How to choose the best shoes for running

Never have shoes catered for so many individual needs so effectively. Here’s how to make sure you have the correct pair on your feet.

When it comes to narrowing down what the best running shoes are for your needs, it pays to take a little time before you make your purchase.  

As you’ll discover, there’s a huge variety available, catering for every distance and every surface. So, here at Saga Exceptional we have created a checklist to help you make the right decision when it comes to choosing your next pair.  

A group of used running shoes in a pileCredit: Paul Larkins
Today’s runner can choose from all manner of running shoes

What surface will you use your running shoes on?

Roadrunning shoes look and feel very different to trail shoes. But rather like an off-road vehicle, they can adapt to most surfaces. Having said that, similar to a “Chelsea tractor” 4×4 or an F1 racing car, they don’t feel completely at home in the wrong environment. Road shoes can be soft and slippery, and not waterproofed enough for grass and rutted tracks. Trail equivalents can feel too hard on the road, and the grippier sole is slippery on smooth surfaces. So, think about where you going to run. Will it be on the grass in the park or on the pavement around your local area? Road shoes are your best bet if you’re going for mostly urban running; if you prefer farm tracks, parks and grass, or canal paths, then opt for trail shoes. 

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How do you like your running shoes to feel?

As older runners, it’s worth investigating cushioning shoes and their relatively new technology, which increases the amount of protective foam underneath your foot. Today, supercushioned shoes offer more than 30mm (1.2in) of foam, which can be as much as three times more than older designs – all of which adds up to increased protection for your knees and joints. And the good news is, all this extra technology doesn’t come at the expense of any extra weight, so these shoes still feel light and flexible. 

A rack of old running shoesCredit: Paul Larkins
Shoes can cater for just about every individual running requirement

Will I need neutral running shoes?

This refers to your running action. If your foot doesn’t roll inwards excessively (or outwards) on impact, then you’re a neutral runner. We all pronate when your foot rolls inwards – slightly, as it’s a natural protective movement for our knees. If you go to a specialist running store, you’ll often be given a free gait analysis on a treadmill, which will determine how much pronation you have. 

What are motion control running shoes?

If you pronate excessively – your foot over-rotates on impact and your knees collapse inwards – then you should consider a motion-control shoe. Again, a gait analysis at a specialist running store will tell you this. And if this is the case, then you’ll be pointed in the direction of a pair of shoes with a solid-feeling midsole. This helps with your foot’s stability and supports low arches.  

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How heavy should running shoes be?

Lighter is not always better. Similarly, heavier shoes do not necessarily offer more cushioning. Research confirms that there is a breaking point when it comes to weight. For each 100g of shoe weight (they tend to weigh between 250g and 350g (8.8oz and 12.3oz)), there’s a 1% increase in oxygen consumption. But similar science will also tell you that shoes can propel you more effectively than running barefoot, and if there’s not enough cushioning (for that read weight), you’ll also not be as efficient. For most runners, think about 300g (10.5oz) and above. 

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Trail shoes are best for running off-road

These supply grip, waterproofing (or drainage) and rock guards. Why? Off road, on the trail, you’ll be running through puddles, and across mud and fields. On the way you’ll encounter roots and rocks and sharp, hidden objects. These shoes tend to be stiffer and more stable than road shoes, but also a touch heavier. It gets a little more complicated in that some trail shoes are designed with alpine paths in mind (not so much grip), while others cater more for boggy ground.  

Adidas Ultraboost soleCredit: Saga Exceptional
Check for a shoe’s grip by looking at the depth of the lugs

How secure will my running shoes be in the mud?

Traction is perhaps a better way to think of what you’ll need. You want to be able to run safe in the knowledge that your feet will move in the right direction when you strike the ground. To do that, look at the length and construction of the nubs on the outsole. A shallower depth of up to 4mm (0.15in) will mean they are perfectly suited for the road, while 8mm (0.3in) is great for mud.  

Look for comfort in the uppers

Gone are the days of unforgiving uppers; instead expect a knitted yarn, often recycled, which provides a soft, sock-like feel. Once upon a time, shoes would take ages to break in, but it’s safe to say that’s very much consigned to history now; the seamless construction that modern uppers provide reduces the risk of blistering and chafing to almost zero. 

Running shoe laces are all about providing stabilty

While most shoes still offer laces as the final fitting system for your shoe, some companies also use systems such as Boa, which uses wires to help you create an individual fit. Salomon also offer Quicklace , which uses Kevlar for additional strength and a more secure fit 

What drop will your running shoes have?

Your average street shoes work off a 12mm (0.5in) heel-to-toe drop, which elevates your heel fractionally. There is a school of thought that recommends a lower drop of up to only 2mm, as this simulates barefoot running. For older runners, wed recommend 6-12mm (0.23-0.5in) as a good range, with perhaps an extra pair with a lower drop on standby in your cupboard to try on occasion, as they can increase foot strength. Highly cushioned shoes often offer a drop of around 6mm, which, combined with more than 30mm (1.18in) of cushioning, is also a good option. 

Carbon plays a big role in running shoes today

Carbon shoes came on the market four or five years ago, and runners are now clocking times roughly 4% faster than they did prior to this. Carbon shoes, stiffer than other models, offer a degree of propulsion as you drive off. They’re not for everyone, as they are a little unforgiving, and they do tend to cost upwards of £100 more than average shoes. However, if you need to shave 15 seconds off your 5k (3.1 miles) time, then they might be worth considering. 

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Paul Larkins

Written by Paul Larkins

Published:

Paul Larkins has been a sports journalist for more than 30 years, covering two Olympic Games, one Paralympics, numerous World Championships and, most recently, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. He’s also been a magazine editor, heading up titles covering everything from running to cooking and buying tractors. But his real passion is running. As a former GB International athlete and sub-4-minute miler in the 1980s, Paul has a great understanding of life-long fitness and the benefits it can provide.