Triathlon Running Shoes

How To Choose For Comfort, Performance
And Freedom From Injury

Triathlon running shoes are one of the key items of triathlon gear. They can make a real difference to your run in terms of comfort, and whether you get injured or not. So it is important to choose well!

Choosing your shoes can be overwhelming as there are so many different ones available, all claiming to have special features that enhance performance.

Everyone’s feet are different, so whilst you could take advice from a fellow triathlete, you do need to make sure the shoes you get are right for your feet.

It is best to visit a specialist running shop or sports footwear retailer rather than a chain store. Getting advice from someone knowledgeable who understands what you need and can then pick out the best shoes for your foot type and running style is invaluable.

Have a read of this guide before you go shopping, so that you are not bamboozled by terminology in the shop!

If you have a question about running shoes then please just ask us. This guide will help you choose the triathlon running shoes that will allow you to run in comfort and stay injury free.

It covers:

  • Key considerations when choosing a shoe
  • Running gait and how this influences shoe type
  • Foot type and how this impacts on the best shoes for you
  • What the different shoe types are
  • Racing shoes
  • Tips for shopping for your shoes
  • How a triathlon running shoe should fit
  • How to care for your running shoes.

Key Considerations When Choosing A Triathlon Running Shoe

You need to choose your triathlon running shoes carefully. The biggest mistake you could make is to go for the cheapest ones you can find, or buy ones just because you like their colour or how they look.

When choosing a shoe you should make sure that it:

  1. Is right for your running gait i.e. neutral, over pronation or supination
  2. Is suitable for the type of running you will be doing and the terrain you will be running on.
  3. Has enough cushioning for your mileage and weight
  4. Is the correct size and there is enough room to allow your foot to swell slightly when it heats up
  5. Is comfortable and you don’t get any pinching or rubbing.

Running Gait

Gait analysi

Your running gait is, in short, the way you run. You can have your gait analysed by a physiotherapist, podiatrist or biomechanist. Some specialist running shoe shops will have treadmills set up with cameras to film your running gait for a basic level of analysis.

If you have had foot, ankle, or knee injuries or problems such as shin splints, then it would be worth having your gait analysed by a qualified professional before choosing your running shoes.

They will look to see if you have any imbalances, weaknesses or specific areas of impact that might put you at risk of injury. They can then recommend the best type of running shoe for you.

You might even need orthotics (devices you insert into your triathlon running shoe to support or correct your feet).

Pronation occurs at the joint below the ankle, called the subtalar joint. It is the inward rolling of your foot from heel to toe through the foot strike. This acts as a cushioning mechanism and allows your foot to reduce the stress of impact.

Without it, the full impact of each step would be transmitted up the leg and affect the normal mechanics of the lower limbs. As well as acting as a shock absorber, pronation also helps the foot to 'recognise' what type of ground it is on and so helps stabilize and adjust the foot to the terrain type.

Running shoes are designed specifically for different pronation patterns. This means that your pronation type is an important factor when choosing running shoes.

A proper or neutral pronation is hitting the outside of the heel and up to ball of your foot evenly. If you are a neutral pronator your shoes will show wear from the outer heel to the big toe in an S-shape. Supination, or underpronation is when your feet don’t roll inwardly enough, so the outside of your foot takes most of the impact instead of finishing in the neutral position. If you supinate, the outer soles wear down along the outer edge and your feet are likely to have high arches. Overpronation is too much roll across from the outside to the inside of your foot.

If you overpronate, you will see more wear on the inside of the heel and under the ball of the foot, especially the big toe. You are also likely to have flat feet.

Shoes are designed with features to control these problems.

Barefoot Running

Barefoot running is growing in popularity. So what if your running gait puts you at risk of injury without the support or cushioning of a pair of trainers?

The key to barefoot running is to build up the amount of running you do barefoot gradually – this means that you build up the strength in your feet and lower limb. You can run in a way that doesn’t put excessive stress on your body.

There does not appear to be any conclusive proof that running barefoot is better for you but a lot of the research does point to this. 

The key is to run using a barefoot style, not colliding into the ground with your heels.

Also, building up the strength in your feet and lower limbs is beneficial as you then don’t need as much (or any) support from your running shoes.

So if you do have foot problems and need orthotics or support shoes, then it would be worth trying to transition over time to less supportive footwear by building up your foot and lower limb strength.

Have a look at our lower limb conditioning page for ideas about how to do this.

Foot Type

Another method of determining pronation is by assessing your foot type through checking your arch height.

The easiest way to do this is by using what is commonly known as the ‘Wet Test’. To take the test, wet the bottom of each foot and stand normally on a paper bag, newspaper or cork bath mat. After a minute or so, step off and have a look at the imprint left by your foot.

You have a normal arch (neutral pronation) if:

There's a distinct curve along the inside edge of the print with a band a little less than half the width of your foot connecting the heel and toe. This is the foot of a runner who is biomechanically efficient and therefore doesn't need a motion control shoe.

Best shoe: A Stability shoe would be a good choice. Stability shoes offer a good mix of cushioning, medial support and durability. They often have a semi-curved shape and don't control foot motion as much as motion-control shoes.

Recommended Products For Neutral Runners

You have a low arch (flat feet/overpronator) if:

There's not much of a curve along the inside of your print and your imprint shows almost the entire foot. People with low arches are more likely to overpronate (roll too far inward), which can lead to problems such as shin splints.

Best shoe: Motion control shoes, or shoes that give high stability with firm midsoles and control features that reduce the degree of pronation. Avoid highly cushioned, highly curved shoes with no stability features.

Recommended Products For Over Pronators

You have a high arch (supinator) if:

There's a very sharp curve along the inside of your print and your imprint shows a very thin band between your heel and toe. People with high arches typically don't pronate enough and so the foot is not good at absorbing the force of impact.

Best shoe: Cushioned shoes with plenty of flexibility to encourage foot motion. They also tend to have a curved shape to encourage foot motion and have the softest midsole with the least medial support. Avoid motion control or stability shoes, which reduce foot mobility.

Recommended Products For Supinators

Shoe Types

There are three main categories of running shoe:

  • Cushioned
  • Stability
  • Motion control

These are the ‘everyday’ options.

There are also some more specialized shoes which you might not wear all the time:

  • Racing shoes or racing ‘flats’
  • Off-road or trail shoes

Motion-Control Shoes:

These have a harder midsole on the inside of the shoe and a tough rubber outsole material. They are often very straight and are generally heavier and usually longer lasting. They can be very inflexible. They are good for overpronators and are also usually a good choice for heavier runners (90kg plus) and those with flat arches.

Stability Shoes:

These usually have reasonable cushioning with some midsole features (for example dual-density midsoles) to improve stability. They are often made with a semi-curved shape and suit most runners, especially neutral pronators. They are suitable for average builds (70-90kg) and runners with normal arches.

Cushioned Shoes:

These have a soft midsole, less support but are more cushioned on impact. They are ideal for supinators, who wear the outside of their shoes, for runners with high arches.

Racing Shoes:

triathlon running shoes

These are light, flexible, have little motion-control, stability or cushioning. They will wear quickly due to light thin rubber sole and thin midsole. These shoes suit the very light (less than 70kg) and efficient runners or those looking to do get a good run time.

Triathlon running shoes for racing should feature an easy-to-use fastening system that does not use laces.

Drawstring systems are common, and these are the easiest and quickest systems to use for getting your shoes on and off quickly in transition. The shoe can be tightened snugly around the foot simply by pulling on the end of the drawstring.

Many triathletes run without socks, since putting on socks during the race can add time to the transition. A good triathlon running shoe will fit snugly when you are not wearing socks, so be sure to try on the shoe without socks before purchasing.

The shoe should fit snugly enough that the foot does not move around within the shoe, causing hot spots or blisters.

Some triathlon running shoes feature run-off channels or moisture-wicking materials that allow water from the swimming leg of the race to drain away from the foot. Such shoes are a good investment, as they can help prevent hot spots and blisters.

Do make sure that if you use racing flats that you do some training in them before you race.

Off-Road or Trail Shoes:

These are very durable, have deep grooves in the soles to enhance grip, and durable uppers. They tend to be quite heavy. They are ideal for off road running and are often a good stable shoe for pronators and those that wear orthotics.

Other Considerations When Choosing Triathlon Running Shoe Type

What surface do you mainly run on?

If you do a lot of road running then you’ll need a triathlon running shoe with a long lasting sole. These are also good for if you do a lot of track running.

If you run both on and off road then you will need a shoe with a sole that has a deeper tread to cope with uneven surfaces but is still durable for road running.

If you run mainly off-road then a trail running shoe is ideal as it has deep treads for more traction on uneven or slippery surfaces.

How much mileage do you run?

The more you run the better the quality of triathlon running shoe you need to ensure that it lasts well.

Shoes lose their cushioning after 300 – 600 miles of running (it will vary depending on how heavy you are and type of runner and running you do).

You should replace your triathlon running shoes as soon as they start to look worn.

Tips For A Successful Shopping Trip

  • Shop in the late afternoon when your feet are at their largest. Your feet expand when they are hot.
  • Take your old shoes with you when you go shopping – the wear on these will help determine your pronation type.
  • Wear or take with you the socks you'll wear when you run.
  • If you use orthotics or custom-fit insoles, bring them with you to try on in your running shoes.
  • Do NOT make the mistake of being won over by the latest fad shoe. It is highly likely this will not be the ideal shoe for you.
  • Make sure the salesperson measures both your feet. Often, one foot is slightly larger than the other. You should be fitted for the larger foot.

Before you try on any triathlon running shoes, the salesperson should (at least) ask you the following questions to help you select the right running shoe model:

  • How long have you been running?
  • How much mileage are you doing per week?
  • Are you training for a particular event?
  • Where do you do most of your running?
  • How much do you weigh?
  • Are you aware of any foot problems (i.e. flat feet, over- or underpronation)?

Based on your answers, the salesperson will direct you to various models that will fit your needs and help you select some for you to try.

Remember that the same type of shoe (eg motion control) will feel different from brand to brand, so try on several different shoes to find the one that fits your feet the best.

Ask For A Trial Run.

It’s important to remember that buying your triathlon running shoes is a big investment – and so you should always test any shoes properly before buying them.

Walking around in a shop won’t tell you how the shoes will feel when you run in them.

So if you can you should ‘road test’ them on an in-store treadmill (which will usually be available at specialist retailers) – or even go outside to check how the shoes feel in action, provided the shop allows you to do this.

Always ask for these opportunities to try the shoe in action - this could be the difference between supreme comfort and blisters!

How Should Shoes Fit?

A proper fit is most important step when finding the right running shoe. A shoe that fits will be snug but not tight. A common mistake that results in pain or unwearable shoes a is to buy shoes that are too small.

Use the following guidelines to ensure a proper fit:

  • Check for adequate room at the toebox by pressing your thumb into the shoe just above your longest toe. Your thumb should fit between the end of your toe and the top of the shoe.
  • Check for adequate room at the widest part of your foot. The shoe shouldn't be tight, but your foot shouldn't slide around, either. The heel of your foot should fit snugly against the back of the shoe without sliding up or down as you walk or run.
  • The upper (part of shoe that wraps around and over the top of the foot) should fit snugly and securely without irritating or pressing too tightly on any area of the foot.

Test your triathlon running shoes by running in them for a few days. If you quickly develop blisters or any pain, they may not be the right shoes for you.

Many specialist running shops have exchange policies that allow you to return running shoes even if you've been running in them for a week or more. Take them back, explain to the shop why they are uncomfortable and they should be able to exchange them for a more suitable pair.

How To Look After Your Triathlon Running Shoes

Now that you’ve bought the right shoes, you can get the most out of them by looking after them properly.

  • Allow wet shoes to dry out naturally rather than in a tumble dryer or on a radiator, because intense heat can degrade the cushioning properties of the mid-sole.
  • Avoid washing shoes in a washing machine, as the glue used in the shoes manufacture will be diluted and can come unstuck – which will cause your shoes to fall apart!
  • If you are a very frequent runner (every day or even twice a day), consider buying two pairs of shoes to run in alternately. By doing this you’ll actually get more miles out of each pair, because by alternating them the mid-soles will have longer to recover after each use, and will therefore provide better cushioning for longer.

Summary of Triathlon Running Shoes

  • Choose the right triathlon running shoe for your foot type and running gait
  • Ideally have your gait checked out by a qualified professional before choosing your shoes
  • Got to a specialist running shop
  • Try on lots of different pairs and if you can, run in them in the shop
  • Either buy a pair of racing flats for a triathlon or else some elasticated laces for your normal triathlon running shoes to speed up transitions.

Got a question about running shoes?
Then ask us!

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