EVA -- ethylene vinyl acetate, a common midsole material used for shock absorbency.

* Heel counter -- The fiberboard or hard plastic piece that wraps around the back of the shoe, providing needed rearfoot control and stability.

* Last -- The mold on which the shoe is made. Slip-lasting means the top and bottom of the shoe are wrapped in a continuous piece of fabric; board-lasting (which provides a more stable, but less flexible shoe) means that a thin board runs the length of the shoe. Some shoes are half board-lasted and half slip-lasted. A curved last means the bottom of the shoe flares inward; a straight last does not.

* Midsole -- The shock-absorbent material between the outer sole and the upper. Once this material is compressed significantly, the shoe is virtually useless and can be harmful.

* Orthotic -- A device (prescription or over-the-counter) slipped into the running shoe, designed to correct the orientation of certain parts of the foot and the leg while running. Excessive pronation is common reason for the use of orthotics.

* Pronation -- A rolling in of the heel, a necessary part of running, but a frequent source of injury if there is too much, or pronation at the wrong time.

* Supination -- A less common problem, the opposite of pronation, or a rolling outward of the ankle.

* Toe box -- Area at the front of the shoe, which should allow adequate toe room. Shoe Surveys

The Nielsen ratings since 1972 of the running-shoe industry have been the Runner's World Annual Shoe Survey, and, in the past six years, the Running Times' survey. Thousands of pairs of shoes have been compacted, flexed and deformed by laboratory machines to come up with ratings on flexibility, impact, penetration, heel-counter stiffness and rearfoot stability.

For manufacturers, consumers and retailers, the surveys have been a blessing and a nightmare. Proponents have claimed they stimulated competition and needed research; critics have charged conflicts of interest between running-shoe magazines and manufacturers, resulting in less-than-scientific findings.

In response to that kind of criticism, the surveys this year are stepping out of the lab.

"The feedback we were getting," says Bob Anderson, publisher of Runner's World, "indicated that we were 'too scientific,' that there were differences that were too minute to discern on the road. We felt that we needed to get out of the lab and onto the road."

The October Runner's World reflects what 3,000 subscribers -- who spent about 1 1/2 hours per questionnaire -- say about their running shoes. The top 25 shoes for men and the top 10 for women are rated, according to Anderson, "by the people who really count."

Running Times also is out of the lab, counting on in-house staff and feedback from readers to rate 13 shoes as "state of the art."