Custom Foot Clinic & Orthotic Centre

Guelph & Milton

How To Buy The Right Running Shoes

Ever walked into a running store? It can be like going into a whole new world.

Many people pick their running shoes based on colour, price and what looks good, or what they hear is good but this not likely the best way to go.

A properly fitted shoe can go a long way towards preventing injury or adding to one you already have. The intrinsic workings or a professional running store can be very confusing, words like “pronation, arch type, and stability can quickly make people feel confused.

We are here to help! This handy video from Runner’s World is a great quick guide to get you started on shoe selection. Further down we go through specific components of running shoes so that you can better understand exactly what you need.

Different sports activities call for specific footwear to protect your feet and ankles.  Sport-specific athletic shoes like the running shoe are a wise investment for serious runners. 

It is of utmost importance to find the right shoes for you. Proper sizing, as well as the proper features of a shoe, will go a long way in keeping you active and injury free. See an expert for help with shoe size and selection. And don’t skimp! You get what you pay for. Premium footwear does come with a premium price tag, but in the long run, it is most often the wisest investment.

Understanding the different components of a running shoe will assist you in making a more informed decision when purchasing your next pair of running shoes.

The Anatomy of a Running Shoe

The running shoe has five major components:

  1. Last  
  2. Sole 
  3. Mid-sole 
  4. Upper 
  5. Heel
  6. Shoelaces
Anatomy of Running Shoes

1. Last

The last is a three-dimensional foot-shaped mould which governs the inside shape of the shoe. It is based on average foot sizes so varies between manufacturers, for example in width, length and degree of curve from heel to toe. This is one of the reasons why shoes from different manufacturers have a
different feel.

There are four types of last (and therefore the shape of the shoe):

  1. Curved: Turns inward from heel to toe
  2. Slightly Curved: Closer to straight but with a slight curve
  3. Straight: Little or no curve heel to toe

Generally the straighter the last, the more suitable the shoe will be for runners requiring a shoe that controls their foot motion. The last method is how the upper is attached to the sole.

There are three methods:

  1. Slip Last: Involves stitching the upper directly to the sole
  2. Board Last: Uses a board to attach the upper and lower elements
  3. Combination Last: Uses a board last in the heel, while the forefoot is slip lasted

The method used can be determined by removing the insole of the shoe and examining the inside, a full-length piece of board indicates board lasted, stitching indicates slip lasting, and both a combination last.

Slip lasts tend to provide less control and more absorption than board lasts. Board lasted shoes are generally more stable, while combination lasts provide rearfoot control with forefoot absorbency.

Anatomy of Running Shoes

2. Heel

The heel counter is the portion of the heel that is stiffened. Research indicates that a stiffer heel does not necessarily improve control, but it is preferable to the side to side displacement of more flexible designs.

You can squeeze the heel to see whether it will be firm and supportive. For runners who require specialist in-soles or orthoses, a stiffer heel will prevent the insert from slipping. Any insert within a shoe is known as orthoses.

The heel tab is the top part of the heel counter. It is important it is not so high that it protrudes into the Achilles tendon, which could cause inflammation. Some heel tabs have small straps to help you pull your shoes on.

The insole sits on the footbed, inside the bottom of the shoe. The insole is made of a cushioned material, often a low-density foam, which manufacturers insert into the shoe to provide extra shock absorption and shape.

Most removable insoles do not provide enough arch support, resulting in loss of foot mechanics control. However, if additional inserts are placed into an existing insole, particularly one that has arch support already, then there may be a problematic increase of control.

2. Upper

This fits around the foot holding the shoe in place when the laces are tied. It can be made of nylon or nylon mesh, or a combination. It sometimes incorporates design features such as lightweight, reflective or waterproof (and breathable) material.

Sometimes parts of the upper which are prone to wear, such as the outer toe box and area around the lower heel, are reinforced with a leather type material or rubber.

For comfort, increased cushioning may be used around the ankle collar at the top of the shoe where it meets the ankle, in the heel tab and in the tongue, under the laces to prevent them rubbing. Some shoes use an inner sleeve to improve fit, but there is little evidence that this has a significant effect.

The toe box is the part of the shoe that holds your toes the height of which it should comfortably accommodate. A small toe box will constrict your toes and increase the risk of bruising on the toenails.

Lacing secures the upper and therefore the rest of the shoe to the foot. An eyelet is a hole the lace passes through – this should be strong enough not to snap when the lace is done up at normal tension. There are a few types eyelet used:

    • Traditional eyelets, which are punched out of a part of the upper
    • D Ring eyelets, which are designed to lace up quicker
    • Multi-hole eyelets which are often staggered to accommodate a wider variety of foot widths.

2. Mid-sole

Anatomy of Running Shoes

The mid-sole is the thick layer of rubber that sits between the outsole and footbed. The mid-sole absorbs impact, flexes in the ball of the foot at toe-off and determines the level of the foot control. It is usually constructed of foam type compound, frequently EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate).

Manufacturers have developed technology such as airbags, gel and structures of other material which are designed to provide various functions. The best new materials improve shock absorbency without increasing weight, which is beneficial.

Three factors determine how good a mid-sole is: 

1.  Shock Absorbency – This can be tested by pressing the material. If it is extremely spongy then it may not provide adequate shock absorption for heavier runners. Conversely, if it is too taught, it may not work well for lighter runners. When longitudinal creases develop (those parallel to the ground), this means that the shoe midsole is losing its shock absorption and that it may be time to think about a new pair of shoes.

2.  Heel Height – Most people require a small heel to help reduce forces within the foot and stress on the Achilles’ tendon. Heel height can be determined by taking the thickness of the sole at the ball of the foot from the thickness at the heel. Increased heel height is preferable for calf problems or rigid feet.

3.  Pronation Control – Some trainers incorporate a wedge within the mid-sole – making the sole thicker on the inside than it is on the outside – to increase foot control. Other shoes use plastic inserts to achieve this. A more popular method is to use two densities of material within the sole. Typically, the material on the inside of the heel is harder than it is on the outside, so when a load is applied, there is more compression on the outside of the foot forming an effective wedge.

The arch fill is the area of mid-sole and sole under the arch. It should be designed to let the shoe flex with movement of the foot, while still providing enough support. A large number of shoes have less material here. In most cases, this does not provide enough support, and any trainer which is weak at this point should be avoided. A simple test is to bend the shoe and see if the arch correspondingly flexes – if it does, it is too weak. Shoes that are strengthened in this area will not bend as easily. 

4. Sole or (Out-Sole)

There are numerous types of sole. For instance, some combine various types of materials to maximize traction on and off the road, while a number of new soles are made from molded, composite materials. Other than for use in extreme conditions such as fall running, many designs don’t really have a great deal of bearing on function. 

5. Shoelaces

Did you know that even lacing techniques can make a difference in the fit of a good shoe? Alternating techniques and skipping holes can make for an even more customized fit.  The below diagram is a good starter for troubled toes getting a comfortable fit.

Anatomy of Running Shoe Shoelaces

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Trina Scarrow, BSc, DCh - Chiropodist & Foot Specialist
Trina Scarrow, BSc, DCh - Chiropodist & Foot Specialist

I am a registered chiropodist and foot care specialist and have been helping patients for over 20 years.

Are you confused about whether you should choose a chiropodist vs. podiatrist? There are 600 registered chiropodists in Ontario and only 60 podiatrists. The College of Chiropodists of Ontario stopped using the name podiatrist in Ontario in 1993, over 26 years ago — but the name is still used in other provinces in Canada, also USA and UK.

Chiropodists today must complete 7 years of post-secondary education. We do complete case management of foot problems, assessing and treating the entire foot and its complications.


Chiropodist Trina Scarrow Treating Feet

Chiropodist Trina Scarrow, BSc, DCh treating a patient with foot pain — for proper foot functioning and overall well-being.

Let's Connect

Are you ready to get your feet taken care of by an experienced foot care specialist and a professional chiropodist? I have two locations in Guelph and Milton.

I provide full biomechanical exams and gait analysis — I will be able to help address your foot discomfort by foot care treatment, custom orthotics and orthopaedic shoes, surgery, medication, laser or physical therapies.

Chiropodists and podiatrists are the only regulated health professionals in Ontario who can legally prescribe orthotics. 

I want to help get your feet functioning better so you can feel better.