How to Find the Right Running Shoes for You

Shopping for running shoes used to be easy, efficient and without a lot of drama.  Walk into a running specialty store these days and it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack.  The good news is there are a lot of options.  But that also what makes it a challenge.

The shoe shopping process can be quite enjoyable once you know how to go about finding the right shoe for you.  Here are a few strategies to employ on your journey.

Get to know your feet by performing a “Wet Test” to determine the shape of your foot.  It’s an easy way to zone in on the functions of a shoe style for your foot type.

  1. Wet the sole of your foot.
  2. Walk onto a paper towel, paper shopping bag or piece of paper.
  3. Look at the shape of the wet pattern.  It will indicate whether you have a high or low arch or are neutral.  [Editor note: can you add a visual of foot types to illustrate]
  4. From there you can narrow down your shoe options to match the shape of your foot.

Ultimately, it comes down to fit and feel.  Once you determine the shoe style based on your foot type, finding the most comfortable model is
the next step.  The shoe should feel comfortable the minute you put it on.  If it doesn’t, keep shopping.

Make sure they measure your feet seated and standing and have you run in every pair of shoes.  Some stores will even video tape and analyze your foot strike in the shoes to see if they are doing the job in supporting your body as you move forward.

If the shoe doesn’t feel right, try another.  It may take several pair before you find the right match.  I once spent a lovely afternoon shoe shopping at the Fleet Feet Sports in Chicago trying to replace my favorite pair of running shoes that went out of production (I hate it when that happens).  Needless to say, it took another three visits to figure it out.

Make friends with the running specialty store employee and let them know about your running life.  Are you new to running?  Do you run on trails, treadmill or road?  Are you running long or short, training or staying fit, etc.  The more they know about you, your feet and your running history, the easier it is to dial in to a model that will work for you.

Shop later in the day when your feet are swollen to avoid buying shoes that are too small.  Your feet will swell when running and it’s important to find a size that will leave a thumbs width space between the front of the shoe and your longest toe.  It’s also important to fit the width and volume of your foot.  Nothing should bind or feel tight.  If is does, try another pair.

Bring in your current running shoes and the socks you normally run in and keep an open mind to colors and styles.  It may not be the color you wanted, but when you put it on it might be the best fitting shoe ever.

When you find something that works – stick with it!  It is best to follow the old adage that if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. And if you do change, remember to take time to adapt to the new style or model of shoe and run several shorter runs to test the waters.

A few other shoe tips to consider.

  • Going with less shoe (minimalist) requires patience and time to develop foot strength and balance.  Make sure you are well-educated on how to make the transition before you reduce the support in your shoes – especially if you’ve been running in supportive shoes for awhile, have injuries or are training for long distance events.
  • Just like running shoes there are a variety of trail shoes too.  If you’re running a trail race on relatively groomed trails you can get by with your regular running shoes.  If you catch the trail running bug and start running on more technical trails over longer distances, it’s time to invest in a pair of trail shoes.  Start by finding a shoe that emulates the properties of your road running shoe (support, neutral, stability) and remember a shoe that is lower to the ground is best.  You need less cushion and more stability on uneven terrain.
  • Write the activation date of the shoes (the date you begin to run in them) with a black marker on the side of the sole.  This is a great way to keep track of how many miles and how much time passes before you need a new pair.  It varies form person to person mostly due to their weight, wear pattern, the shoe model, how much they wear them in and out of running and more.  The general rule of thumb is to replace your running shoes every 300-500 miles of use or every 4-8 months.  Having the date on the shoe is an easy way to remember when to buy new shoes and keeping your shoes fresh makes a huge difference in keeping the aches and pains away!
  • It may be time for a shoe switch when you begin to feel aches and pains while running.  In many cases this is due to the age of the shoe, other times it is related to modifications in the shoe model or your running fitness, strength or form.  In general, the more fit and strong your body is in terms of running, fitness, strength, balance – the more you can weave in less shoe (lightweight shoe) as your core, lower legs, and feet are strong enough to support you stride for stride with less support.  Some runners can run in less shoe while others struggle to make that transition.  Tune into your feet, your body and you’ll find the right shoe for every stage of your running life.

(Originally published in Women’s Running)


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  • Brandon says:

    Great detailed article. I have had a difficult time in the past finding the right shoes for my high arches.

  • Ya learn something new everyday. It’s true I guess!

  • It’s a pleasure to find someone who can identify the issues so clearly

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