Choosing the Right Running Shoes

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: How big of a difference do the correct running shoes make as far as brand, fit and arch? ~Jeff

A: Hi, Jeff. I love this question because everyone has different needs for running shoes and yes, the fit really does matter. What works for you may not work for me and vice versa. And running in the wrong shoes can cause aches, pains and detours in your routine.

That said, it’s important to note that shopping for running shoes can be as overwhelming as the cereal aisle in the grocery store. There are rows and rows of flashy-colored shoes and styles, enough to make you lightheaded. But there are a few things you can do to make the shoe shopping process flow with ease and maybe even a little joy, too.

  • Get fitted. Find a local running specialty store in your area. They should measure and look at your feet, and watch you run and walk in shoes to make sure they are the right fit. Some stores even record and analyze your stride on video so you can see for yourself (bonus points). If they don’t provide these fundamental services, it’s time to look for a new store. Every brand of shoes offers good quality; it’s how they fit, feel and function on your feet that matter the most (in other words, don’t shop by color or one brand only).
  • Research and learn. If you don’t have access to a running store in your neck of the woods, use the wet foot test below to determine your foot type and research shoe styles online or at a sporting goods store. Having this information will help better guide you to learning the right shoe for you, whether you have a store or not. Using shoe websites that offer free shipping and returns (Zappos) is also a handy perk when trying to find the right fit and size.
  • Go later in the day. Shop later in the day when your feet are swollen to avoid buying shoes that are too small. Your feet swell when running and it’s important to find a size that will leave a thumb’s width space between the front of the shoe and your longest toe. It’s also important to fit the width and volume of your foot. Nothing should bind or feel tight. If they do, try another pair. Remember to bring your current running shoes if you have them to check for wear patterns and the socks you plan to run in (wicking are the best).
  • Take the wet test. Get to know your feet by performing a “wet test” to determine the shape of your foot (arch, flat footed or in between). It’s an easy way to zone in on the functions of a shoe style for your foot type.
  • Wet the sole of your foot.
  • Walk onto a paper towel, paper shopping bag or piece of paper.
  • Look at the shape of the wet pattern.  It will indicate whether you have a high or low arch or are neutral.
  • From there you can narrow down your shoe options to match the shape of your foot.

Check out this link from RunnersWorld.com if you’d like to know more about the wet test and which type of arch you have. http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-240-319-326-7152-0,00.html

  • Track the miles. Lastly, write the purchase date of the shoes with a black marker on the side of the sole. This will remind you when you bought them and if you track your miles in a log, you’ll know when to replace them as well. The replacement date varies greatly by the shoe and the runner’s form and weight, but the general rule of thumb is every 300-500 miles of use or 4-8 months. Keeping your shoes fresh makes a huge difference in keeping the aches and pains away!
  • Also good to know. Minimalist shoes are a hot trend these days, and it’s important to be mindful that going with less shoe requires patience and time to develop foot strength and balance to run with less under foot. Some adapt faster than others, but for all of us it takes time to adapt to less under foot from a traditional fully supported shoe. Make sure you are well educated on how to make the transition or run in less shoe before you reduce the support in your shoes – especially if you’ve been running in supportive shoes for a while, have injuries or are training for long distance events.

There you have it, Jeff. I hope you find these tips to be helpful the next time you’re looking to trade out those old running shoes and slip into something more comfortable, and supportive, for your feet.

Barefoot Running Basics

One reason running appeals to so many people is its simplicity. No advanced skill is required, it can be done anywhere and at any time, and you only need one piece of equipment: a good pair of running shoes.

Some people, though, believe running can be even simpler than that. Just leave the running shoes at home.

Behind the Barefoot Running Trend

It’s riding a new tide of popularity, but barefoot running is not new. People have been running barefoot or with less-supportive shoes for centuries — in fact, the modern running shoe wasn’t invented until the 1970s. But the barefoot trend is currently getting more attention thanks to best-selling books and a vocal community of fans.

Barefoot running enthusiasts claim there are many advantages to running without shoes, including improved foot strength, better balance, fewer injuries and a more natural running style. And while more research is needed, a few studies have backed them up.

Why the benefits? It may have to do with how the foot strikes the ground, and the effects of the design of athletic shoes.

- Foot strikes: One study found that barefoot runners usually hit the ground forefoot first (which is called a forefoot strike) or mid-foot first (a mid-foot strike). Runners who wear athletic shoes, on the other hand, tend to land heel first (a rear-foot strike). Heel-first strikers hit the ground at a force up to three times that of their body weight, but experts say forefoot and mid-foot first strikers hit the ground at a lesser force, which may lower their risk of injury. Running forefoot or mid-foot first may also help build foot and ankle strength.

- Athletic shoe design: Running shoes are made to reduce the chance of injury. The shoe absorbs some of the shock of striking the ground and the cushioned heel makes running more comfortable. But some barefoot running advocates say that arch support and stiff soles may weaken foot muscles and arch strength, which can potentially lead to injury.

Too Good to be True?

Before you hit the ground running without shoes, take note: experts from the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) say that more research is needed to sort out the possible risks and benefits of barefoot running. It’s unknown if barefoot running really lowers the risk of injuries — no conclusive studies have been done yet comparing the injuries of barefoot runners to runners who wear shoes. In fact, barefoot running may actually cause problems. If you step on something, you could get wounded. In addition, barefoot running may put extra stress on the feet, since there are no shoes to help absorb the shock.

If you want to try barefoot running, check with your doctor first. Running without shoes may not be safe for everyone. The APMA says that runners should talk to a podiatrist (foot care doctor) with a background in sports medicine about all aspects of running.

Another Option: Minimalist Shoes

The athletic shoe industry is aware of the barefoot running movement, and is responding to it. Several companies now offer “minimalist” shoes, a middle ground between traditional athletic shoes and going barefoot. Depending on the brand, minimalist shoes may:

-Offer little or no cushioning, support or stability control.

-Have “toe slots” (like gloves, the shoe fits around each toe individually).

-Weigh half as much as regular running shoes.

-Protect the soles of your feet from injury.

Make sure to follow the directions that come with minimalist shoes. The manufacturer may suggest only wearing the shoes for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, once a week at first. And it may be best to start out running on a flat surface, such as a treadmill. Check out these LIVESTRONG treadmill reviews.

Have you ever tried barefoot running?

Sources:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7280/full/nature08723.html http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7280/full/463433a.html http://www.apma.org/Media/position.cfm?ItemNumber=995
http://www.aapsm.org/runshoe-minimalist.html