I have had a few questions from runners I coach recently about getting the right footwear for the marathon. It goes without saying if you are going to pound tarmac for 26.2 miles you need to be pretty confident you are giving your feet the tools they need to perform. Choosing a perfect race shoe is very much a personal choice but here are some key points to consider to help you choose between the dizzying array of options on the market.
How do you roll?
Knowing how your body moves and how your foot strikes the ground when you run should be central when buying race shoes. Whether you heel strike or mid or forefoot strike, whether you have neutral gait or whether your pronate (roll inwards) or supinate (strike on the outside of your foot) will affect the amount of cushion or support your require and feel comfortable in.
Try this – Take yourself down to your local running shop and ask for your gait to be analysed prior to making your purchase. You might be surprised at the level of experienced and expertise on offer – many running stores are staffed by top class club runners who can really help you understand what you need. Most of you know we work with Saucony really believe in the quality of their products. Saucony offer a service called Stride Lab. Stride Lab can go a stage further than your local running shop and will assess, on an experts eye, for form, motion and stride. Check out this link for more details - https://www.stridelab.co.uk
Knowing when to purchase a new pair of shoes can be a tricky business. If you are one of those folk who wait until you can feel the tarmac on the soles of your feet or the mud flowing in as the holes open up like a geological case study the chances are you have been risking injury for several hundred miles. The cushioning in your shoes loses its density and effectiveness some time before their soles wear out enough for you to notice.
Try this – Look back over your training plans and logs if you have put 400-500 miles through your shoes they will thank you for gracefully retiring them!
Find some space
Whilst we all like a shoe that fits like a glove be aware that your feet will swell through the course of a marathon increasing your chances of blisters and cramping.
Try this – Shop for your shoes on after a short run or at the end of the day when your feet have swollen through the course of the day. Wear your usual running socks and give yourself about 0.5-1cm of space between the end of your big toe and the end of the shoe. Consider replacing the laces with elasticated laces which keep your feet to snug whilst allowing the upper of your shoes to expand as your feel swell.
The degree of support and cushioning you need in a marathon will be different to that needed for racing a 5km race. The shoe market has come on and you have a huge range of choices from all out 0 degree drop racing flats to heavily cushioned rubber bricks. There may be many benefits of wearing a flatter more minimalist shoe but a lower profile shoe can also put more strain on your Achilles and calf muscles. Even if you are a forefoot striking gazelle most runners form tends to suffer in the later stages of a marathon leading to a heavier, more heel focused foot strike.
Try this – A relatively lightweight shoe can be an advantage when racing but don’t compromise on the support and cushioning you need as an individual runner. If you are looking towards a lighter, or more minimal shoe give yourself time to adapt before trying to race in them. The marathon in particular will likely see you lose a little bit of form in the latter stages. You need enough cushioning or support to accommodate this. What might work for a elite running just outside 2 hours isn't necessarily going to work the same if you are running 5 or 6 hours - think about your individual needs.
Finding your sole-mate
So you have your awesome red and black racing kit. You know you’ll be fast because it’s red and back right? All you need to top it off is matching shoes and you’ll be on fire! Sadly though blisters and aching calf muscles can ruin the best of looks!
Try this – It’s all about the fit - put comfort at the top of your list when purchasing a marathon shoe, more important than the brand and whether you look suitably coordinated. If a shoe does feel 100% comfortable when you try it on then do wear it in the marathon, it could kill your race!
Getting to know one another
Marathon expos are wonderful - you get to try loads of great kit and pick up bargains! Now is not the time though to be getting your race shoe – and I have seen it done! You need to gradually break your new shoes in and allow the cushioning and uppers to relax before you are ready to race in the
Try this – Give yourself enough time to get 50-60 miles into your race shoes before marathon day. Wear them on a long run and during a couple of your marathon paced sessions.
Mix it up
One of the reasons for many running related injuries and niggles is repeated impact on, and use of, the same muscle groups over and over again. Mixing up your training, and your shoes, can help spread the load a little bit. Consider getting off road run time to time, adding hills into your weekly running mix, but also cycling between different footwear.
Try this - Consider cycling between 2-3 different pairs of running shoes. You might try a lighter, more minimalist or racing shoe for track sessions or threshold sessions or even short easier runs when you want to get your legs back feeling zippy. For those long runs and steady miles swapping back to a more supportive option, perhaps even swapping into a pair of trail shoes as well to get off road.