Friday, July 26, 2013

How to buy running shoes

Walking into a running shoe store can be very intimidating.  There’s an entire wall of shoes, but other than color what’s the difference?  How can I possibly know which one is the best one for me?  Well here are some tips to help make you a little more comfortable!

First, where should you buy shoes?  You can find running shoes online, at a generic sporting goods store, at a running specialty store, and tons of other places.  Particularly for new runners/walkers, I strongly recommend hitting up your local running specialty store.  They may be a few dollars more than Costco or Amazon, but the advice you'll get and the availability of lots of options are well worth the extra $5 or $10.  Getting the wrong type of shoe can lead to injury, and just one doctor/chiropractor/therapy visit will cost you a ton more money.  Local stores have knowledgeable people that really want to help you, trust me they are not making a fortune in that business, they do it because they love the sport.  Don’t know where the closest one is?  Try looking here:  

  • Walking shoes:  One common question people ask me is should they get a walking shoe if they plan on walking most/all of the race?  I recommend running shoes even if you will be walking 100% of the time.  Most walking shoes are really just sneakers that won’t treat your body well with months of training, whereas a running shoe will still work great for walkers.
  • Can you use your current running shoes?  Running shoes have to cushion your weight tens of thousands of steps.  Over time, the rubber/foam cushioning material no longer has enough spring to cushion it.  Think of your mattress, over years it tends to start sagging and your back starts hurting, running shoes do the same thing.  Generally shoes are good for about 300-500 miles.  If you wear them even when you’re not running (which I generally don’t recommend), they’ll wear down more quickly.  If they are more than 2 or 3 years old or you’ve run more than 500 miles in them, probably time for new shoes.  The rubber soles on the bottom tend to last longer than 500 miles, so even if that looks pretty good the shoes may have reached the end of their running lifespan.  You can still wear them for general stuff, but time to get a new pair devoted for running.
  • What to bring:  If you have an old pair of running shoes, bring them with you.  They can look at how you wore them down to figure out what type of shoe you need.  Wear some comfortable clothes that you can run 20-50 yards in.
  • Expected cost:  Shoes can run (ha, a running pun already!) anywhere from $60 to $140 for a pair.  Generally the very cheapest shoes tend to be, well, cheaply made and aren’t going to give you the cushioning you need.  On the flip side, the most expensive ones have more bells and whistles than you almost certainly don’t need.  Personally, the shoe I wear generally sells for $80-$90, most people can find something between $70-$100.

When you get there, don’t be shy, find an employee and say you need some help.  Explain you’re going to start training for a half marathon and need some shoes.  They may start talking in a foreign language and begin talking about pronation, supination, motion control, blah blah blah.  Just keep nodding your head until they are done speaking, and then say, “I don’t know what type of runner I am, could you watch me run a few steps and help me figure out what I need?”  This is why Costco and Amazon don’t work well, you’ll have a hard time finding someone to talk to.  They’ll have you run a little bit (10-20 yards) while they watch, either outside to the sidewalk, have you hop on a treadmill, or just watch you run across the store.  

When running long distances (I hate the term jogging, you’re a runner!), on each step most people will land on their heel first, then the weight will roll to the outside of the foot as the rest of the shoe comes down, and finally the weight will roll back to the middle as you push off the ball of your feet and your toes.  That rolling to the outside and then back is both typical and normal.

Once they know what type of runner you are, they’ll pull a couple of different pairs for you to try on.  Ask if you can run a bit in each pair (ideally outside where you can run for 10-20 yards to get a feel for them), almost every store will let you.  People ask if I recommend Nikes or Adidas or Asics etc. My answer is, it depends on you.  Some people fit into Nikes better, others prefer Asics or Adidas or another brand, but it’s all about what fits your foot the best.  Don’t worry about the brand or the colors, worry about how they feel while you run.  People talk about breaking shoes in, but my experience is how they feel in a quick 20 yard run outside the store is generally how they’ll feel when you’re training. If they feel like they are pinching your toes or if your foot is sliding around inside the shoe, try another pair or size.

Important sizing note:  Many people’s feet swell when they run longer distances.  As a result, your foot can increase ½ size from when you start a run to when you finish, so if in doubt better a little big than a little small, your toes shouldn't be pushing up against the front of the shoe when you're just standing there.  If you normally wear a size 7 but you find the size 8 fits you best, please don’t get the size 7 because it’s smaller and cuter!  Your feet will thank you at every step!  And ideally go shopping for shoes in the afternoon, your feet swell over the course of the day so what fits at 9am might not at 4pm.

Some stores will let you exchange them for a different pair within a week if you don’t like them, so make sure to ask what their policy is.  Here are some more good tips from the professionals:

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