Running Shoes 101

Jason Saltmarsh
by Jason Saltmarsh
Share it:
Running Shoes 101

Running shoes are designed to help you perform your best on every surface. As athletes have become more specialized in their pursuits, so have their shoes. Now, “running shoes” is the umbrella term for three main kinds of shoes — those made for rugged trail conditions, for speed and performance on the oval and for pounding the pavement.

While each shoe and specialty is notable, unless you are actually specializing in trail or track running, a traditional running shoe should do the trick. “The typical running shoe is inherently designed to have traction and is basically all-terrain,” notes Brent James Product Line Manager, Run Footwear at Under Armour.

Trail shoes are meant for the rocky, muddy, unstable natural world. These shoes help runners scramble the down scree slopes, through flooded trail systems and over mossy logs and boulders without fail. They’re designed to protect the foot from sharp objects and add traction to every foot fall.

“The benefit of trail shoes lies in the increased traction because the terrain is unknown — you could go from hardpack to grass to mud in a single run.” says James. “Stability is counterintuitive to trail shoes because the shoe should adapt to the terrain and too much stabilization could throw you off. You need traction and proprioception for trail.”

Trail shoes have especially large lugs on the outsole to provide uncompromising grip. They may be heavier than your average running shoe because they sometimes include a metal plate under the arch to protect against sharp rocks that might puncture or damage your foot. Trail runners will appreciate these features, but road runners won’t like their clunky, heavy feel.

Track shoes are often referred to as flats because of their pared-down design and limited cushion. “Track shoes help with speed and leg turnover. Being lightweight is king on the track, but traction is also still important,” says James. These featherweight shoes feature minimal cushioning and have a stiff feel to them. They come in several styles based on your event distance, and they usually incorporate spikes of varying lengths to provide traction. James adds that track spikes help you generate more power return.

Sprinters wear shoes with a stiff plate under the entire foot that promotes running on the balls of the feet and the aggressive forward stance associated with sprinting. Middle-distance runners (800–3,000 meters) prefer track shoes that provide a bit more heel cushioning.

These shoes excel on paved surfaces and make up the bulk of the running shoe market, but they can be used on any terrain. The most important function of the road running shoe is to protect your feet. There are thousands of models and styles from which to choose. Specific models are available to complement your running style, your biomechanics and your specific running goals.

The three main categories of road shoes are stability, neutral and motion control. Stability shoes are made for runners with normal feet and provide some stability and cushioning. Neutral shoes are made for runners with high arches and have lots of flexibility. Motion control shoes are made for runners with low arches who need extra stability. If you’re not sure what category best defines you, visit your local running specialty store.


When Should You Replace Your Running or Walking Shoes?
A Run in My Shoes: The Baden Powell Trail
Why and How Runners Should Do Track Workouts


Once you know the type of shoe you need, the fun begins. Per James, his single biggest piece of advice for running shoe shoppers is to “try it on first.” He says, “your experience is unique, and until you try a shoe on, you won’t know if it works for you or not.”

When you find a shoe that feels good, you’ll know it right away. Your running shoes should provide wiggle room for your toes while remaining snug around your heel. Hopefully, you find a shoe that looks as good as it feels.


Men’s Running Shoes
Women’s Running Shoes
All Running Shoes

About the Author

Jason Saltmarsh
Jason Saltmarsh

Jason is a competitive masters runner and freelance writer who covers sports, fitness and healthy living topics for several national magazines and websites.


Never Miss a Post!

Turn on MapMyRun desktop notifications and stay up to date on the latest running advice.


Click the 'Allow' Button Above


You're all set.