Matt Whyman is a veteran of 100-mile ultramarathons, but it was parkrun that inspired him to see how far running could take him. He loves meeting people from all walks of life who just want to give running a go. If you're new to the Saturday morning 5K and are wondering what to wear on your feet, here Matt gives us his guide.
As a Saturday morning pursuit open to everyone, parkrun doesn’t demand expensive gear. A free, weekly timed event, open to everyone of all ages and abilities, this is where worn out treads, tops, shorts and leggings come to see out their final miles. It’s just too early for anyone to notice or care. Colour coordination goes out of the window, and indeed people regularly celebrate milestones by wearing fancy dress or donning a pair of metallic gold hotpants (just me?)
In terms of style liberation, anything goes. Indeed, there’s no obligation to bother even dressing up to run. I once volunteered as tail walker, making sure the last parkrunner made it safely over the line, only to find one guy wearing sturdy hiking boots and oilskins, a broad brimmed hat and a map in a waterproof sleeve around his neck. Yes, it took over an hour for him to finish, and frankly he could have just enjoyed a nice stroll in the hills, but the whole point of parkrun is that it’s inclusive. And not a race. Even if a great many people seem to be in a massive hurry.
Despite the absence of any pressure to dress like the professional athlete that you are, there is one item worthy of a little consideration, and that’s your choice of shoe. Yes, a pair of plimsoles will get you round most courses, and even casual trainers will serve just fine. I’ve even seen runners in football boots do well on muddy parkruns. Even so, if you’re finding yourself regularly setting the alarm early on a Saturday when you used to enjoy a lie in, then maybe it’s time to pick out some running footwear that will help you make the most of the experience.
The choice of running shoes on offer can be bewildering, but rest assured there is a shoe out there for you. Here are the factors to consider, but if in doubt then it’s worth visiting a running store for expert advice.
ROAD OR TRAIL?
Some parkruns takes place on lovely, smooth pathways. Others can see you slopping through mud or skipping across grass, stony ground or even sand. Many courses contain a mixture of all sorts of different terrains, which is where a shoe fit for purpose can make a difference.
Road running shoesare designed for running on hard, smooth surfaces like pavement or concrete. They typically have more cushioning and are lighter weight than trail running shoes.
Trail runningshoes are built for running on rough, uneven terrain like dirt, rocks, and mud. They have a more durable sole and better traction to help you navigate challenging terrain. Additionally, they often have a protective layer to guard against rocks and other hazards on the trail.
Cross terrainrunning shoes are specially designed running shoes that can be used on a variety of surfaces, including trails, roads, and pavements. They may not always shine compared to their surface-specific counterparts, but will certainly do a decent job on mixed personality parkruns.
Once you’ve settled on what type of running shoe suits your needs, you might also want to factor in what kind of runner of you are. We’re talking about biomechanics here, with a focus on how your foot connects with the ground.
Some shoes are designed to cater for certain styles to reduce the risk of injury, but it’s not for everyone. Again, a chat with a specialist at your local running store will help you work out what feels right for you. Here are the main contenders:
Neutral – These are designed for runners who have a neutral pronation, which means that their feet tend to roll slightly inward as they run. These shoes are made to provide cushioning and support in all the right places, without over-correcting the foot's natural motion. Generally, neutral running shoes are best for runners with normal arches.
Stability – It’s not uncommon for runners to overpronate, which means that their feet roll excessively inward as they run. These shoes are made with extra support features to help correct this motion and prevent injuries. Stability shoes are best for runners with flat feet or low arches. They’re not appropriate should you be an underpronator, however, in which the foot rolls to the outer edge of the heel. In this case, it’s worth considering insoles to help prevent injury.
Motion – These are shoes geared for runners with severe overpronation. Features include a firm midsole, wide base and a sturdy heel counter to help limit the inward roll of the foot. They're a great choice for runners who need more stability and control during their runs to prevent injuries.
Ultimately, your choice of parkrun shoe is a personal thing. We all have to begin somewhere, of course, but with some care and consideration you could well get off on the right foot from that first 9 a.m.-on-a-Saturday start.
Which running shoes to wear
VP's managing director, Jon, recommends a couple of his favourite brands.
I have to firstly confess I have a lot of running shoes. Even if you look at my Sheffield collection it is a lot, but then I have a duplicate set in Ireland as well. How on earth did I end up with twenty pairs of shoes? And what would I do differently if I were to start again?
Firstly forget that 'change your shoes at 400', '500' or '600 kilometres', whatever ‘the industry’, tells us. If you are told your shoe is done at 500 kilometres it will feel exactly like that. But with good trainers costing £150, are you really willing to spend 50p a mile running? Trust me, shoes are good until they fall apart or, in the case of trail shoes, until they are dangerously slick. Either way, I do like to see a pair of shoes tick past 1,000k – it’s a sense of achievement.
The second rule. For new runners think injury not speed; nothing makes you slower than an injury. All the money spent on carbon sprung shoes won’t make you quicker or run you further in the long term if your calf sends shooting pains up to your knee with every stride. So those first shoes need to be right for you. Once you get into running and your running load starts creeping up to two/three runs a week, and maybe one or two hours on your feet, then it is probably wise to take professional advice on what shoe works for you. We all have different running form and manufacturers have made shoes for all of us; gazelles, plodders, flat footed, heel strikers, narrow footed, weird toed joggers – there is a shoe for you. Go to a specialist running shop and take advice. I did this years ago and have basically been wearing the Saucony Kinvara ever since. It isn’t a beginner’s shoe, so maybe don’t have it as a first shoe, but it is an all round great road shoe for miles jogging, racing and quick sprints round the block.
The third rule is terrain. I tend to think there are three types of shoe; road, trail and mountain. Inov8 do a shoe suitable for all three (my advice, not anyone else’s) and that is the wonderful Parkclaw. I find it good on the road, great on trails and have run a few mountain classics like the Welsh 3000s in them as well as legs of the Bob Graham. It’s also worth mentioning that I have also run the Three Peaks and the Sheffield Round Walk in my Kinvaras so again one shoe to rule them all, rather than a cupboard full. Don’t be tempted (like me) into buying the new model each year or indeed the whole new shoe, there is very little that can be added to shoes these days that make a lot of difference – just concentrate on wearing out the ones you have. Shoes are pretty much the last thing that will make you faster or run further. Nutrition, rest, prep, motivation, BMI are way more critical on race day than the colour of your shoes.
The fourth rule. The conditions … mud, rock, cold, dry … this is the UK and it can get very tricky underfoot, but again think carefully about that specialist shoe – an off-road pair like the Parkclaw can cope with just about anything. On the road, super shoes are next to useless with camber, wet, bits of grass etc, so think very carefully before you invest in multiple specialist shoes.
If I was to start again I’d own two pairs of road shoes in various states of disintegration and two pairs of trail shoe covered in mud.