Worn-out or ill-fitting shoes are a leading cause of injury with runners. Wear and tear in older running shoes is not always apparent to the naked eye. If you want to stay healthy, fit, and injury-free, it’s an absolute must to invest in a good pair of running shoes. This article will walk you through a basic process to find and purchase a good pair of new running shoes.
Don’t skimp on your running shoe purchase. You may not want your kids to spend $150+ on basketball shoes or fancy sneakers, but I urge you not to worry about the cost of a good pair of running shoes that are comfortable and fit. Even if you have to spend $150 or more (which is not always the case), it will be an investment in your good health that’s worth it. I can assure you that the cost of good running shoes is much less than the money and time spent seeing a doctor due to injury.
See the experts at your local specialty running shop where the staff members are experienced and knowledgeable about fitting beginner and advanced runners of all different body sizes and various running styles. Don’t go to a big-box sporting good store or department store. I have spent thousands of dollars over the years, purchasing running shoes and accessories for myself and my family. Your local running store can help you successfully navigate the running shoe purchase process. The sales people at specialty stores are knowledgeable about all the latest brands and running shoe styles. You should think of them as consultants. When you buy running shoes from a local specialty store, you not only help yourself, but you are helping to support an integral part of the community. These companies typically sponsor local running races and fitness events. They also sponsor or coordinate training groups to ready runners for these events. Oftentimes, running stores partner with both middle and high schools to help young and aspiring runners have access to affordable training and racing shoes. Staffed by runners who are knowledgeable about all the latest shoe models, your local specialty running store plays an invaluable role in promoting healthy lifestyles within their communities.
Have a good understanding of your Running Profile & Style
First, you should to tell the salesperson what you will be doing with your shoes. Specifically, how many miles per week you intend to run and what surface (trails, asphalt, or a treadmill) will you be running? Lastly are you training for a race?
Since a high school or college track runner is different than a middle-aged marathoner, it’s important to take into account your body type. The type of running shoe for a bigger person is typically different than that for a person with a smaller frame.
Next, it’s important to know how you run. Your gait should be observed while on a treadmill. A specialty running store employee will video tape you on the treadmill to determine where your foot first comes in contact with the ground. Is it the outside or inside of the heel? Also, they will look to see if the point of initial contact is mainly through the forefoot (as for many athletes and sprinters). If you’re a forefoot runner, you should be wearing a running shoe which has most of its cushion in front. However, you’ll need a different shoe if you run from heel to toe (you’re a heel striker).
(photos are taken from Runnersworld.com (shoe finder resource))
While at the running store, be sure to identify any injuries you may have developed from running. Common injuries like shin splints, blisters, tendonitis and other common injuries experienced by runners can be caused in part by running in the wrong running shoes for your particular running style, gait, body size, etc.
Understand Your Arch
The shape of your arch may help determine whether you pronate (roll to the inside of the foot), supinate (roll to the outside of the foot) or remain neutral when you run. Again, if you’re not certain what kind of arch you have (it may not be completely flat or high), the experts at the running store can help. They may give you a “wet test” by moistening the bottom of your foot and having you make an imprint on a dark piece of paper to determine your arch type. A good physical therapist or sports medicine doctor should also be able to help you determine your arch type, but I would simply start with the expert at the shoe store unless you had been injured and were seeking a diagnosis.
For 30 years, I didn’t over pronate and never required additional stability in my shoes. I have a fairly normal foot and gait analysis showed normal pronation. However, about 3 years ago, after finishing the Chicago Marathon, I began experiencing ankle and foot pain a month after the race. The pain subsided, but recurred the following Summer when I was training for the Portland Marathon. I thought that the pain was a result of overtraining. However, after my physical therapist completed a gait analysis on a treadmill, he concluded that I was over pronating. I didn’t think that I was a pronator, but in my mid 40s, my running style and body size were different than 25 years before. The cure for my injury wasn’t simply to slow down, I needed orthotics and I needed to improve the stability of my shoes. It took me 2.5 months to become used to orthotics, but now I can’t wear any kind of shoe without inserts. I remained injury free training for my last two marathons in part because I now wear orthotics.
Bottomline, understanding your arch and whether or not you pronate is a part of the information necessary to determine which shoe models you should try. The staff at your running store will also observe your gait analysis, running style, injury history and body profile. These factors will merely help them select a few shoes for you to try. Ultimately, the comfort of the shoe once you put your foot in it will determine what you purchase.
Test your foot 360 degrees inside the shoe
When you are being fitted for running shoes, you need to test more than the toe box. When you stand, your whole foot should fit on the platform of the shoe. Feel all the way around the foot to make sure that all the bones are sitting on the shoe platform. The shoe shouldn’t squeeze the foot. The entire width of the foot should be touching the base of the shoe. It’s really important that you pay attention to shoe width. Shoes don’t just come in different lengths, but also different widths as well. You can buy some shoes in widths, but be aware also that shoe width can vary from brand to brand, and sometimes it varies among models within a brand. I always look for a shoe that fits snug but comfortably through the heel and midfoot. Also, you don’t want your foot to be squeezed excessively, especially in the forefoot.
Shop later in the day
Just like when you run, feet swell during the day. Trying running shoes when your feet are at their largest. This will give you the most comfortable and accurate fit.
Bring your old shoes
When you are shopping for a new pair of running shoes, I always bring my old ones along, This can help the salesperson determine what kind of running shoes you need. One strategy is for the salesperson to look at the way your old shoe is worn in order to confirm your running profile.
It’s actually possible for your feet to change as you age. Every year, get your foot measured to confirm your size. This is the critical first step when seeking a comfortable fit. It’s also possible, that that the size you wore in a Saucony, Nike, Asics or whatever shoe that you’ve been wearing, may not be the size you will wear in a New Balance, Brooks, Adidas or other brand of shoe. The experts at the running store that I support recommend getting a running shoe that’s a half size larger than their street shoes. The extra room allows your foot to flex, swell a little and your toes to move forward with each stride.
Probably more common than change in size, is change in shape of our feet over time. As discussed above, I didn’t pronate much for many years, but my physical therapist pointed out that in my middle age, my foot had probably flattened a bit, which then necessitated not only a change in the type of shoe for more stability, but also the need for orthotics.
How should shoes fit?
Make sure the shoes are comfortable in the store. If they are not, they won’t be comfortable for running. The shoe should feel comfortable as soon as you put it on. Try different shoes if something doesn’t feel right. I’ve never been to a running store where I felt pressured to take one of the first pair of shoes that they offered. Ask if you can go for a short (50 yard) jog in the shoes.
Other Do’s and Don’ts of choosing a new running shoe
- Go shopping for new running in the socks you intend to run. Also bring the shoe inserts or orthotics.
- Never buy a shoe for its looks or because someone raved about it in a running magazine or some online forum. Also, don’t simply seek the lightest or most cushioned shoe. It’s really important to follow the above steps in order to ensure you try the best shoe(s) for your running style and profile.
- Once a salesperson observes your running gait, narrows down the type of runner you are and the type of foot you have, he or she should be able to present several different shoes for you. Take your time trying on and testing shoes. Ensure you run 50+ yards in the shoe and walk around a little before you complete your purchase. Try shoes on both feet and take them for a test run around the shop, on a treadmill or on the sidewalk. Purchase the shoe that feels best when you’re running in it, not just standing.
- Plan on trying about 3-6 pairs of shoes. Try shoes that are in your desired price range, but also some that may be a little more expensive. Don’t buy for price, instead, buy the shoe that feels the best. If you have to spend a little more to ensure that you can run comfortably and remain injury free, then it’s a good investment.
- Be wary of someone pushing insoles. Some stores may try to sell you insoles/inserts with your shoes. Not that these are a bad thing, but you may not need anything else. If it’s your first pair of running shoes, try running without additional insoles / inserts and see how you feel. If you later become injured, a Doctor or physical therapist, either of whom specialize in dealing with runners, may prescribe inserts or some other appropriate solution.
- The Test Drive is the most critical step in this entire process. If there is anything that’s rubbing you wrong or doesn’t feel right, then you shouldn’t purchase that shoe.
- If you’re seeking a specific shoe, a good resource is the Runner’s World Shoe Finder http://www.runnersworld.com/shoe-finder/shoe-advisor
When to buy new shoes
Whenever I buy new shoes, I write the date I start to use them on the inside tongue. Don’t run in shoes longer than six months unless you are rotating shoes, which I recommend. If you can, track your mileage in each shoe and make it a point to look at their condition at 350 miles. I don’t recommend running in shoes that have over 500 miles because shoes at this mileage are worn down and can leave you at a high risk of injury if you continue to run in them.
There is no one best shoe for anyone. There are plenty of quality running shoes that will provide your feet the unique support and fit you require. Go local and plan on trying as many different pairs of running shoes until you feel comfortable. Another great thing about local specialty running stores is that they usually have a 30 day return period. In my experience, if I’m not happy with a shoe for whatever reason, I can take it back to my specialty running store within 30 days and they’ll provide me credit for the original purchase value of the shoe. I don’t think I can get this same return policy from an online retailer.
Final Words of Wisdom….Go Local & Avoid Online Shoe Retailers
You’re unique and especially so are your feet. A high school runner is different than a person in their mid 40s – 50s. Having your gait and foot type analyzed, will help to ensure you get the feel, fit, cushion, and support you require to help ensure you can run injury free. Support the experts at your local specialty running shoe store. They are a vital part of your running community. They are essential in the proper development of young runners and promoting health and fitness in your town.