For most people (bar our barefoot running friends), a pair of running shoes is the most essential piece of gear you can buy. But do we need consider before we part our hard-earned cash? What are some of the important factors you should think about?
While there are a whole range of things to think about, we’ve pulled together a few important things to note. Some of these you probably already do, some maybe not – if you have anymore tips, why not leave them in the comments section below? Whatever you do, we hope this provides you with a few hints and tips as you embark on the quest for running shoe greatness!
I’ll admit that after seven years of running ultras, I’m still on the mission to find the perfect pair – but does a perfect pair really exist? Your choice of shoe will change depending upon what type of running you do, even if you run exclusively on trails or road, there are different styles to suit different terrains and distances. But that’s part of the fun, trying on new and different shoes and seeing what works for you. So while the below is a guide, it’s merely there to serve as such, not to be rigorously applied each and every time. The greatest question you can ask yourself when you try on a new pair of runners is – ‘Do they feel right?’ If so, then you’re probably on the right track. But here’s a list of eight basics to think about.
#1 Understand your feet
Feet come in all forms of shapes and sizes, but the good news is that shoes do too. But knowing your foot’s particular traits and intricacies is important in selecting the right pair of shoes. Now there’s a lot of talk about over/under pronation, low arches, flat feet or rolling in/out and if I’m honest, I think the shoe industry has ‘over-egged’ a lot of it with the multitude of different styles to accommodate these various different terms. BUT, I don’t have a degree in shoes so who am I to talk? It’s just a personal opinion, but what I do know is that you can’t beat strengthening exercises to help boost your stability before looking towards a so-called easy option.
But it is good to understand what type of foot you have and you can do this by simply getting your feet wet and stepping on some dark bitumen or ground. You can also just look at where your last pair of shoes shows the most wear. If your footprint shows the entire sole of your foot with not much ‘curve’ on the inside, or if your shoes wear mostly on the inside edge, it can mean that you have low arches and could tend towards overpronation.
If the footprint shows only a portion of your forefoot and heel with a narrow connection between the two and your shoes wear out mostly on the outside edge, you probably have high arches and underpronate.
You generally have a neutral arch if your footprint has a distinct curve along the inside and your shoes wear out uniformly. It’s useful information to have and to be aware of, but I typically use this as a guide – I don;t live and die by it. I go with what feels right.
#2 Shape and Size of your feet
I know from personal experience that my feet have changed shape since I started ultra running. I use to have quite a narrow foot, but over time, I appear to need increasingly ‘wider’ shoes. My feet seem to have pushed out somewhat. It also pays to get them measured every once in a while, but remember that sizes also tend to vary between brands, so go by what fits, not by what size the shoe is.
#3 The fit
There should be about 1/2 inch between the front of your big toe and the end of the shoe — about a thumb’s width. The heel should be pretty snug, so should the upper part of the shoe to, but not too tight anywhere. Generally, you should be able to freely wiggle all of your toes when the shoe is on. Again though it also comes down to personal preference and what you like. On a personal level, I like a big toe box on my shoes and plenty of room to move around – go with what you like.
#5 What to pay?
Good quality running are fairly pricey, particularly in Australia! But if a pair of Nike Frees appears on the Interwebs for $15 from China, then you know it’s probably too good to be true! Shop around both online and in store – it’s a competitive market out there and if you find a good price online, most specialist stores will probably price match… which leads us onto the next point…
#6 Shop at smaller/specialist stores
Major department chains and online stores can’t always answer your questions or your specific needs. So unless you know exactly what
you’re after, it can pay to visit the smaller specialty stores. These guys and gals will generally have knowledgeable staff to help you pick the right shoes for the type of running your do, be it on road or trails. They may even be able to perform things such as gait analysis if you’re unsure as to your particular running style. Major stores and online have their place if you’re 100% confident on what you need, but be sue that’s the case.
#7 Take them for a test drive
You don’t buy a car straight off the bat, so make sure you do the same with your running shoes. Again, most specialty stores will allow you to head off for a few laps of an oval or around the block, so make sure you test drive your running shoes before you buy, particularly if you’re trying on a new brand or style.
#8 Bulk buy
For me there’s nothing more frustrating in my running hobby than when a brand brings out the latest model and has modified it and ruined a perfectly good pair of running shoes. I remember the very first pair of Nike Frees that came out, I loved them and then they went and destroyed them for a couple of versions, before making amends and getting it right again. The short answer is, if you can afford it financially, stock up on a number of pairs of shoes if you find a brand/style that you like.
We hope that helps, but we feel there are two main things you can do when you’re considering a pair of shoes – it’s a mixture of both art and science. The latter, science is about doing your research and knowing what’s about and understanding the various types of shoes and models that are out there. The art is then using that science to go with your gut feel and what feels right. Happy hunting!