Ready Set Go: Getting The Right Shoe

Some of my friends are starting to train for races and quite a few of them are relatively new to running, meaning the last time they have actually ran was back in middle/high school physical education class. They’ve asked me for a few tips and I figured others could find some tips helpful. Hence, the start of the Run Series, which will have a subset of Ready Set Go posts that are meant for beginners.

The first, and arguably the most important, part of running: Shoes.

I notice that when people decide to start running, they do one of two things: run in whatever athletic-looking shoe* they already have or go out to buy a new pair.

Before going out on a run with a specific pair of shoes, it’s important to verify that the shoes are actually meant for running purposes. A lot of shoes out there may look or seem like they can be run in, but come longer distances, can be detrimental. And by longer distances, I mean usually anything more than half a mile. (Of course, it depends on the overall activity. For example, if one’s doing high intensity activity with bits of running incorporated into the workout, a training shoe would likely be a better option. But for the sake of simplicity, this entry is written with running as the primary activity in mind.) Remember, running is a relatively high impact activity so it is best to make the investment on a good pair of running shoes that will help you, not hinder you.

…Which brings me to one of the most frequent questions I get: What is the best running shoe?

Ideally, there really would be one pair of shoes that magically works for everyone. Everyone has unique biomechanics and preferences, so it is important to not always go with the “popular” shoe; a shoe that works for a lot of people may not necessary work for another set of people. The important part is to find the perfect shoe for you.

The first step is to know your feet. Are you a neutral runner? Do you heel strike? Do you need more structure?

A Quick Glossary of Foot Types:

Neutral/Pronator: The feet roll slightly inward as they hit the ground.
Over-pronator: The feet roll inward too far with no support from the arches. Those with flat feet or low arches tend to over-pronate.
Supinator: The feet roll outward. Supinators, which are quite rare, tend to have high arches that do not support shock well.

pronation_table
table courtesy of The Pundits

Knowing what kind of runner you are will help make finding the right shoe easier. I recommend getting a run/gait analysis to get an objective look at how you run, and by extension, what you need in a running shoe.

Some Key Elements To Consider When Picking A Shoe:

  • Arch support – There are three kinds of arches: low, neutral, and high. Those with flat feet tend to over-pronate and will need some arch support to prevent injury. High arches can have a similar issue, or may just require the shoe to be more fitted.
  • Training/running ground – The running surface matters and is taken into consideration when shoes are designed and made. For example, shoes that are designed for trails, which usually have soft rubber treads/lugs, are not necessarily the best option for pavement, which can quickly wear down the treads/lugs and result in a bald shoe.
  • Ride – Pronation is normal. Over-pronating often leads to muscle imbalances and/or injury and therefore stability-ride shoes are often recommended. Barefoot rides will help strengthen the feet, but are usually best for relatively shorter runs. Neutral runners should stay away from shoes with a lot of movement control; the opposite effect could occur. It is recommended that those who supinate should also gear toward neutral ride shoes.
  • Impact/cushioning – A common misconception is that the firm vs. soft cushion feel within a shoe refers to the insole. It is actually referring to the midsole, which is the part of the shoe that is generally responsible for shock absorption. A firm and responsive shoe that feels snappier on takeoff is a favorite for speed and is usually recommended for races and those with smaller frames/lighter foot landings. A softer, cushioned shoe is better for impact and shock absorption. Cushioned shoes are heavier, but are beneficial to heavy strikers and those who are running higher mileages.
  • Mileage – Shorter runs do not require as much support or cushion, and depending on the purpose of the run, shoes with barefoot rides can be used and even encouraged. Longer runs will tire out the legs and feet, so added support will help lessen the chance of injury.

Other Important Points To Keep In Mind:

  • FUNCTION BEFORE FASHION.

I cannot emphasize this point enough. Opting for a shoe (that may not even be designed for running) just because it looks cute or goes with an outfit rather than its function is cause for disaster.

That is a little over-dramatic, but running shoes are designed to help facilitate proper foot movement and strides as well as provide protection, traction, and shock absorption. Not taking care of the feet can and will result in problems later down the road. There is no Fashion Police on the trails, pavement, or track. Do yourself a favor and get the shoe that is beneficial for your running and your body.

  • TRIAL AND ERROR.

At the end of the day, it will come down to how you feel in your shoes. Do you feel supported? Do both shoes fit? Do you have enough traction? Trying on a pair of shoes in the store will only do so much. They can be incredibly comfortable in the store but give you blisters during a run. Take your shoes on a few short runs and put them through a normal running workout to test them. If they do not work out, take them back and keep looking for another pair that will work. Athletic shoe stores should stand by their products and will allow a trial period; shoes are a big investment so make sure you really use them so that they’ll be worth the spend.

  • QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

As previously mentioned, shoes are a large investment and good shoes definitely do not come cheap. If getting the absolute cheapest shoe you can find is what matters, make sure that the shoe you wind up getting still caters to your running type and biomechanical needs. Depending on the brand, the price just might be worth the splurge. Especially if you’re a serious runner.

  • SIZE MATTERS

Feet swell. Make sure you account for swollen feet when you get fitted or are in between sizes. Length-wise, it is best not to have more than a thumb’s width between your big toe (or whichever toe is the longest) and the tip of the shoe. Any more room and your foot will likely slide around, leading to blisters and lack of stability.

This was a long piece, and congratulations to you if you read through it all! Although despite the length, it is a general overview of the process of finding a proper running shoe. There are a lot of factors — fit, function, material — to consider when picking out a new running shoe, and with the copious amount of options between brands, it can get pretty complicated. Hopefully you’ve found some helpful tips. If you have any questions, or want to know more about something, feel free to send me a message.

Good luck!

– LC

* I frequently see people run in shoes that look sporty but are not built for running. More on that in a future post.

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