Easy Strider

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, August 1999

Easy Strider
Finding the perfect-fitting running shoe is a simple matter of one, two, or three

By Andrew Tilin


Walk into your neighborhood FootLocker searching for fresh running shoes and you're faced with 80-odd choices laddered on the wall. Before long you're lost in the dizzying mural of unsullied nylon and rubber ùnot to mention silicone inserts, see-through soles, plastic lace pulleys, carbon-fiber reinforcements, and other curiosities.

Don't sweat. There's a simple way to narrow the field.

Based on stride mechanics and foot type, every runner should pursue one of three kinds of running shoes: cushioning, motion-control, or stability. Athletes who underpronateùmeaning their feet don't roll to the inside enough to get natural shock absorption from their high archesùneed pillowy, cushioning shoes to compensate. Overpronators, whose feet roll too far inward, require the sometimes bulky-looking reinforcements of motion-control models to keep from collapsing their shoes. The majority of runners have "normal" arches that allow a proper degree of pronation, and these folks will want a stability shoe. (If you don't have intimate knowledge of your feet, take your old shoes along and any savvy clerk should be able to take it from there.)

Regardless of the category, running shoes share broad similarities in construction. The tread, or outsole in shoe-biz parlance, is made of soft rubber and/or longer-lasting but heavier carbon rubber. And the slab that provides the bulk of the padding, the midsole, is typically made of EVA foam.

Try not to get distracted, though: The most important factor is fit. Be sure there's wiggle-room for your toes and adequate snugness around the heel. Start with the ten superb road-running models we tested, and you'll be out of that store and on the run in no time.

With the Mizuno Wave Rider (11.8 ounces for a men's size nine/10.3 ounces for a women's size seven; $100), you're guaranteed many happy landings. A plastic plate resembling a sine curve from the side is sandwiched into the midsole EVA, running from the back to the arch. Each time your heel meets pavement, the "waves" deform into a shallower pattern and disperse the shock, providing a hint of stability to complement excellent cushioning. Despite carrying a smidge of extra weight, the Wave Rider feels zippy because the tread combines solid rubber with carbon rubber, and the upper consists of airy, fishnet mesh. Underpronators and runners without many biomechanical shortcomings will be in heaven wearing this shoe, though some will find the toe-box a bit cramped.

Ever notice that a shoe's cuff beneath the ankle bones bows out when your foot lands? The folks at Nike did, and so they summarily trimmed away that nonsupportive patch of the upper on the Air Gauntlet (11.6 ounces/9.4 ounces; $100). Pinch together a malleable stainless steel band built into the cuff at the Achilles tendon for a custom fitùa truly innovative featureùand enjoy the secure ride. Air pockets front and rear provide ample cushioning, and the carbon-rubber tread ensures durability. The stretchy upper starts to feel a little sloppy an hour into a run, meaning the Gauntlet isn't a marathoner, but it's perfect for middle-distance outings.

The Reebok Renascent DMX Lite (10.7 ounces/9.4 ounces; $80) may resemble a nurse's shoe at first glance, but for that small indignity you save an ounce of weight. Instead of gluing a rubber tread to a foam midsole, Reebok mixed the two materials together before pouring them into a mold. The result is a white-soled sprite of a sneaker. Running uphill it feels as spare as a tennis sock; downhill, a heel-to-toe air chamber soaks up the pavement. One drawback to its design is that the Renascent's sole tends to bend at the middle rather than the ball, which will quickly tire the arches of heel strikers and overpronators. Pure speedsters who run on their forefeet, however, will have found their shoe.

Ralph Lauren didn't get into the running-shoe game merely to make a $130 fashion statement. To wit: The Reebok-manufactured sole of the gossamer Polo Sport RLX Fast (11 ounces/ten ounces) is stiffened with a plastic shank extending heel to arch, addressing the Renascent's aforementioned shortcoming. Indeed, the Fast is an everyday long-distance trainer that'll work even for those with a slight pronation. Air channels under the heel and forefoot provide excellent cushioning, and summer breezes blow right through the light, open-mesh upper (it's literally the coolest shoe we tested). As for fit, just be sure that the supportive rubber straps across the forefoot don't rub your little toes wrong.



One of the great things about running is that you don't need much equipment. But there are a few items that'll make any outing more enjoyable. The mesh-lined Brooks Cargo Short ($30; 800-227-6657), for instance, has a rear pocket, a generous 3.5-inch inseam that leaves room for sprinting, and enough material overall so you don't feel like you're running in some sort of loincloth. Match the shorts with Patagonia's Silkweight Capilene T-Shirt ($32; 800-638-6464), which has a smooth texture and quickly wicks away sweat. When you're bounding along on a run you want sunglasses that weigh next to nothing, which perfectly sums up Oakley's New Zeros ($95; 800-403-7449): For less than an ounce you get wraparound lenses that resist fogging and block the sun's harmful rays. With or without the New Zerosyou'll have no trouble seeing the readout on Nike's Triax 250 ($135; 800-344-6453), Big Ben in a digital watch. Oversize numbers show, among other things, the results of the chronograph and 250-lap memory. And its angled display lets you sneak a peak at the time with minimal effort. ùA.T.

The Adidas Poseidon (12.4 ounces/10.7 ounces) is the rare steal that isn't buried in the bargain bin. For $70 you get stability-shoe essentials such as puttylike cushioning pockets front and rear, a section of sturdier foam on the medial side (or inside), and a rigid heel cup. Then there's the pleasing athletic fit: The tightly woven mesh upper borders on confining when you first slip into the Poseidon, but after a few strides it becomes a veritable appendage. Adidas saves a little weight by scooping out the sole under the arch, but a plastic brace in the resulting hollow ensures a stableùnot stodgyùride.

The Asics Gel-DS (10.5 ounces/8.5 ounces; $100) is the Oscar De La Hoya of running shoes: lean, fast, and determined to stay upright. Though the shoe's designers went light on midsole padding and outsole rubber, they used harder EVA foam on the medial side and built the shoe on a sturdy (and rare) combination lastùa piece of fiberboard extends from heel to arch atop the midsole, providing added support. Pull the streamlined mesh upper around your foot and you'll feel like a champ; log lots of miles, however, and you might be willing to trade a little speed for more cushioning. But the Gel-DS could be ideal for select duties such as track workouts and go-for-broke marathons.

New Balance's 1210 (12.8 ounces/10.1 ounces) provides more impact-safety than your average Volvoùas well it should for $140. Buyer's remorse, however, won't be an issue here. A thick midsole damps the pounding, deep grooves running the width of the tread provide flexibility where your foot bends, and springy rubber inserts under heel and ball add spring to your step. Run for two hours on uneven pavement in the 1210 and you'll finish with fresh feet and ligaments intact. A light graphite girder on the medial side curbs pronation without feeling obtrusive. And runners who struggle to get comfortable in a shoe might invest in the New Balance on the basis of fit alone, given that the 1210 comes in six widths.

The long-haul truck of the bunch, Saucony's Grid Advance (12.4 ounces/10.5 ounces; $100) is the best option to get you to a fall marathon in proper condition. It marries the bi-polar benefits of cushioning and support. The stable rear end rights your most tired strides thanks to a stiff, carbon-rubber tread, dense foam on the medial side, and a nylon web that supports your heel. Up front, flexibility from grooves in the sole, as well as softer outsole rubber, all but urge you to take another stride. As the training miles fly by, you'll also appreciate how the Advance's plastic-loop lacing system gently wraps around your foot.


Motion Control
The name of the Brooks Beast doesn't quite say it all. The Beast (14.2 ounces/12 ounces; $100) refuses to identify itself with most ponderous motion-control footwear. It may have both the squarish shape and the Golden Gate-like medial girdering to prevent overpronation, but the shoe's lively ride keeps whispering "sub-40 10k." A surprisingly soft midsole makes the Beast a welcome choice for light runners with less-than-perfect form who might otherwise peg such a shoe as exclusively for Clydesdales. Indeed, deep grooves in the tread of the forefoot leave you feeling nimble each time you push off. Not to get carried away: The Beast is no winged slipper, but neither is it a cement boot.

It would take a concerted effort to set a foot down wrong in Etonic's Stable Pro IV (11.9 ounces/ten ounces; $90). With a full-length carbon-rubber outsole, a plastic plug on the medial side, and availability in seven widths, this shoe has been prescribed by podiatrists for years. It's also one of a dying breed with a midsole of polyurethane, a material that doesn't spring back quite as quickly as EVA but that is far more durable and remains a necessary ingredient for many big athletes. With the Stable Pro IV you'll get a textbook fit, while an air cushion in the rear and grooves in the tread add a little bounce to its predictable performance.

Adidas, 800-448-1796; Asics, 800-678-9435; Brooks, 800-227-6657; Etonic, 800-334-0008; Mizuno, 800-966-1234; New Balance, 800-343-4648; Nike, 800-344-6453; Polo Sport, 800-465-9753; Reebok, 800-648-5550; Saucony, 800-365-4933

Andrew Tilin is a former senior editor of Outside.

PHOTOS: Clay Ellis

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