Staff Blog: Shoe Testing 101

Testing new running shoes can be fun, but it's also a lot of work.

It’s that time of the year again. Well, actually, it’s always that time of the year. I’m talking about shoe-testing time. With boxes of spring 2013 samples arriving from numerous brands on a regular basis, our wear-testers have been hard at work out on the roads, putting in copious miles on some pretty swank new shoes. And with new shoes coming out several times per year, that pretty much means there’s are endless shipments of boxes smelling of freshly molded EVA en route from Chinese factories all the time. (Insert your own geopolitical/socioeconomic debates here.)

Yes, it’s pretty cool to have all of these boxes of new shoes show up on a regular basis. For a lifelong runner—heck, for any runner—it’s like being a kid in a candy store. But please don’t get the idea that wear-testing running shoes is glamorous. It’s actually tedious work.

Sure, running in new models all the time is great, but only to a point. You also have to take notes and provide feedback from each and every run for each and every shoe. The novelty of it all tends to wear off after the first few days, especially when you realize you still have dozens of models to test and you really don’t have time to run in the models—both current ones or last year’s models—that you like the most.

RELATED: Fall 2012 Running Shoe Review

As a tester, you wind up running in shoes that you immediately love as well as others you immediately loathe. But you still have to run in each of them several times and do your best to have an unbiased demeanor each time you head out the door. If you’ve been running for several years, as most of our testers have, you no doubt have an affinity for a certain type of shoe. That’s great, but if you love lightweight neutral cushioned shoes with a good feel for the ground, you still have to test the more rigid and higher-off-the-ground stability models with a smile on your face.

In more than 15 years of conducting shoe tests of running magazines, numerous wear-testers have come down with injuries and ailments from putting new shoes through the motions. A few have relinquished their zeal for testing and even backed out mid-test. It’s a dirty job and you learn early on that there’s a certain joy in keeping things simple when it comes to running shoes. Your feet know best, and running in shoes you love is much better than running in a collection of shoes that might or might not agree with your feet, gait or running rhythm.

But that brings up an interesting point about shoe testing. Finding the right shoe for you has almost nothing to do with what our wear-testers think and everything to do with what you (and your feet) think. No matter what you read in a magazine, the only way you’ll find the best shoe for you is to go to your local running specialty shop and try a few pair on for size. Most good shops will let you run a few strides outside while you’re going through the process. That can’t give you a complete understanding of how a shoe will feel for 5, 10 or 20 miles, but it’s much more accurate than relying on the “try-on feel” of the carpeted running shop.

The same line of thinking is why Competitor offers up Fit, Feel, Ride reviews and not some wacky montage of laboratory-driven pseudoscience to frame a shoe. Our reviews are based on authentic testing, but ultimately we’re just giving you guidelines to understand the new shoes available at stores every season. Nobody needs mind-boggling data to figure out what a shoe is all about. You just need to know how a shoe fits, how it feels and how it rides. (Besides, shoes don’t perform anywhere close to the same in a lab test as they do on your feet.)

Sure, your interest might be piqued by the reviews, photos and even the ads you see in a magazine or at on online running site—and clearly that’s the goal—but it’s only where the rubber meets the road that you can decide what shoe is best for you.

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