Running Shoe Anatomy And How To Find The Right Pair To Reach Your Goals

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

With the soaring popularity of running, pop-up specialty shoe stores are turning up in neighborhoods throughout the nation. These stores specialize in shoe "fit." In addition, many of these stores now offer in-house 3D scanning to measure and assess which shoes might be most appropriate for your specific needs.

A staff member should also watch you walk barefoot and run to determine if a neutral, stability or minimal shoe would make the most sense. The type of terrain you plan to run on should also be taken into consideration.

The most critical factor in determining what kind of shoes you need is how they feel on your feet. Slip them on and go for a walk around the building. Jog back and forth in the parking lot. Do you have any heel slip? Are there any weird pressure sensations on the ball or sides of your feet?

It's impossible to determine if the shoes you chose will be your go-to for the long haul until you've logged some miles in them. However, most shoe stores will offer a 90 day, no-questions-asked return policy to ensure you made the right investment. When possible, we suggest that you shop local to support your running community.

Get To Know The Parts Of A Running Shoe

The Upper

The mesh overlay over the top of the foot, held together by the laces of the shoe. This ensures your foot stays in place while running.

The Tongue

Protects your foot from the pressure of the shoelaces. Trail shoes often have their tongue stitched in place to help prevent small rocks and debris from getting inside your shoe.

The Heel Contour

The portion of a running shoe that supports and cushions your heel. It's often stiff to protect and provide stability for the Achilles tendon when running.

The Last

This is the mirror image of your foot on which the shoe is constructed. The last can be designed stiff to support runners with fallen arches by providing more stability. They also may be designed light and curved to respond to runners with high arches.

The Toe Box

The toe box supports the widest part of your foot to the tip of your toes. There should be enough room for your toes to splay when running but not so much space that your foot slides around during training. Be sure you have enough room in the toe box so that your feet don't touch the end of your shoe.

The Midsole

This is the thick construction of foam that rests between the upper and the outsole. As a result, the midsole provides cushion and responsiveness when running. In addition, some performance running shoes contain carbon plating to improve running economy and speed.

The Outsole

The outsole is the rubber-like tread on the bottom of footwear. It helps you maintain grip when running on slick roads as well as general protection from road debris.

How do I know when it’s time to retire a pair of running shoes?

This question is debated in running circles. Many runners suggest that the lifespan of a running shoe is no more than 500 miles, and this notion is backed up by most major companies and speciallty shoe stores. However, some push their shoes well into the 600s before making a change, while others find themselves shopping for new gear at the 300-mile mark. This leads to the conclusion that how often to change running shoes is primarily a subjective conversation.

If you ask the manufacturers this question, they will advocate that a runner should purchase new shoes due to the natural breakdown of material caused by running. This might include portions of polyester, foam, lightweight plastics, and rubber that compress and deteriorate with time. Typically this becomes noticeable around the 400-mile mark. Structurally, the shoe may still be in good standings, but the breakdown becomes noticeable.

We advise you to run, and make new purchases by feel. Some notable signs you may be in need of new shoes could be that you’ve noticed unusual aches and pains when running. But if your program is going well don’t be afraid to run up the mileage beyond recommendations.