Are you in the market for a new running shoe? Do you know if you should be replacing your current pair? Today I will share things to consider when looking for your next running shoe.
Long, long ago I managed an athletic shoe store, The Athlete’s Foot, and as employees we were trained to be Certified Fit Technicians. I’m not sure if I had anything to do with it but there are none left in Florida… We had an excellent training program aimed to fit our customers properly. Many years later I still use the concepts I learned when looking for new shoes and adjusting the fit to match my specific needs.
The following are things I recommend you to consider:
Start with identifying what your purpose is for the running shoes
- Casual running
What distance will you be running?
- Short (up to 5 miles)
- Mid-distance (5-10 miles)
- Long (10+ miles)
You may have more than one answer to the questions above. I do. I have separate running shoes for long distance, track training, and racing. They all serve specific purposes that I will get into shortly.
Your Foot and Biomechanics
Next is to determine how your foot progresses through it’s motion striking the surface and following through. This is categorized in one of three ways:
- Overpronation – the foot rolls inward toward the arch excessively as you come through normal motion
- Underpronation or Supination – the foot rolls outward during normal motion; this can be rigid
- Normal – you come through your normal motion without rolling to either side
Not to worry, there are shoes to help with each. Most people are either normal or overpronate with a small portion being rigid rolling to the outside. How can you tell what you are? Two ways:
- Find a run shop in your area that conducts Gait Analysis
- Eyeball test – take a pair of shoes you have plenty of wear. Flip them over so you can see the outer sole. Focus on the widest part of the shoe – the ball of the foot area. Don’t focus on the back of the shoe. We all strike to the outside of the back of the shoe. If not you may want to consult a foot doctor as I’ve never seen it. Back to the ball of the foot area – look at the wear lines. If they are most prominent to the inside you are over pronating. If the wear lines are in the middle you are normal and if they are on the outside you under pronate/supinate.
- Are rare occurences some people may have different gaits on one foot than the other. In these cases see a foot doctor to see what they recommend. You may be in order for custom orthotics.
There are very few shoe options for someone who rolls to the outside as it is uncommon. For those your best bet is to fit with a normal shoe option. For those who over pronate there are plenty of options and those shoes are most commonly known as stability shoes. They have additional bars that prevent the excessive rolling to the inside. If you flip the shoe upside down you will also notice the outer sole shape going through the arch is straighter than a normal shoe that curves inward. Look at the picture below. The shoe to the left is much more straight vs. the shoe on the right that has a significant curve inward at the arch.
The shoe is broken into three parts, the upper, mid-sole, inner, and outer sole.
- Upper – most running shoes are made with breathable uppers. See what feel you like considering how the heel cup surrounds your foot in the back and the amount of support provided on the top and sides if the shoe. Some are very minimal if you like a lighter feel with less support. If you tend to roll or simply want additional support look for a shoe with an extra layer of support.
- Midsole – the layer that buffers your foot from the outer sole. For maximum cushion you are looking for thicker, foam (ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA)) that is generally white in color. When you squeeze or push the shoe down you should be able to see it wrinkle easily. For less cushion the midsole will most likely not be as thick and you may see the midsole in a gray color that is firmer and simply not as spring like in reaction to foot strike. This would be used generally when you want your shoe to respond quickly for speed/racing. As mentioned earlier you may see additional interior support via a bar of some sort for the over pronators. Also that gray color midsole may be on the inside only to provide a more firm element to the shoe preventing the excessive rolling. Again, for the over pronators.
- Inner sole – shoes off the shelf come with standard inner soles that provide some sort of cushion or comfort from your foot to the bottom of the shoe but it is minimal. You can buy inner soles separately that provide more cushion and/or arch support. Try them on with your new running shoe to see if it changes the overall fit. I have always struggled to find one that didn’t alter the fit of the shoe in some way that made it uncomfortable but that’s me. Find what is comfortable for you. I find my added cushion needs in the midsole.
- Outer sole – consider what terrain you will be running on mostly. If you are running off road you will want a shoe with variation in the outer sole so it can grab the ground at varying heights vs. running on a pavement where the surface is flat requireming subtle gripping components. Most shoes use a harder rubber in the heel strike area to prevent quick erosion of the sole.
It’s best to shop for your shoes in the afternoon or evening. This is because our feet swell as the day goes on. So if you go into a shop first thing in the morning make sure you are giving yourself enough space for when your feet swell later in the day and when you exercise. Good rule of thumb is to have a thumb nail length distance from your big toe to the tip of the shoe. Most likely you have different size feet and if so use your largest foot for this test but you want to try both shoes on regardless.
Check for fit across the upper. You should not have excessive material where it is lifting up or gapping. If they feel tight across the ball of your foot ask to see if they offer a wide width. How does your feet feel below the laces? If you have regular or high arches it may feel tight. If so you can alter the lacing technique to relieve the pressure off the top of the foot (pictured here).
I lace all of my shoes in his manner as I have a regular to high arch. It is considerably more comfortable for me to run or simply walk when they are laced this way. If your foot is coming out of the back of the shoe (slipping) you can try another lacing technique (pictured below) in an attempt to keep it from coming up. If it doesn’t help look for another shoe.
You may have noticed I use locked elastic shoe laces that I never have to tie. That is for three reasons:
- Lacing is consistent every time I put them on (i.e. pressure)
- They never come untied….really important during a race
- In triathlon or duathlon racing, you don’t want to spend anytime lacing shoes; rip them off, throw them on and off you go…
When to Replace
There is a lot of variability here. The general rule of thumb is a shoe has between 300-500 miles in them before you need to retire them. That is a wide range but it varies depending on the abuse you put on them, how long you have them, material composition and more.
Here are a couple things to consider:
- Upper – if the upper rips where the structure is compromised, retire them
- Midsole – you may see the white foam turn yellowish; when you press down on the shoe it doesn’t give like it once did…may have little give at all; then it may be time to turn them in
- Outer sole – look for significant uneven wear or holes (picture below…much more wear on one shoe vs. the other) that could lead to injury. I like many people have hips that need realignment every so often. I have one leg being longer than the other when they are not aligned.
If I’m questioning still if I should change shoes, I will try a new pair on a run. My legs tell me if there is a significant difference in feel. On one occasion I thought there wasn’t that much difference and ran another couple weeks with the existing pair. Most of the time when I tend to try the new pair I quickly realize it’s time to make the switch. Tip – listen to what your body is saying. If you are feeling a bit sore in joints it may be time to try a new pair. It’s always a great idea to ease the new shoes into your routine anyway especially if you are changing styles. The last thing you want to do is go out in a completely new fstyle and eel for a long run.
There are additional considerations if you are an elite runner where you can really get into the weight of the shoes, the significance of drop from heel to toe and more. If you have additional questions let me know. I’d be happy to discuss further.
I hope you find these general tips helpful when you are looking to purchase your next running shoe. Most important, the shoe should feel comfortable to YOU.
– Add Health to Your Life