As someone that has trained for and completed a marathon (26.2 miles) as well as many, many 5K and 10K races, I can tell you firsthand that choosing the right pair of running shoes is one of the most important decisions you'll make as a runner, especially if you're just getting started. Your choice of running shoes can make the difference between having a good or bad experience, running in comfort or pain, and, most importantly, whether you stay healthy or get injured.
The biggest and most common mistake novice runners make is to bargain shop for an inexpensive first pair of running shoes at a local department store. After all, who wants to pay a lot for shoes when you may not actually use them much? How do you justify a higher priced running shoe to your spouse? Aren't you just paying a lot for a logo on the side? On the other hand, another common misconception is that the higher the cost, the better the shoe.
All these observations make sense. Choosing a running shoe can be an overwhelming task given all the high-tech shoes available today and all the special features each running shoe claims to have.
But this kind of thinking will likely lead you to the equally logical decision to quit after a couple of miserable runs. What you need to start running is the right shoe, not the cheapest.
Basically, there are two types of buyers – those that just want a decent pair of shoes and could care less about whether it’s a Motion-Control or Stability running shoe and those interested in knowing more about the art of picking the right pair of running shoes. If you are the former, my suggestion is to go straight to the experts at a running specialty store. If you are the latter, the first step is to understand pronation and to determine your foot type.
Pronation is the rolling of the foot from heel to toe through the foot strike. A proper or neutral pronation is hitting the outside of the heel and up to ball of your foot evenly across the front. This is how your foot reduces the stress of impact.
Underpronation is not enough evening out so the outside of your foot takes most of the shock instead of finishing in the neutral position.
Overpronation is too much roll across from the outside to the inside of your foot.
To determine your level of pronation, look at your shoes you walk or run in. Most everyone will begin on the outside of the heel, the real indicator would be the wear on the forefoot.
If most of the shoe wear is:
On the medial (inside) side, then you overpronate and probably need to choose motion-control running shoes.
On the lateral (outside) side, then you underpronate and most likely need to choose cushioned running shoes.
Uniform across the forefoot, then you have a neutral stride and are best suited for choosing stability running shoes.
Determine Your Foot Type
Another method of determining pronation and, ultimately, foot type is by checking your arch height. The easiest way to figure out your arch height is by using the “wet test.” To take the test, wet the bottom of each foot and stand normally on a paper bag. After a minute or so, step off and observe the imprint left by your foot. (Trace the outline with a pencil if you want to look at it later.)
You have a normal arch (neutral pronation) if there's a distinct curve along the inside of your foot with a band a little less than half the width of your foot connecting the heel and toe. Choose motion-control running shoes.
You have a low arch (flat feet/overpronator) if there's not much of a curve along the inside of your foot, and your imprint shows almost the entire foot. People with low arches are more likely to overpronate (roll too far inward), which can lead to overuse injuries. Choose stability running shoes.
You have a high arch (underpronator) if there's a very sharp curve along the inside of your foot, and your imprint shows a very thin band between your heel and toe. People with high arches typically don't pronate enough. Choose cushioned running shoes.
Choose the Right Running Shoe for You
If you have flat feet and overpronate, choose a motion-control running shoe. Motion-control shoes prevent your foot from rolling in too far, have a straight shape that gives maximum support to your foot and are the most rigid, control-oriented running shoes.
If you have high-arched feet and underpronate, you should choose a cushioned running shoe. Cushioned shoes allow your feet to roll inward (absorbing shock), have a curved shape to encourage foot motion and have the softest midsole with the least medial support.
If you have normal arches and pronate normally, choose a stability running shoe. Stability shoes offer a good blend of cushioning, medial support and durability. They often have a semi-curved shape and don't control foot motion as strictly as motion-control shoes.
Go straight to the experts at a running specialty store. Plan on spending some time there because the salesperson should ask you lots of questions and have several options for you to try.
If you're already a runner, bring your current shoes with you to the store. The salesperson can look at the wear on the bottom of your shoes to get some more insight into your running style.
Make sure the salesperson measures your foot while you're standing up. Your running shoes should be 1/2 to a full size bigger than your regular shoe size because your feet will swell when you run, and you need plenty of room in the toe-box. If your toes are crammed in the front of the shoe, you could develop bruised or black toenails.
Give the salesperson information that will help him or her with shoe recommendations. He/she should be asking you questions about what type of running you do, how often you run, where you typically run, and what type of surfaces you run on. If you use orthotics or custom-fit insoles, bring them with you to try on your shoes. You need shoes that are roomy enough to accommodate your insoles.
Run in the shoes that the salesperson recommends for you. (Make sure you're dressed to run when you're shopping!) Simply trying on the shoes and walking a few steps inside the store is not enough. Run in each pair of shoes to test for fit, function and comfort before making your final decision.
Test your shoes by running in them for a week. If you quickly develop blisters or foot pain, they may not be the right shoes for you. Many specialty running stores have liberal exchange policies and allow you to return shoes even if you've been running in them for a week or more. Take them back and exchange them for another recommended pair.
Don't pick running shoes based on the colors or style. Just because they look cute doesn't mean they'll be the best shoe for you!
After you've found your perfect shoes, you don't have to keep going back to the specialty running shop. You'll need to replace your shoes every 300-400 miles.