This story is part of an ongoing series aimed at new runners.
Running is a simple sport—all you need is a pair of shoes, some shorts and a T-shirt (and a sports bra for the ladies). That’s how the saying goes anyway. Running can be a simple sport, but it can also have many challenging hurdles to conquer before you can get started. The first of those challenges is buying a pair of running shoes.
With so much technospeak and marketing jargon bantered about in running shoe ads, reviews and online discussion, it’s hard to know which pair of shoes a newbie should buy. (What the heck is a “heel-toe drop” anyway?) By following these guidelines and considering a number of variables with appropriate importance, you can arm yourself with enough information for the most important starting point of buying shoes: the decision process. Click through the photos below to learn some insights about buying new shoes.
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1. Visit a speciality running store
As a new runner, the best place to shop for new running shoes is at a specialty running shop. Running stores come in all sizes, but most specialty running shops sell only running-related gear, apparel and accessories—unlike a more general mall shop or sporting good store that sell gear for many other sports. The reason to shop at a running specialty store is because the people who work there know and understand running—running shoes, running gait types and various levels of runners and training. They are experts at fitting shoes and understanding how different types of shoes can influence your form, improve the kind of running you’re doing or even lead to overuse injuries.
2. Understand the types of shoes
Shoes are generally categorized by how much cushioning and structure they have—although there are specific shoes for racing and trail running too. If you're brand new to running, check out training shoes in the mid-range of cushioning options. (Maximalist and minimalist shoes have more and less cushioning, but those take time and additional foot and lower-leg strength to be able to run in.) As far as structure goes, most runners can run in neutral shoes, which have a few support features, or light stability shoes, which have a little bit of structure to reduce severe overpronation (the process of the foot rolling inward from the ankle when it impacts the ground). Many specialty running shops have treadmills with high-speed video cameras that can determine how much a runner pronates. Most runners pronate to some degree, and that’s OK; however, severe overpronation can lead to a variety of common overuse injuries, including shin splits, tendinitis, knee pain and IT band syndrome.
3. Test them out.
First and foremost, you need to try on shoes before buying them. And by trying them on, you need to determine if that pair properly fits the size and unique shape of your feet while jogging in the store or on the sidewalk in front of the store. What is a good fit? A running shoe should fit snug, but not tight, in the heel and midfoot/arch area without pinching or feeling constrained when your foot flexes. The toe box shouldn’t be overly tight; it should have some extra wiggle room for your piggies to splay upon impact and push-off. (Some shoes have considerably more roomy toe boxes, especially shoes built for running rugged trails.) Your foot will also tell you if something about the shoe doesn’t feel right: Does it cramp your toes? Is there a seam that rubs awkwardly? Does it feel like it is slipping off your heel on every stride? If the laces really need to be tightened down to get a comfortably snug fit, that’s probably not the best shoe for you.
4. Understand pricing.
Money is always a factor, no matter what level of runner you are. You should be able to find a pair to suit your needs for about $100-$110. There are some good shoes priced in the $80-$100 range too. But it’s best to consider fit and functionality first, price second. There are many models priced in the $120-$175, and those have their merits, but if you’re trying to be frugal, you can rule those out. It’s always possible to find running shoes on sale too, either on the bargain table at a running shop or discounted at an online store. You may be able to find a pair for $50 or so. But remember—you get what you pay for. If you’re strictly looking for a discount, you may wind up with a shoe that doesn’t match your foot shape, body type, running form or training style. Or you may up wind up with a real dog of a shoe that a store is trying to ditch.
5. Go for functionality, not appearance.
Never shop for a shoe by its color or how it looks with jeans. Yes, there are a variety of colors out there, but the one that comes in your favorite color may not be best for you. And when it comes to running shoes, you should only wear them for running. Wearing your running shoes to do errands, mow the lawn or other everyday tasks will change the wear pattern of the outsoles and make them prone to wearing out sooner than they should.
6. Replace old shoes.
As a rule, most running shoes will last for at least 400 miles. That’s just a rough guide, but that generally means you can get through several months with one pair, depending on how many miles you run every week. Running on worn-out shoes can lead to common running injuries. How do you know when a running shoe is worn out? Check the wear patterns of the rubber outsoles. If it’s worn away too much in one place, it's time for a replacement. If you’ve worn a hole through the mesh upper (that makes up the top part of the shoe) it's definitely time for a replacement. Note: You can wash your shoes by hand or in the washing machine, but never put them in a dryer. (They can melt and shrink!) Dry them by stuffing them with old newspaper pages or paper towels.
7. Become your own expert.
As you progress as a runner, you may consider developing a quiver of shoes. The benefit of being able to run in two or more different kinds of shoes during the week is that it will slightly alter the movements of your feet, ankles and legs. And mixing up those movements ever so slightly will help activate a wider range of micro-muscles, make you a stronger runner and help reduce the chance of common overuse injuries. Aside from a cushioned or stability trainer, you may opt to purchase a lightweight shoe for faster workouts and shorter races. Or you may want to explore maximalist shoes with copious amounts of cushioning for your long runs. Regardless, it's definitely beneficial to alternative between two or more pairs during the week.