By Sophie Jennings
Have you begun training for a marathon? If you haven’t considered your footwear as part of your preparation, it’s time to get it sorted. Footwear not only plays a huge part in your comfort in the lead-up to an event; it can also be a key factor in reducing your risk of developing an injury.
The latest evidence suggests a runner’s foot type may not be as important as we once thought in assessing their injury risk. Podiatrists are responsible for advising runners on appropriate footwear selection, and so we provide recommendations that are consistent with these findings. As a profession, we tend to steer away from the notion that a neutral foot type must wear a neutral shoe, a high-arched (supinated) foot type must wear a cushioned shoe, and a flat (pronated) foot type must wear a stability shoe. We guide runners’ footwear choice on the requirements of their training session while also taking into account their injury history. This is extremely relevant for someone who is training for a marathon. We know the most effective marathon training program consists of a variety of training sessions, such as long runs, shorter fast-paced runs, hill sessions and cross-training. Given the stress injuries associated with repetitive training, varying your footwear may be as important as a mixed training schedule.
Whether you are training for your first marathon or your 10th, the comfort of your shoe is paramount. The first part of selecting a comfortable shoe is to ensure it is an appropriate fit. Important features of fit include width and length of both the shoe and the toe box.
There are numerous lacing techniques that can be used to address excessive movement within a shoe or to eradicate pressure areas. It is best to call on the assistance of a specialty running footwear store to ensure you are able to find a shoe that suits the dimensions of your foot.
We generally find most of the skin (callouses, blisters and corns) and nail issues people present with can be attributed to footwear that is either too small or too big.
It is also important to consider your sock choice as part of your marathon training. Socks can play a significant role in reducing your risk of blistering by addressing the moisture content within your shoe. You want to avoid socks that are made of natural fibres such as cotton and forms of wool, as they tend to retain moisture. Socks made from synthetic fibres such as acrylic and polyester tend to have greater moisture wicking properties. Unlike natural fibre socks, which hold the moisture at the skin surface, socks made from synthetic fibres transfer the moisture from the skin side of the sock to the shoe side of the sock. Trialling different socks in the lead-up to the final event to work out what suits you best is strongly advised.
Varying Your Footwear for Your Training Sessions
Below are some ideas on how you can introduce variety into your footwear choice based on the requirements of the marathon training sessions you might undertake. Although the focus is on marathon training, the following principals may be applied when training for any type of event or for everyday exercise:
Longer runs generally require a more traditional running shoe that provides a stable platform.
Recent running analysis has shown there is a tendency for running mechanics (i.e. form) to drop away under fatigue, increasing the need for structural reinforcement from your shoe. Typically, this would be your most supportive and highest pitched (heel-to-toe height difference) shoe. The stability of this shoe tends to make it slightly heavier, usually around the 325g mark.
Tempo and Interval Sessions
Shorter sessions provide a good opportunity for runners to rely on their strength and control to maintain their running form rather than the structure of their shoe. Therefore, for these sessions, runners should opt for a shoe with a lower pitch (less than 8mm), less support and less cushioning. The “stripped back” nature of these shoes translates into a lighter shoe that gives increased feedback from the ground. More experienced runners may use these as their primary running shoe, but if you have little running experience or an extensive lower-limb injury history, it is advised to keep a lighter and lower-pitched shoe for tempo running sessions. Footwear retailers have responded to the increasing demand for lighter shoes. Most brands tend to have a lighter racing shoe, which can have a pitch anywhere from 2-8mm. These shoes cover a variety of sole structures suitable for different surfaces and offer a range of support features.
The requirements of your footwear for these sessions will be dependent on the training type.
For strength and conditioning sessions, it is not as important to have structured support under your feet, and it may be appropriate to carry across your lighter shoe that you wear for your tempo or interval sessions. If you are doing high-intensity classes that include lots of plyometric bodyweight exercises and heavy leg exercises, a shoe with more structure and cushioning will be required to reduce the load on your legs and feet.
On race day, you should wear the same shoe model that you have done the bulk of your long running sessions in. It is often tricky to judge the timing of introduction for your race day shoes. It is important to have done enough kilometres to feel comfortable but not have compressed the materials too much. Getting this balance right will depend on your training schedule leading up to the event, but phasing your racing shoes into your training about a month out from race day is usually suitable.
The information provided in this article is only a guide and doesn’t take into account many individual elements that should also be considered when choosing footwear. It is important to consider a person’s running experience, training history and current and past injury history to guide their footwear choice when training for any event. If you think certain elements may be relevant to you and impact the type of footwear you require, seek the assistance of a podiatrist early to help you develop a footwear plan