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Nancy Yaeger, owner of Fleet Feet, says shoes are like cars: A new model comes out each year, and older models get discounted. A few brands she recommends are Altra, Brooks, Saucony and Hoka.

In Columbia, more than 30 trails give locals access to many miles of running routes. But before setting out on your next adventure, it’s important to be fitted with the right shoes to handle the trails and minimize risk of running-related injuries. Vox found out what makes for an optimal trail shoe.

From the ground up

As the first point of contact with the ground, our feet carry a heavy burden. “What I often tell people is everything starts from the foot up,” says Tony Turley, a physical therapist at Mizzou Therapy Services and an experienced runner. “That’s the first thing that contacts the ground, and it’s the part of the body that there’s the most weight.” Running shoes are designed to assist your foot and help correct the body’s weak links. 

Compared to day-to-day footwear, running shoes are made with high-quality material intended to endure hundreds of miles of ground-pounding. 

Although trail running might not seem too different from road running, the muddy terrain, roots and rocky surfaces on trails can make maneuvering the space tricky. Because of that, trail footwear has even more added features, says Nancy Yaeger, owner of shoe outfitter Fleet Feet in Columbia. These shoes are designed to drain water out efficiently, offer reliable traction and protect runners’ soles from jagged rocks.

Protecting your feet

A good pair of shoes can minimize the foot’s weaknesses, but the consequences of wearing the wrong shoe can potentially lead to injury. Some of the most common running injuries are stress fractures, Turley says, noting that it occurs due to overusing some less commonly used muscles.

“You’re probably going to be using a lot of smaller stabilizing muscles­, not just in your foot, but around your knee and your hips as well,” Turley says. “Trail running can be a different strain and a different load on your body.”

Yaeger warns people about wearing the wrong size shoe, which is a common mistake among runners. She advises customers to size up their shoes to prevent swelling.

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The three main types of athletic shoes are neutral, stability and motion control. Neutral shoes offer the least arch support, and motion control provide the most support.

Finding the right fit

To know if you found the right shoe, Turley stresses buying in person opposed to online; he says the wrong shoe can affect more than just your feet.

Yaeger says a shoe should feel comfortable from the moment your foot slides into it. “There shouldn’t really be a breaking-in period; they should feel good on your foot right away,” she says. Pain from first trying on shoes is a strong sign the pair isn’t for you.

One thing to consider is if your shoe has the right arch support. Consult your outfitter on how much support your feet need. At Fleet Feet, employees can scan a customer’s foot and turn it into a 3D picture to help them determine your foot shape and shoe requirements. 

And it doesn’t hurt to take your new shoes for a test drive to make sure they’re the right pair for you. Customers at Fleet Feet are encouraged to jog in their shoes before finalizing a purchase. 

The right shoe is just one way to prevent injury while twisting, turning and hopping over tree roots on trails.

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