Much like ancient runes or the works of Shakespeare, your running shoes are imbued with meaning, messages that might not be apparent at first glance. Much like a scholar, you need to train yourself to read these messages and understand what they convey. Unlike a scholar, you need not devote years of your life to this study. We’ve done the hard work for you, talking with Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, CEO and run coach at iRunTons, about what your shoes are telling you and how to listen to them.
Here, useful tips that could help you avoid an injury or just get a little bit more out of your performance.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WITH RUNNING SHOES ON
Put on your shoes and head to the nearest full-length mirror. (While you’re there, don’t forget to admire and appreciate the hard work you’ve put in by running in the first place.) Line up your feet so your toes are perfectly aligned, and then begin the inspection. Here’s what to look for:
1. START WITH YOUR ANKLES
If you can’t see your ankles moving, you might need a lower ankle collar on the back of your shoe. (The ankle collar is exactly what it sounds like — the part of the shoe that surrounds your ankle.) Another term for this is the drop, as in the heel-to-toe drop, which can vary from shoe to shoe.
2. CHECK YOUR KNEES
Bend at the waist and look down. If either of your knees move more forward than the other you could be experiencing a level of tightness or misalignment.
3. FIND YOUR TOES
If you can see them through your shoes, your shoes are too tight. “A lot of runners have black and blue toenails and think it’s normal,” Gallagher-Mohler says. “It might be common, but it’s not normal.”
4. LOOK AT THE REST OF YOUR FOOT
If part of your foot is pushing out over the soles of your shoes, you need a wider shoe. Not only for comfort, but, as Gallagher-Mohler says, because you’re not pushing off from the entirety of your foot, which deprives you of your body’s full power as you run.
You’ll also want to figure out how much space rests between your foot and the shoe itself — again, this might be a sign your shoe is too small. “Shoes stretch over time,” Gallagher-Mohler notes. “But if there’s not enough space you need new shoes.”
Finally, note how tight you’re tying the laces. Your shoes should be comfortable, but not tight. Too tight, and you can put pressure on the nerves in your feet, which negatively impacts your performance.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WITH RUNNING SHOES OFF
Start by putting your shoes on a flat surface, such as a table, facing up. Then, put on your labcoat, some safety goggles and get out your magnifying glass. OK, we’re kidding here, but you do want to pay close attention. Here’s what you’re looking for:
1. DO YOUR SHOES LEAN?
After you’ve worn your shoes for awhile, they might lean ever-so-slightly in one direction or another due to wear and tear on the soles. This isn’t a problem in and of itself — some lean is natural — but what you’re really looking for is asymmetry. In other words: Do your shoes lean in the same direction or in opposite directions? If it’s the latter, that might be a sign you’re putting a lot more pressure on one foot than the other, which might portend an injury (and might reveal something that’s been hindering your performance).
The lean in your shoes might also be an indicator of supination or pronation. That’s basically a way of saying your feet are rolling too far inward or outward as you run. Again, some of that is normal, but too much can do long-term damage to your body. Correcting this would mean adjusting your gait, which you might want to do with a trainer by connecting Under Armour’s HOVR shoes with MapMyRun.
2. WHAT DOES THE SOLE LOOK LIKE?
After that, turn your shoes over and examine the sole. Again, you’re looking for signs of asymmetry — is one side of the shoe wearing down more than the other? “If one looks like you went to war and the other looks fine, then you’re bound to have asymmetry,” Gallagher-Mohler says. “And that can result in injuries.”
In all of this, what you’re really looking for is feedback from your shoes on how you’re running. As Gallagher-Mohler says, all of this feedback — and even an injury can be a form of feedback — should be greeted as an opportunity to improve your running. Decoding your shoe, then, is simply a way of finding opportunity. To keep things looking up, sometimes you have to look down.