How-To Tuesday – How to Choose the Perfect Running Shoe

I have decided to start a new series on my blog called “How-To Tuesdays.” The purpose of this series will be to address those daunting questions that you may have but are afraid to ask. This week will be all about shoes!

Truly, running only requires one piece of equipment (unless of course you subscribe to the barefoot movement – in which case you are good to go!) While there are certainly a number of other “essentials” made for running, having a good pair of shoes (read: running shoes) is all that you really need to get started.

What makes a running shoe different than other types of athletic shoe? To being with, running shoes are constructed to be able to absorb impact and therefore will provide greater cushioning and stability than many other types of shoes. They are also built for forward movement (as opposed to shoes constructed for other sports, such as tennis, where the athlete may often move laterally). Having a proper pair of shoes is essential for injury prevention. It is also important that these shoes are only worn for running and not for walking around and running errands. Running shoes have a finite amount of miles in them before they start breaking down (usually 300-500 depending on the brand and specific type of shoe).

So how should you select a shoe? (Hint: it’s not by color or because they look cool, no matter how tempting that may be). To begin, there are a few questions that you should ask:

1. Do you pronate? Pronation is the way in which your foot moves when you run and nearly everyone will pronate to some degree. A “normal” pronator rolls their foot inward at about 10-15% and their body weight will be distributed evenly. An “over pronator” (such as myself) rolls their foot inward to a much greater degree. As a result, the runner’s body weight doesn’t distribute evenly. In contrast, an “under pronator” doesn’t roll their foot in enough, which also results in uneven weight distribution. Pronators generally will look to “motion controlled” shoes while regular pronators will typically look to “neutral” shoes.

There are a few different ways to learn whether or not you pronate. The easiest option is going to your local running store where the workers are regularly accustom to observing people walk and run. Many stores even have a treadmill that they will observe you on – just make sure to wear comfy clothes!

2. What type of running will you be doing? Factors such as your volume of mileage, the surface that you will be running on, and whether or not you will be doing speed work and/or racing should also be considered. Someone who has just started running will have different shoe needs than someone who is training for a marathon. Similarly, someone who is planning on running on trails may look toward a more technical shoe than someone who will be running primarily on asphalt and concrete. People who do a lot of speed training and racing may look toward a lighter weight shoe while those who are just logging miles may opt for something with more cushioning and support. Your running shoes should be tailored to fit your specific training needs. Newer runners will typically be fine with a standard daily trainer (either a road shoe or a trail shoe) while more seasoned runners may opt for something more specific to their goals.

3. Where should you go? Your local running store is a great place to start. While department stores also carry running shoes, a running specific store will have the widest selection (which means a greater probability of finding the “perfect” match). The employees at your local running store will also be well versed in the specific needs of runners and will most likely ask to perform a gait analysis in order to help you select a shoe (I have never been to a department store where I have had that level of knowledge or attention).

If you’re interested in learning more about different types of shoes, websites such as RunningWarehouse and RoadRunnerSport have shoe finder functions that allow you to search many different brands for comparable shoes. While both of these sites are great – they certainly can’t provide the same level of attention and detail that an in-person visit to a running store can provide (which may be especially beneficial for the newer runner).

What is your go-to shoe? Admit it – how many pairs do you own? What tips would you add to the list?