Buying running shoes is an intimidating proposition for the new runner. It’s tempting to go to a big box sporting goods store or a discount shoe retailer and pick out the prettiest pair of shoes you find or get the same pair as your running buddy. It’s even more tempting to buy the super-speedy shoes because you want to run fast.
That’s not a good strategy. Running shoes come in different types, for different terrains, and with different features. Much like you wouldn’t buy any old tires for your car (you wouldn’t, right? There’s the size of the wheel and the driving you do…), you wouldn’t buy running shoes without knowing what type you need. Usually, your friendly neighborhood specialty running store can help. So when you’re buying running shoes, here are some things your running pro will want to discuss.
Put simply, pronation is how your foot rolls when you run or walk. Underpronators (supinators) like me tend to have their feet roll outward, while overpronators’ feet roll inward. Normal pronators don’t have these problems. When you’re buying running shoes at a specialty running store, the salesperson can suggest the right types of shoes to counteract the effects of your pronation patterns. If you run already, check the wear on your soles. Supinators will have wear on the outsides of the soles, while overpronators will have worn out the insides of the soles. Bring your old shoes to your fitting when you’re buying running shoes.
High arches are great for ballet but not so much for running. Flat-footed runners aren’t in a great position, either. Ideally, your salesperson will want to see what your feet look like before recommending a running shoe. Sometimes, you may need insoles to ensure you’re running comfortably. You can do an arch test at home by laying a sheet of paper on a hard surface (like a linoleum floor), wetting your foot, and stepping on it. If you can see most of your foot, you probably have flat feet. Conversely, if you only see the ball and heel of your foot, you probably have high arches.
*Reader tip: If you wear orthotics, take them with you to try on your running shoes with them.
How does your foot strike the ground? You’ll either land on your toe, midfoot, or heel when you run. At the running store, your salesperson will want to see how you run to determine how your foot strikes the ground. This definitely comes into play when you’re buying running shoes because some brands are better than others. Heel-to-toe drop, the measurement difference between the heel of the shoe and the toe of the shoe, may also come into play. Ideally, you’ll find a pair of running shoes that will make it easier for you to maintain good form.
How far do you plan to run each week? If you’re a new or low-mile runner, your shoe needs will be different than someone who regularly logs 50-mile weeks. Lower mileage runners might be able to get away with less cushioning, while high mileage runners will want the Cadillac model most of the time. This is for standard training shoes in which you’ll log most of your runs; this doesn’t apply to racing flats or track spikes. Most recreational runners will factor in mileage when buying running shoes.
Ok, no one wants to give their exact weight to someone they’ve just met. Most likely, you won’t have to. But know that the heavier you are, the more cushioning you’ll need in your running shoes. (But being heavy doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be steered toward the cushioned running shoes; I’m a very small woman and need the cushioning because of my under-pronating, high-arched, toe-striking, hard-running habits.) This will help protect your joints as you run and make running a more pleasant experience.
While you don’t need special shoes if you run mainly on roads and treadmills, if you’re planning to do a lot of trail running or obstacle and mud runs, you’ll want to consider buying running shoes for those purposes. Trail running shoes have features like drainage, grippier soles, and mud/water shielding. Regular running shoes don’t and are ideal for pavement, treadmills, or even well-trod trails. Also, if you’re doing speedwork on a track, standard running shoes are fine for that, too.
You’re going to hear a lot about shoe types when you’re buying running shoes. There are three main types of running shoes: stability, motion control, and neutral. (I’m leaving out minimalist shoes because, if you’re a new runner, you’ll probably want to do your research. It’s a controversial movement with its pros and cons. For beginning runners, I recommend wearing traditional running shoes.)
Neutral running shoes offer the minimum amount of support. They’re often recommended to high-arched harriers like me because our feet are more rigid.
Stability shoes are ideal for medium-arched runners, which comprise 80 percent of the population. These shoes provide medium support because your feet are more flexible.
Flat-footed runners benefit the most from motion-control running shoes. These offer the maximum level of support since your foot is very flexible.
Confused? Don’t be. Next time you’re buying running shoes (or when you’re buying, if this is your first trip!), you already know how to speak Running Shoe (it feels like its own language sometimes). You’re less likely to get injured if you buy the right shoes, so know what you’re getting into and find a specialty running store that can fit you with the best running shoes for your feet.
Do you want to print out and take this to the running shoe store?