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5 Running Shoe Design Elements That Drive Me Nuts

English: Angry

English: Angry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My preferences in running shoes are well known to those who regularly read this blog: lightweight, mid to low heel-forefoot drop, roomy toebox, etc. But, even in shoes that meet these major criteria, there are some design aspects that I encounter frequently that irritate the heck out of me. I was going through a mental list of these annoyances as I was running in the new Brooks Drift this morning because it has one of them (#2) – thought it might make for an interesting rant post.

Here are five that jumped to mind:

1. Memory Foam Insoles

Memory foam insoles feel great for step in comfort (i.e., standing in a store making a buying decision), but on the run they are awful. They seem to rob me of spring and energy with every step. I now rip them out of every shoe I find them in and immediately replace with something thinner and firmer. This makes me happy, and I’d be even happier if I could burn the memory foam in my wood stove without worrying about toxic fumes.

2. Integrated Footbeds that Incorporate Cushioning

This is the one that is found in the Drift and some other shoes (there is some discussion of this issue in the Brooks Drift on the Runblogger Forum). I love when shoe companies finish the footbed underneath an included insole so the option of running without it doesn’t cause abrasion issues due to exposed stitching. However, when they try to build some cushioning into that footbed it often leads to the formation of a raised ridge along the margins of the footbed where the material is stitched to the sole. This typically causes me to experience hotspots and even serious blistering on the ball behind my big toe – this essentially renders a shoe useless to me for running. Happens in the Drift, and it happened in the Saucony Hattori and Skechers GoRun (socks can sometimes solve the problem though as in the GoRun). For examples of how to do this well, look to the Merrell Barefoot shoes, the New Balance MT110, or the Skechers GoBionic. If you want to incorporate cushioning into the footbed, just go with an insole!

3. Ankle Collars that Are Not Cushioned

Think razors slicing into the Achilles tendon. Pretty self-explanatory.

4. “Barefoot Shoes” that Require Socks

I’m always perplexed when I put on a “barefoot shoe” and realize that there is exposed stitching or some other type of abrasive material inside the upper. If I can’t wear a barefoot-style shoe without socks, what’s the point? The most recent example was the Vibram Fivefingers SeeYa LS – solid shoe, but it caused me hotspots along the arch.

5. Velcro Closures

Just don’t do it.

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Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science
About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. As someone who’s run sockless for almost a decade, I completely agree with point #4!

  2. Christopher Babb says:

    I really wish you could rip that foot bed out of the Hattori, but I’m not against velcro when it works.

  3. Shawn Busken says:

    Vivobarefoot Ra is the definition of razor blade ankle collar digging into the achilles.

  4. Is it heel collars that aren’t cushioned, or high, stiff heel counters? Spikes with heel collars with no cushioning are usually fine to my skin…it’s the high, stiff heel counters that make me bleed all over the shoe.

  5. Stephen Lalley says:

    I’ve never run in a shoe with velcro closures. Why don’t you like them?

  6. All great points, Peter. I have a love/hate relationship with the NB Minimus Road 10 because of the stiff ankle collar. If I could only swap the collar from my NB 730s, I would have the ideal shoe for me.

  7. What is even the point of high heel counters, cushioned or not? What is their purpose? I really want to know.

    • Maybe I used the wrong terminology? What is the purpose of the upper going up again at the heel into the achilles tendon? Tiger’s Mexico ’66 didn’t have it but the Nike Cortez then a few years later. And most of the minimalist shoes seem to have kept it.

  8. Juha Myllylä says:

    VFF Sprint does pretty well with velcros, couldn’t be better with laces. Personally I just hate long laces and I would add speedlacelock to every shoe with laces. Tying the laces is just slower and I don’t see any purpose in it, it won’t hold any better.

  9. Pete, re point #4: again our terminology debate comes handy :) Maybe I am wrong, but to me “barefoot shoes” are those that – w/respect to ground feel, flexibility, etc. try to impose as little interference to running as possible as compared with the bare feet. It may not necessarily mean “suitable to run sockless”. Of course it’s a very nice thing (running sockless, that is) and you justifiably mention the Merrell Barefoot line as a role model in point #2. I run in Merrell Road Gloves and love them! However, even with these great shoes, the border (stitching, edge of the fabric) between the wonderful soft fabric around the heel and the mesh can irritate bare skin (esp. on the inside, arch side). At least MY feet feel it (feet are different, I know).

    Also re point #2: I fully agree and might add: “yes, go with the insole but please – if possible – make sure that there’s no harsh stitching should one decide to remove it and run without the insole” (again, this proved useful as a “toebox widening strategy” in Brooks Pure Connects). Ehhhh, dreaming, dreaming….

    • Pete Larson says:

      Yes, but I view adding socks as adding one more layer between the foot and ground, hence further away from barefoot. If the goal is to simulate barefoot as closely as possible, socks should not be necessary.

      And yes, I totally agree on the stitching! There are some now doing this well, hopefully it will spread.

      Pete Larson’s Web Links:
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      • I’m sure that we could happily dive into a fascinating debate whether, let’s say, a 10 mm of sole plus the socks are a better approximation of barefoot running than a 12 mm sole and sockless :) But of course you’re right, socks are an additional “structural element” of the equation. I myself mostly run in very, very thin, silk-like synthetic (polypropylene, I recall?) socks purchased years ago in an outdoor store and in fact termed as “sock liners”, meant to be worn together with regular hiking socks). They come handy in winter as well as somewhat help moisture management in the summer.

  10. Arch support!!!!

  11. Arch support and inflexible rock plates in the forefoot.

  12. Jack Ryon says:

    +1 Arch Support

  13. Jimmy Hart says:

    I had the same problem with the Drift and left it at the store because of it. I’ve never been a big Brooks fan but thought the drift might change that. The footbed just messed it up and it was uncomfortable on the met head at the base of the big toe. If not for that spot, tried on a couple of pairs, the shoe would have been pretty good.

  14. Chad Wilkerson says:

    I like Vecro when it’s done correctly.

  15. Cameron Baillie says:

    Pete. any day is a good day to mount the Soapbox.
    Re # 1 – I’d be interested to learn more about your insoles of choice (and where to find them). I have tried the Brooks Pure Flow, and the foam inserts do not do it for me. Thankfully my Kinvara 2 insoles are no where near as bulky.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I use Skechers GoBionic insoles most of the time when I swap around – thin and flat. I need to convince them to sell them separately!
      Sent from my iPad

  16. Arch cutaways to reduce weight. Usually accompanied by a hard ridge where the sole meets the upper along the arch. The inside of my flat feet hang over most midfoot arch cut outs and the pounding of the seam along my arch is awful.

    Lasts that are too anatomical, see most NB minimal shoes. Grecian Morton foot shape 2-3 mets usually touch toe box with plenty of room to spare for big met.

  17. Charlene Ragsdale says:

    No so much a design, but I dislike the annoying NEON colors. Why do we need to look like the Las Vegas Strip on our shoes?

    • Run2live_live2run says:

      Interesting, I myself happen to love the bright shoe colors :) they make otherwise boring shoes exciting! IMO

  18. Kevin Schell says:

    I agree with you, Pete. Velcro is the worst. Unfortunately, our firends in SLO don’t agree and want it as the primary fastener for their racing flats.

    “This year, shoe manufacturers will finally give us the fastening option we really want on our performance running shoes: Velcro.” from Running Warehouse’s Blog post on 01/08/13 entitled “Top 5 Running Predictions for 2013”.

  19. What’re some possible solutions to #2? Would a stiffer insole prevent you from feeling that stitched ridge?

  20. Hoka OneOne says:

    Have you tried our design elements for yourself yet Pete?

    • Pete Larson says:

      I have a pair of Mafates, but have not had a chance to run in them yet. My trail running columnist Nate Sanel is a huge fan of Hokas.
      Sent from my iPad

  21. SapphoAndGrits says:

    Women’s road shoes (and some trail shoes) always having some shade of pink, teal, light purple incorporated in the colorway, as well as having a lot of white. Men’s shoes often get the cool colors. Brooks and NB have been good about NOT doing this. Altra has been bad about this, but is getting a bit better. This isn’t an infrastructure design per se, but it drives me crazy.

  22. Notwithstanding your take on memory foam, is it advisable to run , or practice running a half marathon with memory foam shoes. I mean the comfort level is great, and so is the lightweightedness. Please let me know.

  23. Thanks Admin,nyc post n i totally agree, today i just bought me a ruuning shoes with memory foam, felt great in the store but, drained my energy after few running steps, im going to exchange tomorrow,

  24. I am not even a runner or jogger and I hate these memory foam shoes. I have flat feet and the memory foam give me no support whatsoever. Not to mention the memory foam wears out very fast. I wish these shoe companies would stop with the memory foam already. I shouldn’t have to pay an arm and a leg to buy a shoe without memory foam for everyday use.

  25. Kathleen Freeman says:

    I agree completely about memory foam. Thanks for the tip of tearing it out and replacing it with something thinner and firmer.

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