Running is a simple sport in many ways. We learn to run as toddlers, and the actual activity requires very little equipment save for a good pair of running shoes (unless you’re going to go the barefoot route!).
Perhaps it is because there is little need for a lot of other equipment or the fact that the comfort, fit, and type of running shoes you wear can significantly impact how you feel while running, but runners tend to love to geek out about their running shoes.
Getting just the right pair of running shoes and following the latest innovation in running shoe technology is an ever-interesting quest for many competitive and recreational runners alike.
However, for beginners, learning about running shoes and how to get proper running shoes for specific running gaits is often a confusing and overwhelming challenge due to the fair amount of specialized running shoe terminology.
This jargon can act as a barrier to getting the right shoes because you need to have a working knowledge of running shoe terminology to understand the features and properties of each shoe.
In this article, we have put together a glossary of running shoe terminology to help beginners and experienced runners alike understand the various parts, features, and terms used when describing running shoes.
Let’s get started!
Running Shoe Terminology Every Runner Should Know
Carbon fiber running shoes refer to running shoes that have a thin carbon fiber plate embedded in the midsole of the running shoe.
The carbon fiber plate is surrounded by the EVA foam, which is said to augment energy return.
The collar of a running shoe is the part that sits around your ankle at the top portion along the back of the shoe.
If you look closely at the collar, it is asymmetrical. This is because the malleolus bone on the outside of your ankle is lower than the one on the inside.
The collar should fit fairly snuggly so that there isn’t a lot of rubbing up and down on your skin as you run. This can create blisters.
The eyelets are the holes through which the laces are threaded.
The eyestays in running shoes are generally plastic, although they can be metal in boots and other types of shoes.
These are the reinforcing components around the eyelets (holes) where the laces are threaded. They keep the laces in place and prevent further tearing in the shoes.
Footbridge or Shank
Most runners who are fairly well-versed in running shoe technology and the construction of running shoes are not familiar with the footbridge, also called the shank.
This is a reinforced platform between the heel and arch of your foot.
The function of the footbridge is to support the foot along its longitudinal length between the heel and forefoot and provide torsional rigidity so that the shoe does not twist along its longitudinal axis when you step on uneven ground with the sole not evenly planted.
The heel counter is the part of the running shoe along the back of the heel near the Achilles tendon. It supports the heel to keep your foot secure in the shoe as you run.
You want the heel counter to cradle the heel without squeezing.
If you overpronate, buying a stability running shoe or motion control shoe will give you a firmer heel counter that also reaches deeper into the shoe towards the insole to grip and control your heel at initial contact to prevent excessive pronation.
The heel-to-toe drop refers to the height difference between the sole and forefoot of the shoe.
Most conventional running shoes have an 8-13 mm heel-to-toe drop because extra cushioning material is added under the heel to attenuate impact forces since the majority of runners are heel strikers.
However, there’s also a large contingent of runners and coaches who support zero-drop or low-drop running shoes.
These sorts of barefoot and minimalist running shoes, like Altras and Vibram barefoot shoes, are said to promote a more natural footstrike and running gait and tend to encourage midfoot striking, which is how the foot is “designed” to land.
Maximalist running shoes, such as Hoka One One shoes, have extra cushioning and a thick midsole and outsole to provide more cushioning.
The medial post is a structural component added to stability and motion control shoes along the inner surface of the shoe to support the arch and prevent overpronation.
The midsole is the layer between the insole and outsole that connects the upper to the outsole.
It is usually constructed from some type of EVA foam or other material to provide cushioning and shock attenuation. Cushioned running shoes will have a thicker midsole, whereas minimalist running shoes will have a very thin midsole.
Minimalist shoes are lightweight running shoes with very little cushioning to provide a more natural stride.
Motion Control Shoes
Motion control running shoes are designed for runners who need maximal control of overpronation, with added elements to support the arch and control the inward rolling of the foot.
Neutral running shoes lack any type of stabilizing features and simply aim to provide flexibility for a smooth heel-to-toe transition and freedom to follow your natural strike pattern in the most unencumbered way.
This one’s a given. Laces are what are used to tighten and secure the running shoe to your foot.
There are different running shoe lacing patterns, and some running shoes have speed laces, which are made from an elastic material that can be quickly cinched off to tighten them rather than needing to be tied.
The last is essentially the shape of the footbed upon which the upper of the shoe is constructed.
It is made by using a plastic mold that is intended to mimic the human foot.
Of course, because we all have slightly different foot shapes, one brand of running shoes may fit you better than another, and this is largely attributable to the design and shape of the shoe last (wide toe box, narrow midfoot, tapered toes, or more squared, etc.).
The outsole is the bottom surface of the shoe that contacts the pavement, treadmill, track, or other terrains as you run.
The primary function of the outsole is to provide traction to prevent slipping while you run. Depending on the type of running shoe, the treads on the outside will have a different pattern.
For example, trail shoes usually have more aggressive lugs to provide extra grip on uneven surfaces, whereas a road racing shoe or track flat will be smoother to reduce weight and unnecessary friction.
The outsole should be constructed from durable rubber so that the shoe holds up for many miles.
The overlays on a running shoe are decorative or sometimes reinforcing, elements that are stitched into the upper of the shoe.
Examples include the Adidas three stripes logos or extra material and webbing around the midfoot that gets cinched into the laces to provide extra arch support.
Most running shoes have a saddle, which is reinforced mesh around the midfoot that gets tightened as you lace the shoe to support your arch.
Stability running shoes help to control the amount of pronation (the inward rolling of the foot relative to the ankle joint) at heel strike by providing support to the mediolateral arch of the foot.
This is achieved through guide rails along the heel portion of the running shoe, a stiffer heel counter, and posting along the medial surface and sole, which provides structure to prevent the foot from collapsing inward.
The toe box is the region of the shoe where your toes and the ball of your foot reside.
It should be wide enough to accommodate natural foot splay or the flattening and widening of the foot when you bear weight.
The tongue is the portion of the upper that goes along the top of your foot underneath the laces.
Treads are the rubber components on the bottommost part of the outsole of the shoe that contact the ground when you run.
They provide traction and some amount of cushioning, depending on the thickness of the rubber that is used.
Nike shoe creator Bill Bowerman notoriously constructed the first running shoe treads using a waffle iron, giving each characteristic raised square pattern we often associate with running shoe treads.
One of the most important entries in a running shoe terminology glossary to be aware of is the upper. This refers to the top part of the running shoe that surrounds your foot.
It is usually made from some sort of knit mesh to be breathable, with denser foam areas to provide some form and support. The running shoe upper gets stretched over the last as the shoe is created and gives the shoe its foot-like shape to encase your foot.
The vamp is the portion of the upper that surrounds the toe box. It shouldn’t be so tight around your foot that you cannot wiggle your toes, but if you pinch excess material, the vamp is too loose.
Hopefully, this running shoe term guide will help you make sense of the seeming gibberish the shoe fit expert spouts off when you head to the store for your first (or next) pair of running shoes.
For guidance when running shoe shopping, check out our article, How To Pick The Right Running Shoes: Our Complete Guide.