Runner’s Series Part 3 – Parts of a Running Shoe

There are many different parts to a running shoe. This post will focus on the six main parts of a running shoe. When each part is changed, it turns the shoe into one of the five types of running shoes (as discussed in previous blog); Motion Control, Cushion, Stability, Lightweight and Trail. The diagram below shows where each part is located on a running shoe.
Toe Box – The toe box is the front of the shoe where your toes are enclosed. You should be able to wiggle your toes and they shouldn’t be cramped. A rule of “thumb” is there should be a thumbs width between the front of the shoe and your biggest toe, which is about an inch.

Upper – The upper is the outer part of the shoe that encases your foot. The upper can be made of a combination of mesh, synthetic materials and leather. The upper provides you with stability and comfort in a snug, but not tight fit. Depending on your running on activity, the upper material will be made to function to that environment.

Last – The last is the basic shape of the shoe. There are three basic shapes a running shoe can me straight, semi-curved and curved. If you look at the bottom of the shoe and cut it in half from heel to toe, a straight curve will be symmetrical on either side of the shoe. A curved shoe will rather dramatically curve towards the inside of the shoe and a semi-curve is a slight noticeable curve to the inside of the shoe. A straight last is for people with flat feet, a curved last is for those with high arches and a semi-curve is ideal for people with neutral or normal arches.

Midsole – The midsole is a soft, shock absorbing layer located between the upper and the outsole. This is the most important part of the shoe.  Not only does it provide the cushioning and absorbs impact, but the level of material used will cause the shoe to fall into the Cushioned, Stability or Motion Control category. The midsole material is generally made of EVA, lightweight foam that isn’t as stable, or polyurethane which makes the shoe more stable.

Outsole – The outsole is the durable outer part of the sole that makes contact with the ground. The outsole is almost always made out of rubber. The sole design depends on the running activity of the shoe. A trail shoe will have thicker lugs to provide traction on off-road terrain, while a marathon shoe will have a smoother bottom for asphalt traction. Many running shoes have flex grooves that give the shoe more flexibility and bend with the natural motion of the foot. The outsole also helps absorb some of the initial shock when the foot strikes the ground.  

Heel Counter – The heel counter is the part of the shoe that keeps your heel in place and offers more stability for your foot. The heel counter is especially important if your heel strikes first when running because you want your heel to stay in place and it can also help absorb some initial shock. Heel counters come in different degrees of stability with the most stable being an external support on the outer part of the heel.

Please leave a comment below or head to if you have any questions or need more information.

Watch for the fourth part of the “Runner’s Series” which will focus on how to properly fit a new pair of running shoes.