Most forms of sport like tennis (racquet, tennis balls and shoes), golf (clubs, balls, tees and ball markers) or air rifle shooting (rifle, pellets, target boards, blinkers) require the use of multiple pieces of equipment during a game. Running, on the other hand, requires one to have only a single piece of equipment, a good, sturdy pair of shoes. It is another matter altogether that even this truth is being disputed by the purveyors of the barefoot running movement, but that discussion makes for a separate column.

Naysayers aside, the centrality of the running shoe to the sport of distance running cannot be over-emphasized and it is vital that a new runner carefully chooses his first pair of shoes, guided by logic and fact, rather than slick marketing, designer brands and fancy price tags (the more expensive shoes are not necessarily better for you!).

The journey to finding your trusted pair of shoes starts with first knowing what foot type you have. Take the ‘Wet test’ today. Wet the soles of both your feet fully with water and then step onto a brown paper bag or a plain piece of paper. Observe the print left behind by your wet feet. This will tell you what kind of foot arch you have.

A couple of technical, yet easy-to-understand terms, before we examine the three foot types. When we run, our feet tend to bend slightly inwards to enable absorption of the shock forces our feet are subjected to while running. This inward bending is called pronation. An excessive inward bending or rolling of the feet when in motion is called Over-pronation and the opposing motion or outward bending is called Under-pronation or Supination.

Medium Arch:

This is the most common foot type and means that you have a neutral pair of feet, feet which roll just the right amount inwards thereby absorbing the shock forces effectively. Kind of like the ‘Goldilocks of foot arches’ - neither too high nor too flat, just about right, runners with this foot type can wear most ‘neutral’, cushioned running shoes since their feet themselves do most of the balancing work while running. Watch out for shoes which flaunt ‘motion control’ or excessive ‘stability’, they are not for you.

Flat Arch:

Runners with flat feet tend to over-pronate. Their feet roll excessively inwards while running, even after the shock has been absorbed. This can in time cause stress- related injuries of the feet and legs. Severe over-pronators should look for shoes with ‘motion-control’ and moderate over-pronators can buy shoes with ‘stability’, both of which are support mechanisms built into the sole to correct and limit excessive inward roll of the feet.

High Arch:

Some runners tend to have feet with very high arches. These feet are characterized by an outward roll of the feet during running, causing too much of the shock to travel up your legs. This is best tackled by wearing ‘neutral’ shoes with soft cushioning in the mid-sole to encourage your feet to pronate. Do not wear shoes with ‘motion control’ or ‘stability’ since they limit the motion that your particular foot type needs to actually be doing, i.e., bend inwards.

Shoe type apart, most runners do not pay enough attention to Shoe size, that other key characteristic of good running shoes. Try and buy your shoes in the evening when your feet are expanded the most. Always, always wear running socks when you are trying on new shoes to judge the best size for you. Running shoes should not fit just about right. It always pays to choose a size that allows for a little extra room in the front so your toes don’t constantly press against the wall of the shoe while running. Finally, don’t forget that most running shoes will not do their job well enough (outward appearance aside) after more than 800-1000 km of running. So, remember to replace your shoes at regular intervals based on your running mileage. There you go, follow these simple guidelines while buying your shoes and enjoy many years and miles of injury-free running.

Ashwin discovered running nearly a decade (and several, several pairs of shoes) ago now, and it has transformed his life. This ‘Chennai Runner for life’ hopes to run all the World Marathon Majors in the coming years!