Guest post by Austin Bonds
So – you have decided to start running. Welcome to the fold, a quirky but passionate group of people who like to explore the world on foot. As someone who has run for nine years and is currently serving others at a specialty running shop, I have discovered that running, at its core, is a simple activity. Put one foot in front of the other and then increase the pace. Soon you will be wanting to explore options for your feet. All feet are different and have unique needs. This is where shoes enter the picture – but not just any shoes – running shoes.
Running shoes have understandably evolved over the past few decades as companies continue to fine-tune the fit and feel of each one. On the far left you have minimal shoes like the Five Fingers by Vibram and on the far right max shoes like the Bondi by Hoka. Other models sit sandwiched between these two starkly different options. “Other models” actually seems like an understatement as so many running shoes now vie for the attention (and wallets) of runners who are starting out or simply wishing to replace a busted pair. With this in mind, I’d like to unpack some thoughts on finding the right shoe for those who are new to running.
I’d like to preface my remarks by saying that finding the right running shoe is a uniquely personal experience. In other words, I believe that you can find a fan and a critic of every brand in the marketplace right now. Your friends and colleagues will tell you which one they believe is best; however, I suggest that you suspend their recommendations momentarily and try on numerous models for yourself. Comfort is paramount, and the five principles that follow below provide a framework to keep in mind when it comes to being properly fitted for running shoes.
1. As a novice, seek out a specialty running shop. Though I obviously have a bias here as I work for one, I believe that these shops are unique as running is their primary emphasis. People on staff are runners and know the shoe characteristics well. They own and run in the shoes you buy, so they can provide insights on the fit and feel and changes from one version to the next. Things to be cautious of when it comes to run specialty stores is that the store is only as good as the staff. Inexperienced staff are as good at recommending shoes as are at giving legal advice. Secondly, running stores need to move stock. Make sure you try on several brands and don’t end up with the store’s dead wood. If you don’t feel like the staff is listening to you, pick a different store.
2. Ask lots of questions. The best way to be educated on running is to listen to others who have done so for many years. When it’s appropriate, I even share my mistakes with others in the hopes that they can learn from my shortcomings, be they from a training run or in a race. There are no dumb questions.
3. A store’s fitting process can vary from one shop to the next, so consider perusing the store’s website or calling them prior to a visit so you understand what’s involved. I mention this as some shops ask people to walk without shoes on to make recommendations; others ask people to walk in shoes and then make recommendations; and still others use a treadmill and an iPad with some type of recording software to conduct a gait analysis and gauge the degree of pronation (inward rolling of the ankles).
4. Try on numerous shoes, and be sure to indicate what weekly mileage (or how many days a week) you have in mind, along with any races you may be training for – or wish to train for in the upcoming months. Total mileage matters as it impacts the types of shoes you might look for. Some running shoes offer lots of protection whereas others offer very little.
For instance, if you intend to run 2-3 times a week for 2-4 miles at a time, I believe that you can get away with less cushioning in a given shoe as the distance is on the shorter side. If you have aspirations of completing a half or full marathon, a shoe with more cushioning will be noticed and appreciated for those long runs of 3-4 hours.
5. If you have had injuries in the past or are currently experiencing any pain in your lower body (e.g. knees, shins, or feet), mention this as it matters. More often than not, worn-out shoes are a common source behind shin pain, knee pain, and sore feet as the midsole has significantly broken down and the impact from concrete and asphalt is being felt more intensely. While I’m on the subject of wear, running shoes are usually rated at about 300-500 total miles of life, which translates into 4-6 months from a time standpoint. These figures will vary from runner to runner as body type and running efficiency (i.e. good form) play a role too.
I suppose that running seems more complex than simple after reading a post like this on the depth involved in finding a good running shoe – but I assure you that running is still a simple activity. Finding a running shoe may seem like a daunting feat, but this process can (and should) be simple and fun. Don’t underestimate the power of a good looking shoe. If there is a negligible difference between two shoes go with the one that looks faster or has colors you like. When you are getting ready to run, you want to look over at them and be excited to lace them up.
I also believe that how a shoe feels when you slip it on in the store will be indicative of how it feels during a run. In fact, since you intend to run in the shoe you are planning to buy, go outside the store and take a few laps on the sidewalk. Walk in the shoe. Run in the shoe. Flex your feet. Ascertain a feel for the cushioning and for the toe box. Does the shoe feel too tight or too wide or just right? Is the arch placement good? Are the overlays cozy or creating pressure?
As I noted earlier in this post, personal comfort is paramount. The aforementioned questions are some characteristics to consider as you put on various shoes. What I like in a shoe and what you like in a shoe may be different – but that’s okay. We have a mutual affinity for putting one foot in front of the other at a quick clip. We are runners.
If your joy for running is small or even non-existent at this moment in time, I hope that you will give it time. I have met many people who are “learning to love running.” Shoes won’t be able to completely deliver a romance with running, but they will make it a more enjoyable experience as they protect the body and soften those upcoming miles. They even add a splash of color – because that’s what we all look for in running shoes, right?