You can only wear one pair of shoes at a time. But if you open a runner’s closet, you’re likely to find a heap of different trainers, sneakers or racing flats. So, why do runners need so many running shoes?
To answer this question, here are six categories of shoes you’ll find in most runners’ collections.
1. The go-to pair
Most runners have a go-to pair, which they use for the majority of their runs. This pair is comfy, versatile and trusted to get the job done. As well as being attractive for practical reasons, these shoes may have an emotional or superstitious connection – they could be a ‘lucky’ pair worn when achieving a personal best or the shoes worn for a particularly important or challenging race.
2. A back-up
Outside of the gym, running can be a messy pastime. A wet or muddy run can leave a pair of running shoes soaked and unpleasant, especially when training in winter. The demands of a training plan may not leave enough time to wash them or let them dry-off. Nobody wants to squeeze into squelchy sneakers. That’s why many runners have a second pair – a back-up to keep them going while the go-to pair is out of action.
3. Something specialist
Some runs are more technical and call for certain footwear – racing flats for speedwork, grippier trail shoes for going off-road, or crampons for more extreme conditions. These specialist tools are designed for specific terrain or challenges. Turning up to an event or tackling a course in the wrong shoes can seriously hamper performance – and even lead to injury. So, having the tools for the task is important.
4. An experiment
Sometimes, runners simply get curious and want to try something different. A hot debate continues about whether minimalist or thick-soled shoes are superior. After reading Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, I purchased a pair of ‘barefoot’ running shoes. Later, I won a highly-cushioned pair of trainers when I wrote Runner’s World’s letter of the month. Both pairs allowed me to give something different a go and see how my performance changed.
5. The ready replacement
Every so often, a runner will find ‘the one’ – a running shoe that fits great, performs well and seems to magically protect against injury. These become the go-to pair and are inseparable from the runner. Yet running shoes soon wear out and brands regularly change styles. Afraid of losing their perfect training partner, runners will often panic and buy another pair the same, ready for when their favourite pair reaches the end of the road.
The previous categories have mostly focused on training and performance. Yet looking and feeling good can also help a runner get motivated. While athleisure is in vogue, many runners will want shoes that complete their outfit or to wear brands that say something about their attitude or ethos. If wearing a particular style or make keeps them moving, these factors matter too.
Next time you open a closet to discover a heap of muddy and worn shoes, remember they are all vital tools in a runner’s toolbox. They’re just as important as the other essential running kit we rely on to keep doing the sport we love.