A Beginners Guide to Buying Running Shoes
Once you decide you’re going to become a runner, all you need is a training plan and help buying the right running shoes. It’s not that difficult, but with so many options and a plethora of price points, shopping for your first pair can feel a bit intimidating.
My number one recommendation is to head to your local specialty running store to get their help. Back in college, someone from Run N’ Fun used to meet directly with our team. We were able to ask unlimited questions, and get a personal fit. I thought this was such a luxury, until I learned that personal service is pretty much how all specialty running stores work. Just walk in and ask!
If you don’t want to feel completely in the dark when you show up, here are a few basic things to know about buying running shoes:
What Are the “Best” Running Shoes?
We’re living in a day and age where information is readily available, and often people ask me what shoes they should buy. Ok, here it is, the perfect pair of running shoes for you is the Nike Structure 19.
Just kidding… but they are the shoes I’m wearing these days.
Relax, there isn’t one “best” shoe you should buy. Purchasing running shoes is a lot of trial and error, which is why you may want to stock up on a few when you find a pair you love.
Know Your Feet
Feet are actually pretty complicated body parts. We sort of beat on them, and don’t respect them as we should. One basic thing you should know is the type of arch you have. High, low/no (commonly refereed to as a “flat” arch), or medium arch. It’s hard to know which arch shape you have just by looking, so the “wet foot” test is helpful.
- Cut open a brown paper bag.
- Fill a baking sheet with water (the kind with sides).
- Dip your bare foot in water and take one step on the paper bag.
- Review the imprint that your foot left on the surface and compare to the ones below.
There are two terms you’ll hear a lot from people who work in the shoe business: pronation and supination. Both of these terms refer to the way our feet hit the ground while running and walking.
Pronation is the term used to describe the inward roll of the foot and ankle. Supination is the outward roll. According to LiveStrong.com,
In a pronated foot, the inside part of your foot and the arch absorb most of your weight as you land. A supinated foot, on the other hand, means that the outer edge (pinky-toe side) bears the majority of your weight. Neither foot position is healthy for your feet or ankles, as both can cause serious pain and injuries.
Problems can occur when there is too much rolling inward or outward. You can get custom orthotics for a quick(er) fix, or work to strengthen the muscles causing the imbalance. This is a lot more difficult, but ultimately the best long term option.
Motion vs. Stability vs. Neutral Shoes
There is much debate about how much your shoes should correct the over or under pronation of your rolling feet. I’ve personally never explored the idea of “natural” or “minimalist” running, but from what I’ve learned, there are lot of benefits. However, if done incorrectly, could lead to more injuries.
Here are three basic terms you’ll hear when you go to purchase your running shoes. All of them refer to how much a shoe will correct/control your feet.
Motion Control Shoes - These types of shoes help runners with moderate to severe pronation (lots of inward ankle rolling). Usually, they have technology like a “bar” of some sort, and “medial and lateral posts” that will help limit the amount the foot can roll. They also tend to be big, bulky and heavy. You may need these types of shoes if you notice lots of wear and tear on the inside tread (near the ball of your foot).
Stability Shoes are recommended for anyone with a “normal” arch, and helps with mild pronation. They tend to be a bit more “responsive” and not quite as firm. This is the type I wear most often.
Neutral/Cushioned Shoes - If you supinate (roll out), or don’t roll much at all, then a neutral shoe is what you need. These types of shoes tend to be a bit lighter, and generally for a medium arch type.
There are a slew of other terms you may come across on your hunt for the perfect shoe.
Heel Drop - this is short for “heel to toe drop.” It basically just means how much lower your toes are from your heel. The less “drop” the more you will need to ease into the shoes.
Weight - lighter shoes tend to be easier to run in, but also tend to be less supportive.
Cost - ok, so this is probably a term you understand well. One study we reported on found that the cost of a running shoe is not connected to how much people liked it. More expensive shoes aren’t automatically better. Plan to spend about $100 (of course you can find them for more, and probably less too).
The bottom line, find a place that will fit you with a shoe that works best for you. The majority of specialty running stores will allow you to take them home, run some miles in them, and then take them back. As a rule of thumb, I always allow 20 - 25 miles of “break in” before passing judgement on a new pair of shoes.
What is Your Experience Buying Running Shoes?
What other bits of shoe buying wisdom can you share to someone who is buying a new pair of running shoes?