Neil Featherby: What you should look for in a pair of running shoes

Gait analysis can be an important part of choosing a new pair of trainers. Picture: Alison Armstrong

Gait analysis can be an important part of choosing a new pair of trainers. Picture: Alison Armstrong - Credit: Archant

Sportlink owner Neil Featherby offers his insight into what you should be looking for when buying a new pair of trainers

Having seen several comments and questions on social media during the last few weeks with regards to running footwear, gait analysis and injuries, it emphasised what a minefield it can be.

With all the technical information from the shoe manufacturers along with of course all the so many differing personal opinions from runners in respect of how a shoe may or may not have worked for them, for those new to our sport, then it can make it all feel daunting.

One of the best bits of advice for any novice runner is to go to a running specialist retailer for unbiased and expert advice on footwear where there is absolutely no pressure to actually make a purchase.

At Sportlink, we so very regularly hear from beginners that they have come to us as they have been told to make sure they get fitted with a proper pair of trainers before starting out as if not they could get hurt.

This is great advice for sure, but we still have to point out that even after getting kitted out with a pair of specialist running shoes, this still does not guarantee against aches, pains and niggles, particularly during those initial first few weeks.

Even if a so called "best pair of running shoes in the world" did actually exist, if you get the training wrong and do too much too soon, the likelihood is that you will still end up getting hurt.

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Whilst there are so many things which need to be taken into consideration when selecting a new pair of shoes, the most important factor has to be comfort.

Needless to say pay attention to what the experienced sales consultants advise and even take on board what the manufacturers have said in their advertising or indeed what has been advised by others, but the only person who really matters when it comes to shoe selection is the person who will be running in them.

If it doesn't feel right however good it says it is on the tin, then the likelihood is that it will never feel right. In fact that little seed of doubt at the beginning of the first run in them will have grown into a monster by the end of the workout. "If in doubt leave it out," has always been our motto.

With regards to gait analysis, while it is a good idea to have one before buying running shoes, particularly if not having had one before, it should also be taken into consideration that there are many experts out there who have differing ideas about what a gait analysis may mean.

There will be lots of big words describing each person's individual biomechanics with regards to levels of pronation ie the movement of the foot turning/rolling inwards after making contact with the ground.

MORE: Love running? Join the Run Anglia Facebook group hereFor some this will mean that they have what is known as a neutral running style whereas others may suffer with what is known as an over pronated gait which is when the foot rolls in beyond that of what is described as being neutral.

This can then fall into differing categories such as mild, moderate or even excessive over pronation. More often than not one foot will also be worse than the other too. Then of course there are those who may be told that they under pronate or supinate (foot rolling outwards).

Combine all of this with heel and mid foot striking along with lots more information in respect of hip alignment, leg length differences and so on and it's clear what a minefield it can become.

Of course this is all very relevant particularly for those who are new to running or of course those who perhaps haven't done any running for several years and are now well into middle age. Perhaps even a little over weight too.

However, and just because someone may get told that they are an over pronator, or told that they have a pelvic tilt causing further rotation, if after trying on structured footwear which helps reduce any excessive movements when running, if the shoes don't feel comfortable, then it should probably be a case of not choosing a pair from this category as more often than not this will end up leading to other problems.

If someone feels more natural in a good quality neutral shoe or of course have already been running in neutral shoes for years with no problems, then despite what the assessment suggests, it's probably a good idea for them to stay with this type of shoe. Providing it has a good quality midsole which retains shape retention and doesn't break down within a month that is. Midsoles may well vary from one shoe to another even if it is the same brand.

Incidentally, our feet are also very good shock absorbers and if exercise is built up very carefully then our bodies learn to adapt to the stresses which are applied through running.

As for price, when it comes to getting a good pair of shoes, I saw one comment which suggested that a gait analysis usually leads to a very expensive pair of trainers.

I would suggest that this is not so and at the same time what price do you put on trying to reduce injuries whilst not forgetting comfort too? Whereas I have just said they won't be expensive, they won't be silly cheap either, but in the long run a pair of good quality running shoes from about £70 upwards (approx 15p per mile) should most certainly offer just about everything required.

In a nutshell, when it comes to choosing a pair of running shoes it should always come down to how they feel to the individual as it is they who have to get out there and run in them.

We all tend to run the way we do for a reason and perhaps unless someone is getting injured due to whatever might be considered is down to their biomechanical issues, then it might in many cases be best to leave things alone.

There is no doubt that running style plays a major role in running efficiency and when you look at the very elite, most of them just glide along. Nevertheless, there have also been several world class athletes who can also be considered as having had a pretty awful running style.

I personally have always had very bad overpronation through my right foot which is actually more to do with a right sided pelvic tilt and leg length discrepancy, but I have always worn neutral shoes. At the same time, my particular preference has always been shoes which are regarded as being fairly minimal and whilst I was never more than just a good club runner, I am about to complete 38 years of running at least once every day.

Having been in the running trade for 30 years whilst also having been a bit of a running shoe geek for 40 years, with all the technology which has increased from one year to the next, I am surprised they haven't landed a pair of training shoes on the moon by now.

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