Until not so many years ago, running shoes were classified according to rather obscure acronyms: A1, A2, A3, etc. Letters and numbers, it later turned out, were nothing more than the coordinates of cells in an Excel spreadsheet: each abbreviation identified a category, such as “Neutral,” “With anti-pronation support,” “Trail,” etc.
This categorization has increasingly lost its meaning in recent years, both because the offerings of different brands have become more diverse and enriched, and because it only makes sense when considering runners as consisting of homogeneous groups and especially assuming that they all were heel strikers. Which is less and less true, so much so that there is no point in calling a shoe “anti-pronation” or “neutral,” since these are characteristics that make little sense for midfoot or forefoot runners.
More recently, a new method of running shoe evaluation has been proposed that places the runner and their perception of the shoe at the center, finally associating it with the person who is to wear it, without assigning it to him or her a priori.
The foundation of this method is comfort, that is, the feeling of well-being that comes with using running shoes.
The assumption is far from trivial: given that we are talking about running tools that need to be worn for long periods of time and under stress, why not consider as the most important data point the sensation we get using them?
The research-based method is called “The RUN-CATRunning Footwear Comfort Assessment Tool” and is based on the evaluation of five empirical parameters:
1. heel cushioning
2. forefoot cushioning
4. forefoot flexibility
5. general comfort
These are not the only parameters that are considered: the method also evaluates other factors, such as gender, body mass, and age, but we will return to these later.
A rating is established for each of these parameters, varying from one extreme to the other, expressed after a trial run of the shoes in question. Considering the former (heel cushioning) then expresses whether the sensation is lack of heel cushioning to excess cushioning.
Each parameter is evaluated subjectively, and this is the most interesting aspect of the method, because its purpose is to find the most suitable shoe individually, not absolutely.
Finally, looking at the evaluation criteria, we see that they fluctuate between “too little” or “too much.” It follows that the ideal shoe for each of us is the one that gets the most positive rating is the one that is in the middle, that is, the one that is perfectly balanced, “neither too much nor too little.”
Finally, it is clear that all five parameters need to be evaluated individually but also overall: for example, a shoe perceived as having little cushioning at the heel might still be evaluated positively by forefoot runners (those who, in other words, are unconcerned about heel cushioning but give more weight to forefoot cushioning) and vice versa. The same goes for forefoot flexibility (some prefer to feel a stiff shoe, others less so) or stability.
Every foot has its own shoe
We often repeat: shoes are chosen with the feet, not the eyes. This caution remains very true, but one more is added that the RUN-CAT method considers, and that is the subject’s age.
The body changes with age and so do its parts. As we get older, not only our performance changes but also how we run and with what running setting. Add to that changes in weight, possible injuries and many other factors, and it is clear that a shoe we found perfect at 25 may no longer be perfect at 50. In this case, the shoe has not changed but we have changed, and it is a case of taking that into consideration.