Finding the Right Shoes

One of the most crucial parts of a good running/training plan is having the appropriate footwear for you.  Great shoes can make a training cycle and the wrong shoes can break you down.  Last year I made the mistake of switching shoes to something I thought was “cute.”  I have been wearing Asics for years and although I bought another pair of Asics I opted for a neutral shoe despite using a stability model for quite some time.  The sales person tried to warn me but I didn’t think it would be a big deal.

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As many of you may remember I ended up with a terrible bout of Achilles tendinitis.  It was so bad I could hardly walk and the hobbling I was doing caused major swelling on the top of my foot due to compensation.  I was a mess and at first couldn’t figure out where this was coming from.  I basically ended up not running for two months last spring and went nuts in the mean time.  But as soon as I figured out that I needed to switch back to my old shoes, my recovery quickly sped up.

Lesson learned.  We all need to make sure we are fitted with proper footwear.  And your best bet and first stop should be to your local running store.  Most running stores are full of employees who happen to also be runners, and typically major running nerds (thus why I love popping in there so much!).  They are there to help you and want to make sure you are equipped properly.

Below are a few things you should plan on when you get fitted for running shoes and a few red flags to also watch out for:

Proper Measurements:  The first thing you will do is get measured.  Both feet should be checked out because sometimes you will find that one foot is a good bit larger than the other.  You would be surprised by how many people are wearing a much too small shoe.  This can be a sure bet for lost toe nails and blisters.

Running/Gait Assessment:  The next step to a proper fitting is to have your running assessed.  Typically this will happen while you jog on a treadmill.  Most stores have iPads to video tape you with and some have some pretty sweet technology to show you where your problem areas lie.  Even the most amateur set up can show if you are a pronator, neutral runner, or (like me) a supinator.  They can also tell if you strike more on the heel or front of the foot.  All of these will determine if you are better off in a neutral or stabilizing shoe.

Try Out Some New Kicks:  Next up you will likely be given several pairs of shoes that are most appropriate for you and your running style.  Make sure you try them all on and jog around in them.  Do not reach for the cutest pair and head home.  Remember that not all cute pairs are the best.  Try them on and figure out which one feels like you could spend the next 300-500 miles running around in them.

Red Flags:

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The Upsell:  Some shoes come at a pretty hefty price.  But unless you are a major pronator or have other serious issues, odds are that you DO NOT need the most expensive pair of shoes in the store.  In fact, if you are a beginning runner employees should encourage you to find a proper shoe that comes in around the middle of the line price wise.  I have had beginner runners who were sold shoes that were $170 and unfortunately had way too much padding in them.  While they needed a stabilizing shoe, the one they were fitted with was way too much for them and lead to injuries anyway.

Add Ons:  While this isn’t always the case, once you have had a proper fitting you should be in a shoe that helps take care of any “issues” you might have.  Most runners do not need an orthotic or other insert.  However, a local running store I know has recently taken to selling the most expensive model to runners and then encouraging everyone to add on an insert.

As someone who uses an insert I am a huge fan of them.  However, I had plantar fasciitis in the past and the aid of a lift in my arch helps to keep issues away.  Yet, not everyone needs these and in some cases adding this on when it is not necessary could cause further injury.

Make sure you aren’t pushed to get additional bells and whistles with your shoes that are not necessary.  If you have a good shoe, you usually won’t need those extras.

Know Yourself:  I went in for a fitting a few months ago and the first thing the girl did was measure my feet.  She then told me that I should be in a half size bigger shoe.  Now, I have been running for a long time and during that time I have logged a lot of miles.  In fact, I typically run near 200 miles per month.  She kept trying to convince me that the extra half size would help my running.  Since it was a free shoe given to me by the company I decided to give it a try.  I figured I didn’t have anything to lose.

Well, a few weeks later my calves were killing me and I felt like my feet were sliding around in the shoes.  I should have known better.  Had I been losing toe nails on a consistent basis of having other issues it might have been a good idea to give the half size upgrade a try.  But in this case I should have gone with my gut.

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Getting the perfect pair of shoes should feel amazing.  You should head out for your first run and feel like you have a new bounce to your step.  That new pair should almost restore your love of running.  There is nothing like a good pair of shoes!

25 thoughts on “Finding the Right Shoes

    • It is a terrible mistake and sadly one that most people have to learn the hard way. I had to buy a new pair the other day before we leave for vacation. They only had them in some yucky colors but I had to suck it up. As much as I run they will look brown soon anyway 🙂

  1. This is a very informative post Sarah. I had worn a size 12 since I was 18. When I started running at 55, I got a blackened toenail on my very 1st 2 km. run. I had not gotten properly fitted up to that point, and I had no idea that feet actually get larger as you age. I actually needed to be a full size larger. Am now in a size 13, no more blackened toenails, and am doing great. But there is so much to learn.
    Thank you for sharing! 🙂
    ~Carl~

  2. Great tips. It took me a long time and lots of trial and error to find the right pair of shoes for me, but once I did I’m hooked. Nike Pegasus for the win!

  3. Listening to your body is SO important … I know I am very lucky to have legs that are very tolerant to … well, pretty much anything. But a couple of years ago when I tried the Merrell Vapor Gloves (zero drop, 2mm cushion), I knew after two runs (~15 miles or so) that these were NOT the running shoe for me – just not enough ‘there’. I went back to my lightweights – Saucony Kinvara is my shoe now – but still like to walk and just wear the Vapor Gloves around the house. Always worth remembering that “sometimes pain is NOT gain … it is just pain.”

    • I think that is a fantastic rule to run by. Always assess that pain and figure out what is not working for you. Funny enough, I did the same thing as you. I still wear those shoes that gave me issues, but they are just my walking around shoes now. At least they didn’t have to head for the trash.

  4. agreeeeee on the necessity of having good shoes! i was fitted this Spring for the first time in a while and ended up in Asics, which i have never worn before and wouldn’t have thought to buy, and i LOVE THEM. they’re perfect for me!

  5. And you gotta wear them. I just tried a new brand of shoe (you’ll see a review of it soon on the blog) and I thought everything was all hunky dory for a while and then I started getting terrible arch pain. Put other shoes on, no worries. You gotta take care of your feet, they are the first interactions you have with the ground!

  6. I have to say, I never gave much stock into how powerful shoes can be until I really started training for the marathon.

    I recently transitioned from a stability shoe to a neutral, because I suspected my stability shoes were over correcting me. I have two new pairs of neutrals, and I love one of them dearly, when I wear them, and as long as I keep cross training, I don’t need to tape my knees or worry about a lot of pain during the run.

    I have had another gait analysis done, and they still recommended a stability shoe- but stability shoes just cause more pain. This has fed even more into my obsession with shoes 🙂

    • The people doing analysis are not always experts. You obviously have been doing this for awhile and know your body well. So glad to hear that you found something that not only works for you but also helps. Amazing what a good pair of shoes can do!

  7. I need to take the plunge from my trusty old busteds to a new pair, but keep putting it off. I’ve put more than 3000 miles on them without injury and am just a little paranoid about switching. I wish shoe companies didn’t discontinue models so often. It’d be much easier if I could just get the same exact pair again!

  8. I’m into the second week of training for marathon #2 and our clinic just had the “shoe talk” last night. Learned a lot! In particular, that it’s a good idea to have two pairs of shoes on the go during marathon training since you’re running so many back-to-back days. Alternating shoes will give them time to decompress between runs. Learn something new every day! 🙂

  9. Great tips!! I struggled with achilles tendinitis this year and I believe it had a lot to do with me flip flopping between shoe models. It sucked! Right now I’m alternating between a pair of Brooks and a pair of Newtons. Hopefully it’s the magical combination!

  10. Could not agree more with ALL of this! I am kind of crazy when it come to shoes and want to try on pretty much every pair ever invented…that said I’ve had some run ins with some that have done my feet zero favors. 🙂 Before I started running I never would have guessed how much a pair of shoes could affect me!

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