I’m in the throes of shoe shopping and purchasing. There are so many decisions to make and I honestly thought I knew exactly what I wanted. So much so that I had a pair of shoes held for me for a week (!) and ordered another pair online, and then ordered yet another pair at the running store. As it turns out, I don’t know what I want — rather, what I need.
Shoe shopping used to be fun. It still is — don’t get me wrong. But now there are so many variables to weigh and so many options to consider that it’s a bit overwhelming. Here are the five things I’m considering with my latest running shoe purchasing endeavor.
How to Pick The Perfect Running Shoe
1. Heel drop.
There are so many conflicting opinions on heel drop. You can go to five different running speciality shops in a 10 mile radius and you’ll likely get five different opinions. Some say zero drop is the best — that it encourages a more natural footstrike (aka mid to forefoot) and the best to cure and prevent injuries. Some people say it’s irrelevant and you should just go with what’s most comfortable. And still others contend that zero drop is unnecessary and even detrimental to some runners.
So how do you choose which heel drop is for you? Most people are in the “somewhere in the middle” camp. Meaning they can switch from a 12 mm to a 6 mm drop shoe and it would make no difference. It’s when someone is attempting to switch from a 12 mm to a 0 mm shoe that gets them into trouble. Chances are if you’re a casual runner just looking for a comfortable ride, you won’t be put into a zero drop. But if for some reason you choose the zero drop route, do your due diligence and introduce the zero drop slowly or you risk real injury.
Minimalist. Maximalist. Middle-ist. So what if I made the last one up? Similar to the heel drop debate, there are a million and one opinions on the type of cushioning one should get. Some people love a firm ride — where they can literally feel the pebbles of the road under their feet. Others much prefer a cloud-like run. And then there’s the moderate camp — the ones who like a little cushioning but like to be able to feel the ground under their feet, too.
I suggest getting into as many different shoes as possible to see where you fit on this spectrum. It also depends a lot on what kind of race you’re running. If you’re trying for a fast 5K, you’ll want a lighter, less cushioned shoe. But if you’re logging serious mileage for a marathon or ultra, you may want to consider some additional cushioning.
Are you running trail, road, or track? Determining type of terrain you’ll be running on will narrow down the decision-making right off the bat.
4. Arch and footstrike.
Are you a neutral runner or do you need a stability shoe? You’ll learn this by heading to your local run shop and getting fitted. It’s important to find the right fit because if you don’t, injuries can crop up rather quickly. For example, for a long, long time (years!) I was in a stability shoe. Was it necessary when I was first fitted? Probably. But when I started experiencing the joys of plantar fasciitis, I went in to get fitted again and figure out the problem. As it turned out, I needed to be in a neutral shoe, not a stability shoe. I was suffering from plantar fasciitis because my foot wasn’t able to move naturally. Even if you find the right shoe and love it, it’s highly recommended to be fitted for new shoes every time you purchase (and if not, at least every other time).
When I first started running, I went to the store, got fitted for shoes, and bought what they gave me. I was told, “it’s not a fashion show.” And it’s true, it’s not. But it kind of is… because when you feel badass, you perform well. And if you feel like a shlump (like my white shoe catastrophe of late 2014, early 2015), then you run like a shlump. So yes, while aesthetics should never be the end-all, be-all of your running shoe purchasing decision, in truth, it kinda does matter. Buy what makes you feel good and what offers comfort.
Things to keep in mind with your next running shoe purchase:
- Go to a running store and get fitted. And if you don’t like what they put you in, go to another running store and see if you like the service there better. I’ve been to multiple stores and have gotten multiple shoes thrown my way. Don’t let anyone make the decision except for you.
- Your feet are different from every other runner’s feet. Don’t ask what the best shoes are to buy, because no one knows except you! Some people are brand loyal, some people just buy what’s on sale, and others still don’t care much about price or brand, they go only by feel. Trust your feet. They’ll tell you what’s comfortable for them.
- To make running shoe shopping friendly on the wallet, consider buying from a speciality shop for every-other-pair. Get fitted, buy the shoes. But if you like the shoes, why not buy them on clearance online? It’ll save you a few dollars and then for your next pair, you can go back to the running store. You’ll be supporting local shops while also maintaining your financial sanity.
- Don’t wear new shoes for long runs — unless they’re your tried-and-true pair. I almost made this mistake for my last long run but at the last minute thought better of it. I’ve worn the same brand and style so I know how awesome they are, but there’s nothing worse than five blisters on a 16-mile run.
I can’t wait to try on ALL THE SHOES and finally pick my next favorite pair. New shoe day is always the best! And I wish you luck on your new shoe endeavor as well.
TALK TO ME!
Are you brand loyal? If so, which brand?
How did you choose your first pair of running shoes?