Just as you wouldn’t put insufficient tires on your car, you shouldn’t make light of what goes on your feet when you run, much less participate in any type of physical activity.
Too often, runners/walkers just want to get the job done — burn those calories and mark it off the calendar — and are not so concerned with the supporting details. Trust me, taking time to prepare yourself properly will be worth it in the long run. This comes from a girl whose mother recently walked the Peachtree Road Race (6.2 miles) in Sketcher-type shoes and paid for it. Big time. Imagine blisters on your heels so large that only flip flops will do and even wearing long pants hurts. Needless to say, next time I was home I insisted we get her some proper shoes. She agreed without hesitation. But she isn’t the first and won’t be the last to make this mistake. I worked at an athletic retail store one summer in college. Way too often we would have folks come in 10 minutes before closing asking for recommendations on running shoes. They would be running a big race the next morning. Eventually I found them hovering over the clearance table poking at the $29.99 pair, insisting it would get the job done. After my disclaimer speech, I rang them up and sent them on their merry way. As predicted, the next afternoon they’d hobble back in with the shoes wanting a refund.
To keep you from being that person I’ve come up with a few things to remember when you hit the stores in search of a good running shoe. I tried to think of a mnemonic way to spell it out and help you remember it, but eventually gave up, so you’ll just have to print this off and take it with you.
First, you need to figure out a few things about your feet. It’s probably more than you’ve ever wanted to know, but it’s totally necessary.
What type of foot do you have?
E-how.com recommends a great way to figure what type of arch you have. It says to first dip a bare foot into water and step on a piece of paper. Then, trace the outline of the print with a pen. Runner’s World UK shows some illustrations of what a flat, high and normal arch might look like.
What type of stepper are you?
You can determine how you walk by looking at some of your older shoes. Where the sole is worn will tell you how you roll your foot when you strike the ground, also called pronation. If the area of your sole closest to your big toe is the most worn, you’re an over-pronator. Over-pronators excessively roll their feet inward and tend to have a low arch. They need to look for shoes specifically designed with motion control cushioning to help correct this during activity. The same goes for you if you’re an under-pronator, or someone who rolls his or her foot outward when walking. The area near your pinky toe is will be the most worn on your soles. I’m an over-pronator, so I intentionally buy shoes with more cushion toward the inside of my foot to compensate. As for you neutral-arched people, well…you’re just lucky. Now that you’ve got that determined, time to hit the store.
For some of you first-timers: don’t be shy; ask an attendant for some help. If you can’t find one, or they’re not as knowledgeable as you’d like them to be, here are a few guidelines:
- Your first priority is the fit. If the shoes aren’t comfortable don’t buy them. As for size, the general rule is that the width of your thumb should fit between your toes and the end of the shoe. That way there’s room for your feet to move just a tiny bit inside the shoe and you won’t be rubbing your toes raw. If you aren’t sure of your athletic shoe size, scope out one of those measuring tools and see where you’re at. As far as all-over cushion, that’s really a personal preference. I know runners who like to feel like they’re bouncing on clouds when they run. I like to be a little on the stiff side so I don’t feel like I’m digging out of my stride. It’s just what you prefer.
- Breatheability is important. Your running shoe should have some mesh panels to let air circulate throughout and cool your feet. The material choices will also be a factor in the shoe’s weight. The lighter the better when it comes to distance running.
- Worry about durability. Some brands can stand a little more than others. I’ve found that many of my friends who run in Nikes are less satisfied with the quality of the sole than my New Balances and Mizuno friends. I bet you didn’t know: You should buy a new pair of running shoes every 500 miles or 4-6 months, whichever comes first.
- Invest. I can’t preach this enough: Good running shoes are expensive – save up and dish out some cash when you decide on a pair. Don’t try to sell your body short because you think the brands are ripping you off. You’re paying for the research and the technology. You don’t have to go for the $300 pair, but many of the top-quality running shoes today will run you $150 or more. Your wallet might not thank you, but your body will.
- Don’t let labels and looks get in the way. Some running shoes are flashier than others, but trust me they don’t make you run faster or longer. Same goes for some of these new “features.” Everyone remembers the Reebok Pumps. Enough said.
- Test them out in the store. Take athletic socks with you and jog up the isle a few times. If you’re spending this kind of money on something, don’t you think it deserves a test drive? Make sure you ask about the return policy when you check out. Some stores are stricter than others when it comes to bringing shoes back.
- Finally, enjoy.
A running specialty store like Fleet Feet would be well-stocked with apparel and other running supplies along with shoes and a knowledgeable staff. Of course Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sports Authority will have plenty to choose from as well. You’ll find a small but decent selection at stores in your local mall like Foot Locker and The Finish Line.