Tips for buying shoes | Some shoe basics | To wear or not to wear... | Your shoe-shopping checklist
All feet are not equal, and women's feet are less equal than men's. But that's because, until recently, running shoe manufacturers did not make much of an effort to meet the needs of women's feet.
What makes them different? Well, broadly speaking, women's hips! Because women's hips are set wider apart than men's, the angle at which their feet strike the ground when they run is different.
That is because, when you run, your feet strike the ground directly under your centre of gravity. So, women's feet are tilted more acutely when they strike than men's, and need to pronate more.
Also, women's heels tend to be narrower than men's, and their forefeet broader in relation to those heels. Running shoe manufacturers have begun catering for these differences, and making women's shoes on special women's lasts, instead of using scaled-down versions of men's lasts. Some have even made the bold move of calling the women's version of a particular model by a completely different name.
However, emancipation is not complete here in SA. Given the small size of the market here, many local distributors of running shoes don't feel compelled to bring in specialised women's running shoes. So, you need to take special care when you buy the most important piece of your running equipment.
The shoe companies make running shoes to fit all shapes of women's feet. The best strategy is to try on several different brands and styles to find the one that fits your foot shape.
Make sure your shoe is long enough. The single most common purchasing problem among women, even experienced distance runners, is that they often buy their shoes too short. The rule of thumb is to have a thumb's width of space between the longest toe and the end of the shoe.
Don't put pressure on your bunions by buying a shoe that is not wide enough. For whatever reason, whether it's genetics or the high heels women often wear, women tend to have bunions more often than men. If you have bunions or the beginnings of bunions, your shoes need to be wide enough so as not to irritate them.
Be especially vigilant about the pattern of mesh and synthetic leather on the forefoot of the shoe. Having mesh in the area of your bunions will be more forgiving than synthetic leather.
Some women may need to buy men's shoes, but don't be pressured into this because the right women's size is not in stock. This is a common problem for women with longer feet, as their feet are often fairly narrow, and men's shoes are usually too wide for them.
But there are women with larger and wider feet who will fit into men's shoes (as there are men who can wear a woman's shoe), but first ask the store if they can order the correct women's size for you.
Take time to buy your running shoes where you feel you can choose the best shoe for your feet. Too often women try to save time by buying shoes for themselves at the same store (like a large sporting goods or discount store) while they are shopping with their children for their shoes. Few men would think of doing such a thing.
And then women end up spending more time and money because the shoes don't fit, or cause injuries, and they must buy another pair. Start your running shoe purchase by allocating yourself enough time at a store where you know you can get good information and assistance in properly fitting your feet.
However, of one thing you can be certain: People will talk more rubbish when it comes to talking about YOUR shoes than just about any running-related subject. Because of that, here are three definitions and explanations about running shoe technology with which to arm yourself before you make that crucial purchase:
Pronation: This is completely normal. Everybody does it. Do not consider euthanasia if you're told you're a pronator. When you run, your foot strikes the ground heel first, on the outer, or medial side of the heel.
In order to reach the next phase of the running gait with the minimum of shock to your body, the foot rolls inwards towards the toes and then pushes you off the ground. That inward rolling is called pronation. You NEED to pronate!
Supination: If you're told you supinate, be very suspicious. Supination is EXTREMELY rare, and means simply that your foot rolls the other way when you strike.
Actually, that's not entirely fair. It may mean your foot doesn't roll inward enough, or roll inward at all after your heel strikes the ground. It's just that under-pronation is a better term by far.
Last: This is the mould on which the shoe is made. The shape of the last, or model of a foot, is of importance when you select a shoe. If a shoe is made on a straight last, it will suit people with flatter feet. If a shoe is made on a curved last, it will be more appropriate for people with high arches.
A semi-curved lasted shoe will be the right choice for the millions of people in between. You can tell the shape of the shoe by taking a look at its sole: If you can draw a straight line from the middle of the heel to the middle of the toes, it's straight-lasted.
According to Johannesburg-based podiatrist Dennis Rehbock, high heels and platform shoes are not good for you, but walking barefoot can be very beneficial. 'High heels usually have a narrow forefoot that squeezes the foot and puts pressure on the ball of the foot. They may be fashionable and look good, but in the long run they will do a lot of damage.'
'A common problem caused by high heels is deformity of toes, especially the big toe. Bunions, calluses and hammertoes are some of the side effects, but these can be treated. A more serious problem, caused by 20 or 30 years of wearing heels, is the shortening of the Achilles Tendon.' says Rehbock.
'I have seen women with a drastic case of a shortened Achilles Tendon who cannot walk flat-footed anymore. They have to wear heels or built-up shoes permanently. Stretching exercises can help alleviate this problem, but sometimes the damage is permanent.'
In contrast, the trendy shoes such as Caterpillars, Doc Martins or Buffaloes are quite good for your feet, as the uppers fit the foot well and don't squeeze the foot, despite their fairly rigid soles.
Rehbock also says that tall platform shoes should definitely be avoided. 'They're dangerous for the ankles, because it is fairly easy to lose your balance and twist or sprain an ankle. It is also very dangerous to drive in platform shoes, as your feet can easily slip off the pedals.'