Have you ever walked into a running store and felt absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of shoes on the wall and the array of colour choices that lined them from floor to ceiling? Or perhaps the last time you were in a running store was 20 years ago and you have no idea where to start.
For the past 3 summers now I have worked at a running specialty store where our goal and focus is to fit our customers with the shoe that is right for them. This means that the shoes that we pull from our stock aren’t necessarily the most expensive ones on our wall or the brightest colour, but they are going to be the correct fit for their feet, their skill level, and what they are hoping to use them for.
It’s always great to see new customers in the store who are keen to take up running. However, the last thing I want is for a customer (especially a newbie to running) to be discouraged from the sport because they became injured as a result of poor footwear and therefore leaving them to think that they can never run. So I’m here to prevent that and hopefully shed some light on how to pick out the best shoes for you, so next time you go shopping for runners, you are fully equipped with knowledge and ready to tackle shoes! After all, who doesn’t love a new pair of sneakers!
When fitting people for shoes I typically like to start by measuring a customer’s feet. You may think you know your size but it never hurts to get them properly measured. Sometimes people will come in and they’ve been running in shoes that are far too small or the opposite. In order for a shoe to flex in the correct spots and to fit comfortably, proper fit is incredibly important. Make sure you are getting fitted, not only for the right length but width too! Getting your feet properly measured gives a good ball park on what sizes to start with; keep in mind each brand of shoe and each model can fit slightly differently, so you may need to move up or down a half shoe size.
The next step I like to run customers through is getting them to walk away from me and then back towards me in their sock feet (white socks generally make it easier to assess since black tends to trick the eye a bit). By doing this, it allows me to have a look at their arches to see what they’re doing. When I have them walk/run I am checking to see whether their arches are collapsing inward (pronation), whether their rolling outward (supination), or whether their arches are flat or high and ridged. This simple assessment helps me determine if a customer needs a more supportive shoe to prevent their arches from collapsing in, or a neutral shoe which provides no extra support.
Flat Arch High Rigid Arch
The wear pattern of an old running shoe can also provide some insight on what might be a good fit for you. If you have a tendency to wear out the inside of the shoe more so then anywhere else, you probably need more support. If the outside wears more quickly you are probably being overcorrected by the support in the shoe and should switch to a shoe with less support. If the wear pattern is even, then the shoes are doing what they are meant to do!
An easy way to tell the difference between a supportive shoe and a neutral shoe is by checking the inside of them. Supportive shoes will have a different density of foam in the midsole which is typically indicated by a grey area but is sometimes masked over with a different colour or pattern. Another easy way to determine the type of support in a shoe is by simply flexing it.
Supportive Shoe Neutral Shoe
As shown in the pictures below, the most supportive shoe (on right) has the least flexibility. The shoe in the middle is your standard neutral cushion shoe, and the shoe on the left is the most flexible since it is designed to be fast and lightweight for races (also neutral).
As a general rule of thumb… If you have a tendency to pronate and have fairly flat arches you will most likely be more successful in a supportive shoe. If your arches are high and ridged or you supinate a neutral shoe will likely serve you well. BUT…. if you have orthotics you want to wear in the running shoes, that changes the story slightly yet again.
Most pronators (myself included) will find that a shoe with support built into it, will do just the job! However some people are more comfortable having the reassurance of their orthotic. If this is you, then listen up! Custom orthotics are built specifically for you to prevent your arches from collapsing, therefore, if you put your already supportive orthotic into a supportive shoe you might be overcorrecting your feet and doing more harm than good. Neutral shoes work best with orthotics and will ensure that your orthotic is the piece doing the correcting. There are some models in the neutral category that have a greater reputation to fit orthotics but I won’t get into that. The best thing to do is try your orthotic in the shoes to see how they feel.
Most good running shoes will last about 800km depending on the terrain. Trail tends to be a little more forgiving on shoes as oppose to pounding out the pavement. Racing flats and some light weight trainers may need to be switched out more frequently than your typical shoe. If you’ve been running in your shoes for quite some time (you think it might be around 800km) and you are starting to feel pain that you haven't experienced before its time for a new pair of shoes!
The last little piece of advice I’m going to leave you with is to have an OPEN MIND!
I can’t stress this enough. Too often a customer will come in looking for a specific brand because it’s well known or their friend said it was a good brand. Truth is there are a lot of good brands! Each of these brands will make similar shoes categorically but they all fit slightly differently depending on your feet. Old models are always being updated. Most of the time if the shoe has a good history mild changes will be made, but every once in a while they’ll change the shoe drastically or even get rid of the model, so if it hasn’t worked in the past maybe the update will make all the difference.
When I am working with a customer, I pull many shoes that are similar from each of the brands and have the customer try them on and provide feedback after walking/ running around in them a bit so they can find the shoe that feels the best. Even if it is a colour that you hate… TRY IT ON! It might surprise you and be the perfect fit. Beside most shoes will come in a few colour options anyways, so even if it’s the only colour a store has in stock in your sizes, there’s no harm in asking if they can order in another colour.
Happy Running !!
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