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The trainers you run are important – particularly if you want to protect your toenails from going black. A whopping 75% of runners run in the wrong size trainers, so here’s how to find the perfect pair.

I’ve been running for around 15 years. In the beginning, I ran in super-cheap shoes that my dad bought in the reduced section of Sports Direct. Then I developed shin splints, and in a bid to avoid ever going through that agony again, I changed the way I ran and invested in a proper pair of trainers. 

It wasn’t until I tried on a random pair of kicks one day, some 10 years later, that I realised I’d spent the past decade (including my first marathon) yet again running in shoes that were completely wrong for me.

What we wear to run long distances matters. Too heavy and your ankles start to scream. Too light and you might not have enough support. Wrong size and your toenails will turn black or fall off (no exaggeration). 

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So, how to find the Cinderella pair of trainers that’ll propel you towards the finish line with your toenails intact, feet blister-free and ankles as comfy as possible?

A couple of us from the Strong Women team are running this year’s London Marathon, so we went down to the On Running lab in London this week to have our runs analysed.

With six weeks to go before the big day, we wanted to see if what we were running in matched up with what the tech suggested and whether there was anything noteworthy about the way we run that requires a change in the shoewear we’ve lined up to train and race in. Here’s what we learned.

Most of us are running in the wrong size shoe

According to On Running, research suggests that up to 75% of runners wear the wrong size shoe. If that seems unlikely, our very own Andrea Williams – who was planning on rocking up to the marathon start line wearing a UK 5.5 – found out that she was actually a 6.5. I’ve always run in around a UK 9 and my scan confirmed that I was an 8.5 but with very flat arches, meaning that it’s easier for me to fill larger sizes – especially after a few hours when everything becomes inflamed.

To find your best fit, it’s a good idea to be properly fitted in a store. Remember, sizes vary from brand to brand so don’t think that just because you’re a size 7 in On, you won’t be an 8 in Saucony or slightly smaller in Brooks. It’s always, always better to try before you buy.

Getting my feet measured at the On Running Lab confirmed that I was a UK 8.5. Unlike the vast majority of runners, that means that I’ve been running in more or less the right size shoes.

Your perfect shoe depends on what type of runner you are

The lab looked at the way both Andrea and I run. II take a lot of steps in between strides with an efficient bounce, retaining a lot of energy. That made me an ‘endurer’, apparently (useful considering my marathon plans). Andrea, on the other hand, runs upright, taking shorter steps so that she’s not leaping forwards like me, and she was found to be an ‘optimiser’ – the perfect balance of power and endurance.

Runners like me might be less prone to injury but we can struggle to run those shorter, faster runs so I was recommended to concentrate on strengthening my glutes and hamstrings through speedwork and uphill drills. I’m also prone to overstriding – stretching each leg in front of my body to almost drag it along. That can lead to injury, sure, but it’s also really inefficient. To correct that (and if you get someone to film you running, you’ll be able to see if you’re overstriding), practising skipping on the spot and really concentrating on keeping your feet under your body during runs is supposed to help.

According to On, your style should influence what shoes you run in. For me, I either need trainers that will offer maximum energy return or offer lots of impact absorption for those long runs. 

Everyone needs a gait analysis

I wouldn’t know any of this (OK, I might run longer distances but I had no idea that my running style had actually adapted to doing them) without having my gait analysed. By having a professional watch me run a short distance, I was able to find my strengths and weaknesses while getting fitted with shoes that genuinely fit. 

Once you’ve had the analysis, you absolutely don’t have to buy the trainers on offer. Take that knowledge and buy a pair later when you find the perfect shoes – or buy online. But getting that check up in real life first is key.

Different runs require different shoes

Not everyone can afford to spend hundreds of pounds on umpteen pairs of trainers – that’s obvious. There will be people (like my dad!) who have run in the same shoes for donkey’s years and who insist that they’ve remained injury-free doing so. Again, that’s cool. We’re talking about having a couple of pairs of shoes if you’re serious about improving your running – and tackling different distances.

For anything over 10K, you need comfy, cushioned shoes for racking up the long miles. Hopefully, you’ll have added a little speed work into your regime to help with overall fitness, strength and speed on the big day, and for that, those comfy kicks won’t do. Carbon-plated shoes can be amazing for running a fast 10k and even marathons, but you need to make sure that your body is ready to handle that kind of energy bounce back. You might find that doing any strength training in your speedy shoes becomes tricky, thanks to the lack of ankle stability, so again, having a flat-soled pair or working out barefoot might be preferable.

Remember, there’s only so much a trainer can do

Running in the wrong shoe undoubtedly causes issues but your trainer can only do so much. The real key to staying injury-free and happy is strength training. 

You could run every day but if you don’t lift weights, you’ll have weaknesses that inevitably cause issues. Don’t train your glutes and you’ll end up with ankle sprains. Ignore your calves and your tendons will suffer. Get too quad-dominant and your knees will start to scream.

Whatever your running goal, commit to strength training twice a week and you’ll notice that you get faster, stronger and recover better – regardless of your shoe.

Get stronger ahead of your race by joining our Strength Training for Runners four week programme.

Images: Getty

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