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Super Sneakers

Athletic footwear used to be basic, just two flat rubber soles attached to canvas tops.

Today's athletic shoes seem to have more in common with space shuttles. How are today's high tech running shoes designed, and how do they help your performance?

Let's look at what happens when a runner's foot hits the pavement. The first contact is usually the outside edge of the heel, which hits with an impact of about twice the runner's weight. Fortunately, as the foot rolls forward, the arch of the foot flattens out, absorbing a lot of this extra shock. This flattening out is called "pronation." Finally, the foot rolls to the ball of the foot to push off for the next stride.

Running shoes are designed with every part of this motion in mind. To help the heel strike exactly right, a molded plastic piece called a "heel counter" wraps around the back of the shoe. The midsole provides a balance of cushioning and support for every part of the stride.

How the upper part of the shoe is attached to the sole is also important, because this determines a shoe's stability. In a so-called "broad-lasted" shoe, the top is anchored firmly to a fiber board in the sole. A "slip-lasted" shoe is more flexible, the top is attached to the flexible sole so it can expand and contract more freely.

If you have very high arches, chances are you don't pronate enough to absorb all the shock of your stride. You probably need a well-cushioned, slip-lasted shoe for more comfortable running. If your feet are flat, then you overpronate. A firm, broad-lasted shoe will give you the support you need.

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