How to Find the Best Pair of Running Shoes

Finding a new pair of running shoes can be a daunting task, especially with so many different choices available. This article explains how to be fit with the correct shoe for your foot.

Choosing a new pair of running shoes can be a rather overwhelming experience- with literally hundreds of different shoes out there to choose from, the task can easily move to downright daunting. As a certified athletic trainer, and an employee at a running specialty store, it is my goal to make it as easy as possible for my customers to choose the correct shoe for their particular biomechanics.

When stopping by for a fitting, I would suggest calling ahead if you have any current injuries or chronic problems; some examples would include plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, stress fractures, tendinitis, shin splints, bunions, etc. By calling ahead, you can assure yourself a little extra time one on one with an employee to determine if there are any special needs for your shoes, such as insoles or arch pads. Also, allow yourself approximately 45-60 minutes for a first-time fitting. You don't want to feel rushed during the process, or feel like you have to settle for a pair of shoes because you don't have the time to try them on.

When preparing for a trip to your local running store, make sure to bring a few things with you. First, bring your current running shoes- the older, the better. We use the old shoes to look at the wear patterns on the tread, and just to see what type of shoe you are purchasing. I typically ask customers what they like and dislike about their current shoes, because it helps to guide me towards what brands and styles that may be similar. Secondly, bring comfortable clothing, and the socks you most often wear when you run; most stores will have you test-run any new shoes, and this will keep you comfortable. Lastly, bring any special orthotics, heel lifts or insoles if you require them- this will ensure a proper fit with your new shoes, and aid in determining how much arch support is derived from your orthotics, versus the shoe alone.

Upon meeting a new customer, I generally will sit down and talk to them before even thinking about what shoes I would recommend. I ask them about their current training regimen; what distances they are running, what surfaces they are running on (treadmill, road, track, etc.), and if they are training for a particular upcoming race. Understanding the goals of the athlete is a very important step in determining the type of shoe. I also discuss any past medical history that would pertain to the athlete's feet or biomechanics.

The next step that I use at my store is to have the customer walk and/or jog on a treadmill without shoes. This is to determine the shape of a person's arches while in motion, and to see what their individual gait pattern looks like. In doing a gait analysis, I am able to determine if a customer is a pronator, supinator, or if there are any biomechanical irregularities, such as walking with one leg externally rotated, possibly indicating a leg length discrepancy. I watch the customer from the front, back and sides to view their gait pattern from heel strike through to toe-off.

Watching a customer's gait pattern then helps me determine what category of shoes would be best suited for that individual. There are three basic categories in running shoes; cushion, stability and motion control. Each category is determined by the amount of arch support in the shoe. From there, I finally am able to pull a few different shoes for the customer to try on; each shoe company uses their own technologies- from the type of cushion system they use, to the construction of the last, so I try to utilize examples from a few different brands, and ask for feedback from the customer to help fine tune the best feel for them.

After we find a shoe that feels comfortable to the customer, I go through a final checklist of sorts. I check the length and width of the shoe, and make sure there are no pressure points that can cause blisters. I ask the customer if the arch of the shoe is comfortable, and make sure that their heels are held snugly in place while walking. The final step is to get the customer back onto the treadmill (or head outside if possible) with the shoes on, and I watch them walk/jog again, to make sure their gait pattern is neutral, and also to do a final check on any biomechanical issues (such as over-pronation) that were corrected with the shoes.

Whether you are a beginning runner, or a seasoned marathoner, I highly recommend that when it comes time for a new pair of running shoes, you visit a running specialty store. Get to know the employees that work there; find out what their educational backgrounds are, and see what kind of training programs they follow. A running specialty store can be an invaluable resource for training tips, nutritional information, technical running apparel, safety while running, and injury prevention. There are also many running stores out there that have running clubs that meet at the store, and some that even run races as a group. Remember, having the correct pair of running shoes can absolutely make the difference between completing your first marathon, or ending up on the injured reserve. Happy feet make happy runners!