Running shoes used to be running shoes. Now, thanks to a Nike-inspired marketing war, you face hundreds of choices tagged with bewildering techno-jargon, and the penalties for picking the wrong kicks are painful -- from blisters to shin splints to stress fractures. This holds true whether you're pounding out 5- or 50-mile weeks. This spring's crop is as perplexing as ever, so we've translated the specs. Turns out, it's as easy as matching your foot profile (based on body weight, heel-to-toe motion and arch shape) with one of three sneaker categories: cushioning, motion control or stability. Read, heed, run.
Fitting For: High-arched, average-weight runners who don't over-pronate (roll from outer heel to inner toe).
Key Tech: A thick sole (30mm-plus) that's mechanical (à la Shox), as well as filled with air or some form of gel. Lots of midsole cushioning.
Poster Child: Nike's new Shox TL has 11 columns (left, top) from rearfoot to forefoot. Nike improved on last year's version by replacing high-grade plastic columns with a more forgiving polyurethane version. Price: $150.
Other Notables: Asics Gel-Kumo ($90), Brooks Dyad ($90) and Mizuno Wave Rider ($90).
TYPE: MOTION CONTROL
Fitting For: Hefty runners with flat feet and a tendency to over-pronate. Also good for weightlifters and crosstrainers.
Key Tech: Medial (arch-side) support to prevent the foot from rolling in.
Poster Child: Asics's Kayano has been around for 10 years in one form or another, but this year's Gel-Kayano version employs something called Twist Gel (top, far left), which Asics claims cushions your big toe to eliminate roll-in at the end of your step. Price: $130.
Other Notables: Adidas adiStar Control ($110), New Balance 855 ($95), Reebok Premier Control ($100) and Saucony Grid Stabil MC ($90).
Fitting For: Road or trail runners with few motion control problems.
Key Tech: A dual-density midsole that's thicker on the inside (arch side) and a foot bridge for added support. Trail-runner stability shoes also have deep, angled forefoot treads.
Poster Child: Merrell's Flash emphasizes not only stability but control as well. You can tweak your ride by slipping in one of the two rubber inserts, called M-Chips (pictured above, bottom shoe), to vary the cushioning. Price: $90.
Other Notables: New Balance 716 ($78), Mizuno Wave Mercury ($90) and Reebok Premier Stability ($90).
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.