Friday, 23 November 2012

Heel cups and tongues

I've been running in a variety of trail shoes over the past couple of months and one of them has been the Salomon XR Mission, which is classified as a 'door-to-trail' shoe. You can read my review in Trail magazine (the 4th issue, which may be Dec/Jan). Wearing this shoe got me really thinking about heel cups and tongues (of shoes, not people or dogs or cats or chickens).

Here's the thing... on MY FOOT the heel cup of the Salomon XR Mission feels high - as does the tongue. When I go steep downhill I feel the back of the heel cup going into my Achilles and when I flex my foot up the tongue goes into my shin-foot bend.

So, I undertook a photographic assessment to see just what the difference was between five different shoes that I've been running. My friend Allison stopped over for a quick hello and she got roped into being photographer and she was also tasked with drawing on my foot to mark the 'height' of the tongue and the back of the heel cup.

The shoes I've got here are:
Asics Gel Fuji Racer (Purple) - men's
Salomon XR Mission (Red) - women's
Inov8 Road-X 255 (Yellow) - Road (men's)
Adidas Response TR19 (Blue) men's
Newton Terra Momentum (Green) men's

Heel cup (click on pic to get a bigger view)

The pic on the end - it shows the markings of the highest (Salomon) and lowest (Inov-8) - but really there's not much difference in how high up the heel all of these shoes come.

Tongue (and ankle shaping)

As before, in practise there really is no major difference between the height of the tongues across these shoes.

The last pic shows the position of the tongue and also the shape of the heel cup. On the end, Allison drew in lines for the Salomon (red) and the Asics (purple).They actually cross over each other with the Salomon highest (only slightly) at the back of the heel and the tongue.

What I've realised is that it isn't so much where the heel cup or the tongue comes to but how padded these areas are that makes it feel so drastically different. The Salomon is far more padded at the back of the heel cup, to either side of foot, just forward of the ankle, and the tongue. An extra millimetre or two on top of your foot, under the laces, makes a big difference to what you feel and perceive. The top of the Salomon tongue is also pretty padded so, to me, it feels like it pokes into my shin-foot bend. It's not higher, just puffier.
It's hard to see in the pic but in real life you notice the shapes of the heel cup and the padding in this area.

Close up of the Inov-8 and the Salomon.
The shape of the heel cup differs between brands and models. Also, women's shoes have a narrower heel. I've been running in men's shoes since before we had women's trail shoes in SA and that's probably why I find the heel of the Salomon just a little narrow for me. The fit is snug so the shoe doesn't slide on toe-off but it is a little narrow - for me. With wear it is opening up more.

When it comes to shoes there's no right answer because it all comes down to what your preference is and what shape your feet are. I've written various articles on what to look for when you buy trail shoes (On buying trail shoes; Choose your weapon) but this is the first time that I've really taken a look at this area of padding in the shoe.

It doesn't make much of a difference when you're standing on a flat floor, but it can make a big difference on steep downhills (poking into your Achilles) and uphills (poking into your shin-foot bend). When shopping, really point and flex your foot to get a feel for how the heel cup and tongue on the shoe moves.


Anonymous said...

Nice to see an objective shoe comparison article by an independent unsponsored tester, with actual measurements, facts and side to side comparisons.
Would be great to see more comparisons along those lines.

adventurelisa said...

Thank you anon. I often think up stuff like this but it is getting around to doing it that's the tough part. I'll keep in mind. Lisa

Anonymous said...

It is also interesting to note that the Salomon is the only women's specific shoe, designed around a woman's foot taking into consideration all the anatomical differences between the sexes.

adventurelisa said...

You're spot-on. And that's what is weird - maybe I have men's heels? ;)

I initially wore men's shoes because that is all that there was. Actually, even my road shoes are men's as I've favoured Adidas and at a UK8.5 in Adidas I'm just outside of their women's sizing curve (ends at UK8 and is a tad smaller than men's UK8).

My new Inov-8 road shoes - I preferred the fit of the men's over the women's. They also do the men/women anatomical fit.

Here's the thing... I used to be a size 6 in normal shoes - way back when. I'm a 7 because 20 years of running distances of >10km have made my feet strong. It is feasible that as much as the musculature of my mid- and forefoot has increased, so too would it affect my heel... and that's why I find that the the fit of this Salomon women's shoe pinches in the back. Other women would probably find it cushioning and supportive.

Sue B said...

Hi Lisa, while scouting for our race this weekend, I was wearing my new Salomon Trail XR Mission, and said to William I wished I had worn my trusty old Salomon XA3D's. Reason being we were pounding down a very steep grassy slope and the back cup was digging into my Achilles tendon terribly. I also felt very little ankle support vs what I am used to!
Of course being short with short legs and stout ankles, I just thought it might be me that was at fault! Sue.