In the late Seventies and Eighties all that changed. Running shoe technology became a fiercely competitive science. Manufacturers, desperate to out- do each other, brought out a torrent of "high performance" innovations like air filled soles and high impact gel, pump action cushioning and "motion control" contouring. These are still evident today, but there are also signs of an emerging "back to basics" approach, with top manufacturers concentrating on making subtle improvements to existing styles.
If you're going to invest in a pair of running shoes, the choice is vast and confusing, so visit a shop with specialist staff who know what they are talking about. Think about if you run with your rear or fore foot, your weight and how many miles you do. There are many different styles of shoe, designed for different types of runners. Look for good cushioning and a flexible but firm sole. If you run over 20 miles a week, it's crucial to pick the right shoe to cut down the risk of lower leg injury.
Alan Watson, sports physiotherapist at the Bimal Sports Clinic in London, where he holds one-to-one advice sessions for runners to help them choose an appropriate type of shoe; Paul Carter, a serious and dedicated enthusiast who regularly runs over 20 miles a week and is entering his first London Marathon next week (the race will be on live national television next Sunday); and Chris Ward, a "casual" runner just about managing to keep up with an optimistic new year's resolution of running round the local park two or three times every week.
Our testers tried out six pairs of running shoes, ranging in price from pounds 44.99 to pounds 109.99, Paul during his rigorous marathon training and Chris on his regular jaunts around the park. They judged the shoes on comfort, style, performance and value for money. Alan Watson judged overall design, construction and suitability for serious running.
***NIKE AIR MAX
Nike were the instigators of "air" technology in running shoes - pressurised gas is encapsulated in a membrane which is positioned in areas of the shoes such as the heel, where impact is greatest. In the Air Max, these gas chambers are clearly visible in the sole. The shoe also has an eye- catching multi-coloured design which makes it a dead cert for standing out in a crowd. The panel thought this a good shoe, but felt that overall the high price outweighed the advantages. "Well constructed and the air technology in the sole does cushion the feet well but they are extraordinarily over-priced - there's no need to pay this much for a decent running shoe," said Alan.
"A designer shoe at a designer price," agreed Paul. Chris concurred that these shoes were a bit on the flash side. "Probably popular with non-runner poser types," was his rather scathing remark.
One of the oldest names in sports shoes, Reebok have been making shoes for a hundred years. Like the puma shoe, the Aztrek has a special honeycomb- like structure in the sole and heel designed to absorb shock and provide durability. Known as "Hexalite", it is visible through a window under the shoe. Alan, an ex-Reebok fan, was a touch disappointed: "Reebok should be able to do better than this. Proper reinforcement at the front of the shoe is missing. The Hexalite honeycomb 'window' looks as if a stone in the road could puncture it quite easily and it seems rather gimmicky." Chris and Paul were both pretty much nonplussed: "A good looking shoe which feels robust, but the arch support feels uncomfortable - maybe it just needs getting used to," said Chris.
*****ASICS GEL 125 ES
Overall favourite with experienced and casual runner alike, and our professional. The Gel is a semi-fluid silicone, encased inside a PVC pack inside of the heel. Asics make high claims for the gel's shock absorbing abilities. The base of the shoe is also specially contoured so that it gives stability to runners whose feet naturally tend to roll over too far as they land (a common problem, technically termed "over-pronation"). This was pick of the bunch for Alan and Paul. "Great anti-pronation shoe for serious runners. These are very well constructed and the gel is an excellent shock absorber. I often recommend these to people coming to the clinic for some advice," said Alan, with enthusiasm. Paul agreed: "I tested these on a 16-mile run and returned with not even a hint of soreness. An outstanding buy." Chris was also impressed: "A serious looking shoe. Very comfortable."
****NEW BALANCE M705
New Balance boast of the fact that most of its shoes are made in its own factories in the UK (other brands tend to be made in the Far East), and that its product development team includes former jet aircraft designers, who use their precision engineering skills "to make shoes that perform to the limits, without the gimmickry and hype." This particular model is a lightweight shoe which is also designed to be sturdy enough to give stability to runners with pronation problems. It was Chris's number once choice: "I like the fact it's so lightweight. The soles are springy but give good support. I could run all day in these." Paul rated it highly too: "A close second to Asics for me." Alan was also keen. "Another good anti-pronation shoe. The support on the sole may even be better than on the Asics because it extends further down the sole."
**ADIDAS GALAXY (CUSHION RANGE)
A lightweight show with extra cushioning for heavier runners. Adidas have long been proud of their "Torsion" system which is incorporated into the sole - a plastic, cross-shaped bar which allows the shoe to flex in a way that enables the foot to move naturally while still maintaining stability. Chris thought the shoes were well-ventilated and had good support, but that they were a bit too narrow for his feet, and Paul liked the cushioning. Alan was mildly but not over-impressed. "The 'Torsion' system on Adidas shoes stops them from twisting and distorting but overall, this shoe is nothing spectacular - though the price seems reasonable."
****PUMA DISC EVOLUTION
"Trinomic cushioning" in the sole is made up of a honeycomb structure - this is designed to absorb shock and act as a cushioning device. Puma have also replaced traditional laces with a disc you twist to tighten around the the foot, the aim being a more customised fit. A gimmick perhaps? Not according to our testers. "The 'Disc' system pulls the whole shoe together and gives good support to the feet. The breathable fabric is a good idea too. An excellent shoe," said Alan. Chris liked it too: "An eccentric-looking shoe but I like the fact there are no laces flapping around. The sock-like ankle support feels good." Paul was impressed with the cushioning. "It's like running on a carpet instead of the street."
All the above shoes are widely available at sports stores or specialist running shops. For an advice session which includes a video analysis of your running style and recomm- endations on appropriate shoes, contact Bimal Sports Rehabilitation Clinic, 7 Glenthorne Mews, 115a Glenthorne Road, London W6 (0181 741 9711). Sessions cost pounds 45 .Reuse content