Gearing Up, or, Why You Need Time to Pick the Right Pair of Running Shoes
by Cindy Lapeña
Your most important piece of equipment, and possibly the only one you absolutely need is a good pair of running shoes—unless you’re a barefoot runner. A quick visit to sports shoe retailers will tell you that a really good pair can be pricey, what with the rising cost of everything nowadays. Nonetheless, a good pair of running shoes can save you from injury and a lot of pain. Shoe shopping can be frustrating, though, because you’ll need to upgrade your shoes when they wear out, and shoe manufacturers are always changing their styles, so you never know if the new styles fit you as well. If you can get two pairs of the same style that really fits well, you can always have a spare set for when the first pair wears out or breaks down. I wouldn’t recommend keeping them too long, though. I remember a long time ago when those soft-as-air soles first came out, my mother kept a really good expensive pair of athletic shoes she got at a promotional price for sometime in the future; she finally opened the box some years later, only to find out the foam and rubber had dried out—the foam crumbled to bits when you touched it and the rubber cracked when you flexed the shoe. If you’ve never bought running shoes before, consider all the steps you normally take when you’re looking for a really good pair of shoes, and maybe a few more.
Some places, like The Running Room offer assistance to runners, so I might recommend you get your running shoes at specialized stores for runners, because they are usually better equipped and better skilled at helping runners pick the best shoes for their individual needs. Here are a few tips when buying running shoes:
- Test the shoes. It’s just like any other pair of shoes you buy. If you want comfort and the right fit, you try them on, walk around with them, run around the store a bit. Different shoes fit people differently. What looks and feels good to some might not work for you. Don’t buy a pair that someone else swears by just because they say so, and don’t buy a pair you haven’t seen or tried on. Even if shoes are available online and they’re the exact same model you have, each shoe that is manufactured might have some slight difference, simply because different people put them together, or a couple of stitches might be in a different place in another shoe. I used to feel silly when my mother brought us to buy shoes when we were kids because she’d make us walk, bend, run, squat, and do all sorts of things to see if the shoes fit right. More than once in my adult life, I’ve seen and admitted to the wisdom of that, and I did the same thing with my kids and I still do the same for myself.
- Bring your old shoes with you. Long before shoes could be bought ready-made, cobblers made shoes to fit you and just you. They knew how you walked and where your shoes needed to be just a tad wider or where the heel needed just a bit more extra or even one of those little things they’d wedge at just the spot that wore out more quickly than the others. Well-trained athletic shoe experts—I have no idea what to really call them—will know how your shoes fit, how you run and walk, and what kind of support your feet need just by looking at your old shoes and studying where they’re worn out, where the creases and breaks are, where the lumps and smudges are, and so one. I could probably be more descriptive about this, but I’m not the shoe expert, so I’ll leave it at that.
- Tell the expert. Don’t worry about boring them. They really do want to know what your running experience is, what kind of running you do and want to do, your past injuries, what has and hasn’t worked for you. You just can’t let them guess what it is you need. You need to provide them with information.
- Take a foot exam. Shoe experts and podiatrists will strongly recommend it. Nowadays, they have those newfangled computerized machines you step on that will tell you everything about your feet. No two people have the same feet. You could be flat-footed, have a high arch or a low arch; you could have rigid feet or flexible feet, wide or narrow, and whatever other characteristics feet have that affect the way you walk and run. Different models of athletic shoes now have different components that address different types of feet and different foot characteristics, and if you don’t know what yours are, you should take that foot exam. Even if you know your foot characteristics, some of these change with time, so it’s good to take a new foot exam before you buy a new pair of shoes.
- Look for comfort. It’s all part of the fit. Athletic shoes need to fit like a glove, as the saying goes. If they pinch or are too tight anywhere, they’re likely to rub your foot raw in that spot and you’ll end up with blisters, corns, or callouses, which is not going to be pleasant at all. If they’re too loose (my mother would make us buy school shoes that were two sizes bigger so we could grow into them) they’ll flop around or wiggle and you’ll need more energy to keep them in place, especially at push off. If you’ve ever worn a pair of shoes that was too large for you, you’d know that your feet can get cramped and tired easily just from trying to keep the shoe from falling off or twisting about. That’s not the kind of feeling you need or want when you’re running a marathon.
- Snug is secure. You should pull your laces snugly so that the shoes fit just right without being tight or pinching. You should also make sure the laces are tied well and don’t come loose because tripping on your shoelaces is not something you’d like to happen while you’re running.
- Pick the right last. Who knew that feet could be shaped so differently? Every shoe is modeled on a wooden bed, which is called a ‘last.’ Apparently, there are three types nowadays: flat, semi-curved, and curved. Curved feet on a flat last slip off the outside of the shoe, while flat feet on a curved last will feel pinched and scrunched on the sides and in the big toe, in particular.
- Narrow down your choices. I used to be shy about asking a shoe sales clerk for help choosing a shoe, but when I most recently went to get a pair, I was overwhelmed by the choices. I had no idea what to pick off the walls. What’s nice about having a shoe expert help you is they’ll find out what you need then pick out several choices and help you fit them. It’s easier to compare shoes when you have two or three to try and test. You’ll know when you find the right shoe because it will feel just perfect.
- Running shoes are a must. Because of the way shoes are constructed for different purposes, it isn’t wise to use cross trainers or aerobic shoes for running. If you’re running, tell your shoe expert; get the running shoes. They’re built to withstand the impact of running, which is different from the pressure on your feet from aerobic or cross training workouts or exercise. It’s basically the same reason you don’t get steel-toed boots to play football.
- Log your mileage. Running shoes don’t wear out on top as quickly as they do in the sole, so you can’t judge when to buy a new pair by how they look from above. They’re pretty much like tires on your vehicle. The actual recommend mileage for running shoes is around 500 miles or 800 km; around that time, you need to get your shoes checked and fit a new pair to see how well the old pair is holding up compared to a new one. You could actually risk greater injury if you run with an old pair of shoes. It’s almost as bad as running a marathon with a brand new pair you haven’t broken in. On the other hand, if you really take your time picking the perfectly fitting pair of shoes, you shouldn’t have any problems with them when you run, other than that new shoe feeling of a different pair of shoes on your feet.
*Photos are free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0 from Pixabay