Cross country is one of the few team sports that doesn't require much gear or equipment. But you do need a good pair of shoes. Your running shoe can make or break your performance.
Here are four things to consider when looking for the best running shoe for yourself.
1. Foot/Arch Type
High arches: Athletes with high arches tend to underpronate and are sometimes pigeon-toed (feet face inward). This can cause problems ranging from shin splints to lateral ankle sprains. If you have this foot type, look for neutral shoes, those with a midsole that provides extra shock absorption, which is needed due to your lack of pronation.
Low arches: Athletes with low arches tend to overpronate and have "knocked knees" (knees cave in toward each other.) This can lead to shin splints, medial ankle sprains and runner's knee. Athletes who have low arches can benefit from stability or motion control shoes, which offer more cushioning or guidance. These shoes employ extra support devices on the medial side to slow excessive pronation, and they tend to have wider and flatter outsoles. Heavier runners who need extra support and durability may also want these shoes.
To determine your foot type, dip your feet in a tub of water, then stand on a brown paper bag. After you step off look at your footprint. If the middle of your foot is barely visible you have high arches, if the middle of your foot is completely visible, you have low arches.
Athletes who have normal arches and don't need as much guidance should look for neutral cushioned shoes. These have less rigid cushioning and allow the foot to move naturally.
2. Running Terrain
The running terrain or surface on which you run needs to be taken into consideration when choosing a shoe. If you primarily run on uneven or hard surfaces, you should opt for stability or neutral cushioned shoes to absorb the heavy pounding and stress you place on your joints. If you run on dirt or mountain trails, you should look for stability or trail shoes. Trails can have loose dirt, hills, and rocks, so a stability or trail shoe is what you need to prevent your feet and ankles from rolling and shifting too much. If you run on softer surfaces such as grass, sand or a track, minimalist shoes are your best bet. Minimalist shoes are lightweight and have less cushioning, which is not as important on softer surfaces or for speed work.
3. Weekly Mileage
Your weekly mileage also needs to be taken into account when choosing the right shoe. Runners who log 30 or more miles a week should wear well-cushioned, durable shoes. This falls under the category of stability and neutral-cushioned shoes. Runners who log 15 miles or less and focus on running faster for shorter distances should be fine with a lighter shoe such as a minimalist shoe.
4. Are You Injury Prone?
If you have a history of injuries, including shin splints, stress fractures, or ankle sprains, you should stick with well-cushioned, stability or motion controlled shoes to keep your feet and ankles stable and help relieve stress on your joints. If you have had a relatively injury-free career, you can probably branch out and try minimalist shoes to strengthen your feet and build speed. (Learn more about what you need to do before trying minimalist running shoes.) If you are ever unsure, go to a running store for an evaluation, which should include and examination of your gait, foot type and size, and running stride.
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