Ever feel overwhelmed by the abundance of running shoes on the market and the equal abundance of reviews of those running shoes ? The same shoe company may produce a dozen different variations on a theme, but they are really pretty much the same shoe. As for shoe reviews, well, how do you know which were written by people who really love running and which were written by people who really love collecting a few bucks from biased parties?
It’s hard to argue against the proof that running shoes have evolved quite a bit over the last few decades. But you have to ask yourself a question: would my $115 Mizuno Wave Rider shoes allow me to be any more competitive if I could travel back in time and run against Abebe Bikila in a marathon? Or would I still only only see the soles of Bikila’s bare feet way up there ahead of me?
Yeah, technological advances have made running shoes more expensive, streamlined, comfortable and safe. But is choosing shoes equipped with heartbeat sensors and embedded biomechanical feedback microelectronics that send a wealth of information to your smartphone really any different from choosing between a white or blue Adidas running sneaker in 1975? The answer is no. Not really. When it comes to the basic information that is going to be shared by all the best running shoes, one of the most important place to start is at the back. Everything else being ideal, choosing a running shoe that fails to offer everything you need in a heel means you are just as far away from perfection as ever.
A lot of runners over the decades have developed acute and chronic discomfort in their foot because of problems related to the heel. Low-slung running shoes look stylish, but they come with a very specific problem that could have you limping around for years until you finally learn how to pick the perfect shoe. Choose a sneaker with low-slung heels and the forces of tension between the calf muscles and Achilles tendon will eventually become too painful to withstand. That is a guarantee.
Back when the running revolution took off in the 1970s, millions of joggers would spend the hours after a good run treating the symptoms of aggravation on the back of the heel of their foot. This was caused by the shoe’s heel being constructed of material that was too rigid. Without enough give, the constant repetition of the heel moving up and down against the inside of the shoe–and God help you if happen to own a pair of 1970s-era running shoes that sported a serrated seam right down the middle of that area–would invariably result in painful irritation of the skin. That’s less of a problem these days because it’s so easy to find more pliable material, but you can still put yourself at risk by going for bargain shoes. The real problem these days is not a shoe heel too rigid, but a shoe heel that is so soft it results in a loss of kinetic energy when your foot comes down on the ground. That little extra bounce of energy you get from a perfectly constructed heel may not count for much individually, but over the course of several hundred or thousand steps over the course of a run, you could potentially shave several minutes off your time by buying shoes with perfectly constructed heels.
That construction of the heel should also be constricted enough to keep your feet from wasting any excess movement, while avoiding the problem of being too tight for obvious reasons. The perfect running shoe must therefore have a heel that is high enough to prevent tension injuries, not so hard that it aggravates your own heel, but not so soft that you lose the energy advantage of the rebound effect all while holding your foot solidly in place without gripping it too tightly.