At its core, running is a simple sport — you just lace up your shoes and take off. But with more shoe brands and styles available than ever before, paired with the latest news about the link between shoes, comfort and injury prevention, how do you find the right shoe?
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First, step away from that online shopping cart. Specialty running stores are your best option for high-quality selection — and that doesn’t necessarily mean a high price — and a knowledgeable salesperson. Most running stores offer one-on-one custom fitting sessions to help you find the best type of shoe for your running style, foot type, injury history, pronation (how your foot and ankle reacts upon landing) and personal preferences.
The best stores will watch you run and may even have a camera, treadmill or a machine to show you what they’re looking for and explain what their shoe selection is based on.
Once they bring those boxes out, this is the part of the mission that is largely up to you. Here’s what you should look for:
Comfort is king.
The latest biomechanical research now shows that your perceived comfort of a shoe makes the most measurable impact on injury prevention and performance. What’s more, if a shoe is comfortable, you are more likely to wear it and go for a run.
You don’t think about it.
On the note of comfort, it is often recommended to select the shoe that you think about the least when it’s on your foot. The shoes may even be so comfortable they feel like they are a part of your foot.
Select the two most comfortable shoes from the lineup and wear one of each shoe at the same time. This can help you narrow down tiny details and differences such as cushioning, flexibility, support and even a tiny seam that may rub and irritate your toe. One small detail can be the ultimate deciding factor.
Get a second opinion.
Have the sales associate take another look (on camera if possible). They can watch you run in each pair of shoes and let you know if one pair looks better or worse than another.
Once you have selected a shoe, or even if you still find yourself undecided, below are a few other things to consider:
- Do you need insoles? Do you wear orthotics? Discuss this with the salesperson because both insoles and orthotics can dramatically alter the way a shoe works and the way you run. Wear the shoes with the insoles or orthotics that you plan to run in.
- Replace the sock liner if possible. These are nonessential to how your shoe works and are often poorly made. I recommend upgrading the original sock liner to something designed for sport-specific comfort and performance.
A semi-custom insole of this kind helps your running shoe fit your foot and leg alignment at the highest level to ensure maximum comfort. Unlike other insoles and orthotics, these will not alter your shoes nor how you run.
If something just doesn’t feel right or if you have a question or really want to try something different, let your salesperson know. Just because they don’t bring you a certain brand or shoe type, it doesn’t mean they’re off limits.
To counter the point above, do trust your sales expert, as they watch hundreds, if not thousands, of runners each week and are extremely in tune with what shoe models and types work for each runner.
Once you’ve found a shoe you love, keep buying the same pair. It’s only necessary to repeat the in-store fitting process if you’re unhappy with the shoes or you have an injury. If your shoe model changes or gets discontinued, a specialty running store will be able to recommend other models that are similar.
Lastly, be sure to get a new pair of running shoes every 300 to 500 miles. This is the shelf life of a standard running shoe and is the simplest way to prevent injury and ensure your feet feel good on your runs. Keep track by writing the date on your shoes or tracking your mileage in a training log.