Stability, neutral, minimalist…the list goes on and on. The array of choices runners have for running shoes these days is borderline insanity. It can be very daunting, especially as a new runner, to walk into a store looking to buy a pair of running shoes and there’s a wall of 50 different models to choose from.
So where do you start? The goal of this post is to help navigate the waters of the running shoe world and provide a few “rules of thumb” for both new and experienced runners alike.
Rule #1: Comfort
The shoe has to be comfortable, plain and simple. This would seem to be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many people will choose a running shoe based on looks even if it isn’t comfortable. Try shoes on with the socks you’d normally run in, then run and jump around the store. Many running stores will let patrons run around the block to get a more accurate feel if the shoe is comfortable or have in-store treadmills to run on for a few minutes.
Rule #2: Minimum of thumb width between toes and end of shoe
It’s crucial to have enough space so your toes don’t hit the end of your shoe when running. Too small of a size can lead to blisters, changes in gait, and overall discomfort when you run. I’ve had more than one instance where I’ve checked a patient/client/athlete’s shoes and they were either too small or too big, but the person thought they were fine.
Rule #3: Correct width
Same goes for shoes which are too narrow. I recently worked with a client who was having significant foot pain when they ran mainly on the side of their foot. So after a few more questions regarding their injury history, mileage, shoe history, etc I looked at their shoes more closely and noticed their feet were pushing over the sides. I asked if they’re shoes felt too tight and they said “Well not really” but just looking at the shoes showed their feet were ready to burst the seams. So after recommending a wide version of their shoe and the client purchasing the new shoe, all of their pain went away. Sometimes we make things too complicated and are getting lost in the details when the answer can really be as simple as making sure a person has the right size shoes on their feet.
Rule #4: Don’t base on arch type
Research does not support buying shoes based on the type of arch you have. Again comfort is the main component so if the sales associate recommends a specific shoe because “Oh you have a flat arch or a high arch,” RUN AWAY! Along the same lines, if the sales associate recommends a certain shoe because you “pronate,” RUN AWAY! Pronation is a normal part of the walking and running gait cycle and should occur to a certain extent so you don’t necessarily want a shoe to control or stop that motion unless there are other underlying mechanical dysfunctions going on. If that’s the case, a trip to your local physical therapist for an evaluation including running gait analysis is in order.
Rule #5: More expensive doesn’t necessarily equate to a better shoe
Don’t worry so much about the price of the shoe unless of course you’re sticking with a certain budget—then yes be conscious of the price! However, there is no rule or evidence to say a $120 pair of running shoes is better than a $40 pair. Yes, the more expensive pair may last longer due to better quality material, but not always. If the $40 fits and feels better when you’re running in it compared to the $120 pair, then by all means get the $40 pair. Heck, get two pairs!
Don't Overthink it!
Buying running shoes isn’t rocket science, however it’s not an easy feat either. With all the different choices, new models coming out every other day, and an endless stream of information (often poor information) being spit out, especially on social media, it can be very confusing to choose a good running shoe. Surprisingly, there is still minimal research about which shoe is right for an individual. This is because everyone is different and most of the time, you won’t know if the shoe is the perfect fit until you try it. ACSM has a great handout with some of these general guidelines when choosing running shoes. Check it out here. Bottom line: don’t be afraid to try the shoe on, run, jump, hop and skip around to be sure your toes are happy because there are few things worse when running than unhappy feet!
“Don’t try to rush progress. Remember — a step forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. Keep believing.”
~ Kara Goucher