Updated: August 29th, 2012

For most runners, a session on the road, trail, treadmill, or track involves very systematic routines: the shorts, the shirt, the socks, the watch, and the shoes are all essentials that would leave any of us feeling naked without them. Feeling fully-equipped, we’re ready to begin the workout, shave minutes off personal bests, and get in our much-needed exercise. Where many people would dress for the elements, dress for the office, or dress for the occasion in various differing styles, switching running shoes for the terrain is not normally considered: shoes from a vigorous trail session are used on race-day, and treadmills see the same soles as the neighborhood streets. By switching out footwear for workout-specific shoes, however, runners can stave off injury, beat personal bests, and make the most of their runs—no matter the conditions.

Back to Basics: The Benefits of a Basic Trainer
Trainers are the bread-and-butter of running: inside nearly any closet in world lays a pair of training shoes. The foot’s equivalent to the Swiss Army Knife, trainers provide a moderate amount of cushioning, a moderate amount of flexibility in the sole, and a moderate weight and feel for most runners. The issue with trainers, however, is a direct result of their moderation: while the importance of having a great pair cannot be overstated, they do not provide the tailored response and fit that can be achieved by switching out shoes for varying types of runs. These shoes should be the building block of a footwear arsenal, but not the sole source of artillery.
When looking for a trainer, seek out the best shoe for your intended distance and running style. Over-pronators may seek a stability-enhancing shoe, while neutral runners may opt for a lighter, less-cushioning model which will allow for greater flexibility and range of motion. It is important that a trainer be a good, comfortable fit—an excellent shoe to wear on recovery runs as opposed to an everyday wear.

Into the Wild: The Benefits of a Trail Shoe
Many runners live for the trails: providing a gorgeous backdrop, ample scenery, and an unmatched sense of serenity and calm, trail running is among the most common activity for most runners worldwide. The natural cushioning of dirt paths provides immediate comfort for aching muscles, and the change of scenery can ward off any mid-training slump.
To make the most of a trail run, look into the latest trail shoe models, which are made available by all major shoe manufacturers in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit any personal preferences. When purchasing a trail shoe, it is important to pay close attention to the large, knobby soles of the shoes. Generally, a good trail shoe will have a much more rigid sole than a pair of trainers, which helps the foot gain traction on mud, dirt, rocks, and uneven surfaces. Additionally, the EVA compound found in most trail shoe midsoles will also include an additional layer of nylon to prevent rocks and sharp objects from puncturing the shoe and injuring the foot. For added stability, preferable trail shoes will also have a base which is lower to the ground, allowing for better balance while running over unpaved and varying surfaces.

Shaving Minutes Minimally: The Benefits of Racing Flats
After putting in months of hard work in preparation for a race, a runner’s best ally can be a solid pair of racing flats. Flats are a lightweight shoe designed, on the basic consumer level, for road races. Racing flats contain a scant amount of cushioning, and usually have completely flat soles with no heel support. The shoes are designed to create a feeling of weightlessness on the foot—aiding a runner to feel uninhibited by their shoe while in the midst of a difficult race at any distance. Racing flats also allow the foot to hit the ground with more power, allowing for more efficient use of leg muscles per footfall.
Due to the minimal nature of racing flats, it is usually not advised that a runner wear them as a primary shoe. Most models begin to break down after 50 miles, and therefore do not provide a stable source of training footwear if over-used. These shoes, when worn properly and at appropriate times, can provide an excellent boost to training and muscle power—providing strength and speed that trainers cannot match.

In the Buff: The Benefits of Barefoot Shoes
The latest shake-up within the world of running shoes is the resonating return of minimalist design. Manufacturers have scrambled for the past two years to design a shoe that provides comfort without over-cushioning the foot of the average runner. As a result, there is now a huge market for shoes which either allow a runner to simulate barefoot running, or come away with a run that in a minimally-correcting and minimally-cushioned shoe. When worn properly, these shoes can serve as a corrective measure for form issues, foot-strike miscues, and can build muscle strength. Since these models do not provide corrective measures for the foot, runners are forced to modify stride to prevent leg pain. The lesson of proper form is a common result and a reason why manufacturers are receiving praise for their efforts.
When looking for a pair of barefoot or minimalist shoes, it is imperative that a runner read about form techniques, and ensure that their own strides are conducive to a run in minimalist shoes. Many manufacturers have reduced cushioning and support in different areas of the shoe: some by trimming cushioning on the heel, and others by reducing the overall material within the shoe’s midsole. Since these designs vary so greatly, it is important for runners to research the models available, alongside their own biomechanics when running.

With the proper pair of shoes for the trip, any run can be a boost to your pace, your fitness, and your satisfaction after a hard workout. Dress for the elements, and any runner can dress for success.

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