custom footbed, etc.
Lower: The parts under your foot
- Midsole: a main shock absorber, can be dual-density to provide special cushioning to different parts of the foot
- Shank: something stiff (yet flexible) underneath your arch that gives the shoe its lateral structure and deflects bumps and rocks underneath
- Outsole: The external bottom of the shoe with traction, reinforcement overlays, and shock absorption. Some tread patterns are particularly grippy on rocks, some dig into dirt well, some shed mud, etc.
What to Ask Yourself
Now that you know the anatomy of the beast, what do you need to consider when selecting the right one?
- Terrain type and conditions: Do you need a waterproof shoe with a Gore-Tex insert to keep you dry on rainy days and on puddle and stream crossings? Do you tend to run on smoother rock and dirt surfaces or are you going across scree fields? Decide just how much lugged traction, structural burliness, and sticky rubber you need.
- Distance: The more built-in support a shoe has, the more it’s going to weigh. So feel free to get a supportive, stable shoe if you tend to just run a few miles each time. But if you’re regularly running long distances, a lighter-weight shoe might work better. Find a balance between weight and support—where do your needs fall?
- Road vs. Trail: We designed this guide for trail runners, but it’s good to be aware of the differences between a trail shoe and a road shoe. Trail shoes have much more built-in support and stability, which, naturally, weighs more. Road shoes are much lighter in weight but normally don’t have deep tractional lugs or a shank that spares you from feeling sharp rocks underfoot. So how do you divide your time between road and trail? Taking your trail shoes on the road occasionally won’t do you any harm, but it may not be the very most comfortable or endurance-oriented option.
- Your foot shape: Do you have high or flat arches? Bony ankles? Oddly-shaped toes? Try a “wet test” to get an idea of your arch type. Dip your foot in a pan of water, then carefully make a footprint on a dry surface like a paper bag. Take a look at the shape to evaluate:
- Pronation and supination: A foot is supposed to pronate, or roll slightly inward from your heel toward your big toe as you step, but not too much. Many people over-pronate, or roll too far inward, and this wears both on your shoes and your body. A “motion-control” shoe can correct for this with extra arch support and construction that will gently nudge feet toward a correct movement. The opposite of over-pronation is supination, which is sometimes the case for people with rigid, high arches—they strike the ground on the outside edge of the foot instead of rolling inward, which can lead to stress fractures and general discomfort. Supinators should avoid shoes designed for over-pronators and should steer toward cushioned shoes that absorb some of the harsh impact on the foot’s edge. Taking a look at a shoe you’ve worn down can help you determine:
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