We caught up with Mark J. Mendeszoon, DPM, FACFAS, podiatrist at Precision Orthopedic Specialties in Ohio, to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about running footwear. Along with his role as a medical professional, Mendeszoon is also the owner of the Achilles Running Shop stores in Ohio and Erie, Pennsylvania — so he understands what runners are looking for when they need a new pair of shoes.
What should be the most important factor to consider when you go to buy a pair of running shoes?
The most important factor to consider when purchasing a pair of running shoes is that you are fitted in the proper functioning shoe for your foot type. There are several categories of shoes and a footwear professional from a locally owned running store will lend their expertise to evaluate, select and fit you properly into the best shoe for your foot type and condition.
How should your running shoes fit?
It is important that shoes be fitted not only in length but width as feet come in many different shapes and sizes. It is important that your feet are measured regularly, as feet can change in appearance and function as we get older, or when females have babies, or even with post surgical changes on lower leg, ankle or foot surgery. After length and width is determined it is important that the individual have a comfortable foot bed under their foot and a proper fitting tongue of the shoe that is not too tight or irritating on top of the foot. Lastly, make sure that the Achilles notch of the shoe does not irritate the back portion of your heel (the Achilles tendon).
What is the difference between a ‘neutral’ and ‘support’ shoe?
There is a significant difference between a neutral shoe and a support shoe. Generally neutral shoes are indicated for people who have a higher arch (less pronation), a forefoot striker, or someone looking for a performance shoe that is lighter and more responsive. A supportive shoe is for those who may need a little more control of their feet flattening out (pronation) and to provide a bit more shock absorption and control.
Neutral shoes typically are lighter than a supportive shoe and can break down a bit quicker. The midsole is the portion of the shoe where the foam materials assist in shock absorption or even foot control. There are typically four types of midsole materials:
- EVA: Ethylene vinyl acetate (both white and gray layers) has been the standard in midsole foams for its softness, flexibility, and low production cost since the 1970s. The downside is that it becomes more rigid in cold weather and compresses over mileage, losing its bounce.
- PU: Compared with EVA, polyurethane is less sensitive to temperature, is more durable, and has a bouncier feel. However, PU is roughly 50 percent heavier than EVA.
- TPU: Thermoplastic polyurethane is heated and reformed. Companies like Adidas and Saucony use a two-step process, making TPU beads and then fusing them to create a more durable, flexible, and bouncer foam than EVA and PU. However, TPU is still a heavier foam compared to EVA.
- Pebax: Polyether block amide (the top, off-white layer) gained recognition as the highly responsive foam used in the Nike Vaporfly 4%. Pebax retains its flexibility and energy return in cold conditions and is 20 percent lighter than TPU.
Generally the darker the midsole material, the more support the shoe will have (and also slightly heavier in weight).
What is a heel-to-forefoot “drop” and why is that important?
Heel to forefoot drop is a recent term that has gained momentum over the last decade. This term represents the measurement of cushioning from the heel to the forefoot. Since the early 1970’s the construction of the running shoe changed dramatically as shoes were constructed with blown rubber and thick heels. Prior to this most shoes were completely flat with no heel drop (Converse Chuck Taylors, PF Flyers). Traditionally the most common running shoe has about a 12mm drop off and with in the last decade shoes have gone to the zero drop (0mm). Typically the greater the heel drop, those runners have more of a heel strike or mid foot strike whereas the lower drop shoes promote mid foot to forefoot strike. Thus neutral shoes, racing flats and performance shoes have a low heel-to drop if not a zero mm drop. Support, stability and motion control will have the larger drop (12 mm).