Buying the right pair is a decision that needs to be dictated not just by your wallet, but also the kind of runner you are. 

First published in Mint newspaper on 15th Jan 2015

There is no dearth of running-shoe types—from minimalist to very cushioned, plain to jazzy, cheap to obnoxiously expensive. A lot of science and technology goes into making some of these shoes—some of the features may be just gimmicks but some innovations make sense.

Buying shoes, however, is often not a scientifically well thought out, researched decision. People buy shoes based on how they look, what they cost, or on the advice of store salespeople.

There aren’t really any bad shoes. It’s more the mismatch with your feet that makes a pair unsuitable.

There is no dearth of running-shoe types—from minimalist to very cushioned, plain to jazzy, cheap to obnoxiously expensive. A lot of science and technology goes into making some of these shoes—some of the features may be just gimmicks but some innovations make sense.

Buying shoes, however, is often not a scientifically well thought out, researched decision. People buy shoes based on how they look, what they cost, or on the advice of store salespeople.

There aren’t really any bad shoes. It’s more the mismatch with your feet that makes a pair unsuitable.

To help you decide how to buy a running shoe that works for you (budget aside), we looked at four shoes from four brands launched in the last three months. I believe that buying shoes is somewhat like starting a relationship, and love at first sight doesn’t always have a good track record. So I decided to go out on multiple dates to assess the compatibility of the shoes.

I ran in each pair for more than 50km over a week in December in and around Lutyens’ Delhi, on road, on concrete, on mud tracks in the Rose Garden and Nehru Park. I also tried different things during the runs—increasing and decreasing the tempo, altering speed, and trying slow long runs.

PUMA MOBIUM ELITE SPEED

Rs.10,999

The company says the special feature in this pair is an all-new adaptive upper sole that works in unison with the midsole/outsole adaptive technology system for an all-over adaptive running experience. It also features a mobium band, which allows for natural propulsion from heel strike to toe-off.

Review : Puma claims these shoes have been inspired by a cat’s paw. The company suggests that the human foot lengthens and widens by 6% when it lands, like a cat’s paw. I like this concept as runners always need larger-sized shoes than their formal ones.

As soon as I put my feet into the Mobium Elite Speed, they felt welcomed. There was a lot of cushioning all around. On foot strike, this shoe expands both in width and length. During the very first run, even 20km felt comfortable. There was no friction, even at high speeds.

I like to think of shoes as an extension of the body. Contrary to what some shoe companies have been claiming, running shoes only do what your body makes them do. I felt a lot more of that in Mobium—for the first time in a running shoe, the shoe is not moving your foot. Your hips, hamstrings and quadriceps have to move your feet in the cycle of running.

The Puma Mobium Elite Speed is a neutral shoe, good for long-distance running.

NIKE AIR ZOOM STRUCTURE 18

Rs.9,995

Nike says this pair delivers stability and features the Asymmetrical Dynamic Flywire and Triple Density Dynamic Support System in the midsole. Combined with Nike Air Zoom cushioning, the shoes provide added toe spring for the snappy, quick-off-the-ground feel.

Review: As the number suggests, Nike has been at this model for a while. The shoe is meant for those who over-pronate. I liked the feel. When I started running in them, my feet were distinctly being pushed outwards. I liked the cushioning but stopped after around 15km because the shoes definitely didn’t suit me—I am a neutral runner.

The “Triple Density Dynamic Support System” refers to three different parts of the sole with different densities. The inner side of the sole has high density, which caters to over-pronating feet by providing increased stability. The middle portion of the sole has medium density. The outer part of the sole has low density and offers cushioning.

The Nike Air Zoom technology, which has been around for a while, refers to the pressurized airbags built into the shoes which give them a rebound feature.

The upper part of the shoe has lightweight “fly mesh”, a single piece which gives the shoe a sock-like feel. The fly mesh also makes the upper part of the shoe more breathable. So there would be less sweating of the foot.

The Nike Air Zoom Structure 18 offers the greatest stability and is ideal for excessive over-pronators.

ADIDAS ADIZERO ADIOS BOOST 2.0

Rs.12,999

The company says the foundation of the Boost innovation is centred on a revolutionary cushioning material. The shoes contain thousands of small energy capsules which make up the footwear’s distinctive

midsole. With their unique cell structure, these energy capsules store and unleash energy more efficiently in every stride.

Review: As much as I like cushion, I like running in lightweight racing flats with almost no cushioning. Adios Boost surprised me because the thin-soled shoes were firm but cushioned. They felt very comfortable for 20-plus kilometre runs at a sub 4:30-minute pace.

If you have wide feet, you’ll need to get one size larger than your usual size, for these shoes are narrower than the usual running shoes.

Boost is an innovative technology. At first glance, the soles look like thermacol and seem flimsy, but they are actually sturdier than earlier EVA soles, last a lot longer and offer better bounce.

This pair works well as racing flats from 5km up to marathon distance for neutral runners, who prefer more mid-foot or forefoot strike. They won’t work if you are a heel striker; the cushioning is less than desired at that point.

(Disclosure: Rajat Chauhan is a running expert for Adidas.)

REEBOK ONE CUSHION 2.0

Rs.10,999

Reebok says this pair is an ideal choice for long-distance runners. The design offers mid-foot support, better pronation control, and smoother transitions between upper zones.

Review: When a shoe is called “Cushion”, one would expect it to be really cushioned. I ran for the first time in these shoes after having run about 20km in an Adidas Boost series pair; they felt anything but cushioned. My soles felt sore after 10-odd kilometres.

During my next run, I ran in this pair first. The heel felt decently cushioned but, along the way, it felt as if there wasn’t enough cushioning in the mid-foot part of the shoe.

The shoe has three different density soles fused together. The sole at the back offers good cushioning to the heel, the sole at mid-foot guides the foot to roll less and toe-off optimally, and the sole in the front offers rebound at the time of toe-off.

The upper part of the shoe has three zones which match the three zones in the soles. It is one single unit which gives the shoe a feel of being a sock—it has a snug feel, which is a good thing.

It’s a basic, lightweight, everyday running shoe for neutral runners. The name is a bit misleading though, for it’s not as cushioned as the name would suggest.

Runner terms decoded: A guide to the terminology

Neutral runner: When the foot strikes the ground, the back of the heel strikes first, not the inside or outside of the heel. This is followed by the weight of the body being transferred to the mid-foot. You push off from the front of the foot.

Pronation: When the foot strikes the ground, it’s the outside of the heel that strikes first. This is followed by the inward rolling of the foot. Normally the foot rolls inwards before it comes in contact fully with the ground. This rolling of the foot, to optimally distribute the forces of impact, is called pronation. When the foot rolls in excessively, it’s called over-pronation. Running-shoe designs account for these variations.

Toe-off: When the foot comes off the ground, the last part of the foot that’s still in contact with the ground is the toes.

Hind-foot: Heel/back part of the foot.

Mid-foot: Middle part of the foot.

Forefoot: Ball of the feet.

Heel strike: The heels hit the ground first.