How to Choose the Right Running Shoes
When Em wrote her post about How to Become a Runner I knew I had to chime in with what I consider to be the most important element to running - running shoes.
Running is a great sport because it's inexpensive and easy to get into, there isn't any complicated equipment and compared to most other sports the cost is low... but that doesn't mean you should skimp on a good pair of running shoes. You really do get what you pay for when it comes to shoes, and they do need to be replaced every 300-500 miles, or about 6 months. This may sound like a lot to be buying $100 shoes, but if you want to keep yourself from getting injuries it's VERY important! That being said, the most expensive shoe is not always the best for YOU... it's just the most expensive.
The amount of choices available when it comes to running shoes is dizzying, so how exactly do you select the right one? Lucky for you I happen to work in the Consumer Relations department of a well known running shoe company, so most of my day is spent helping people find something that will fit their needs and be comfortable. Getting the right type of support in your shoes is another VERY important aspect to running without injuries, and I can't tell you how many people I talk to who think they can just pick up any type of shoe and wear it without problems.... yet they get pain and injuries and assume it's the shoe. Wrong! It's their lack of research (or failure to replace old worn out shoes)!
So here we go.
- Determine your pronation and arch. My best advice is to visit your local running store and ask to receive a gait analysis - basically what they will do is watch you walk or run, either barefoot or in running shoes, to see if your foot rolls to the outside (under pronating/supinating), to the inside (over pronating), or remains neutral. Having a neutral gait is the goal here, which is why you may need a certain type of shoe to correct any pronation you have. I talk to SO many people who aren't wearing the correct type of support and wonder why they have plantar fasciitis. You will also need to determine the best fit for your arch type. If you have high arches but not enough support in your shoe, you will most likely experience pain. The employees at a specialty running store can guide you in the right direction once you've determined your gait, but if you don't have a store like that in your area you can try a sporting goods store although the employees won't have as much running-specific knowledge. You could try an online "shoe selector" like the one at Road Runner Sports.
- Ensure you are wearing the correct size AND width. Again, I talk to so many people who are wearing the wrong size/width and they wonder why they have all these blisters and toenails falling off. Running shoe sizing is approximately 1/2 to 1 whole size bigger than dress or casual shoes, to allow room for your feet to swell while exercising. You should be able to fit a thumbs width between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Width is just as important! I don't care if you think your feet are skinny - if your pinky toe hurts or rubs, you need a wide width shoe. I also don't care if the shoe you like, aesthetically, doesn't come in wide. GET THE ONE THAT DOES. If you are serious about running and want to get the most for your money, then your vanity doesn't matter.
- Determine your terrain/training needs. Do you like to run on a trail? Are you training for a 5K? Marathon? Iron Man? These things will affect your shoe purchase as well. Trail shoes won't hold up on concrete, and road running shoes won't provide the grip needed for trails. Some shoes are better for shorter/longer distances as well. Be sure to let a running shoe professional know what your intentions are so they can make sure you are getting the right type.
- Don't buy discount. I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Running shoes are technically a consumable product, even when you aren't wearing them. The components in a running shoe are biodegradable (for the most part - yay!) which means they break down as they sit on a warehouse shelf or in your closet. I love getting calls from consumers who say "these shoes I bought 10 years ago are in perfect condition, why did they fall apart when I wore them for the first time?" Well, the glue probably dried up and the cushion hardened. Most running shoe manufacturers have 1 or 2 year warranties, but shoes older than that just aren't expected to hold up. Shoes found at a deep discount, or at stores like Kohl's, are likely to be at least 3-4 years old and you'd be lucky to get 6 months out of them. It really is in your best interest to invest in current styles, but if your wallet is tight I suggest waiting until the newest version comes out, because that very same day the last version will go on sale and it won't be old yet.
- See if you can get a "trial run". A lot of running shoe retailers have 30 day no risk trial periods where you can test out your shoes to make sure they are a good fit. This is great because it's pretty hard to see what's going to be comfortable by just wearing them around the store. Make sure you understand the policy 100% before buying though, so you don't end up disappointed. KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS!
- Break them in. Start out by doing a few short runs/walks or wearing the shoes while doing errands or housework. This will help prevent blisters and soften the upper materials a bit, making them more comfortable for your long runs.
- When in doubt, call the manufacturer. It pains me a little to say this, but you really should. If something isn't quite right with the shoes it may have a defect or you may be in the wrong type. Someone in customer service/consumer relations (like me) can give great insight into what the possible cause of the problem is. We are also more than happy to educate the unknowing public on things they never knew about running shoes (hence this post).
- Always try on shoes every time you buy them, even if it's the same exact style as the last one you had. Your feet may have changed size, or the shoes may fit differently from other manufacturing lots. You should get a gait analysis every couple of years, as well.
Some notes on maintenance:
- Always unlace your shoes before taking them off and putting them on.
- DO NOT put your shoes in the washing machine and/or dryer. They will fall apart. Follow manufacturer's cleaning instructions.
- Do not use the shoe for an activity it wasn't intended for. Cross training shoes are not meant for running, I'm sorry. No, you can't play tennis in running shoes.
I know this may seem like a lot, and honestly there is even more info to consider than this but I thought I should keep it short-ish. Honestly though, having sore knees, huge blisters, or lost toenails is certain to ruin your runs, so it's worth the effort and research to get the right ones. Once you figured out what works, each successive pair is much easier to find, trust me.
I hope this was helpful and wish you all the best with your running endeavors! If you have any running shoe questions you know where to find me, and I'm happy to answer them!