Running shoes. If you’re into wearing them while you run (and heck, if you’re not as occasionally even barefoot runners find themselves needing foot protection as they tickle the pavement or trails) you’ll have to get yourself a pair. And it can be a bit intimidating to show up to a running shoe store or sports outlet and try to assess the material that will be keeping your feet safe every time you want to pound them onto the ground.
Let’s see if we can take some of that “scare” factor away, shall we?
Before Leaving the House
Your running shoe show-down begins before you even walk out your front door. First, grab a pair of socks that you often wear running. If you’re going to buy shoes that spend time rubbing on your feet and you intend to wear certain socks with them, all these little details are important.
Second, make sure you bring along the shoes you are currently wearing to run in. If you’re going to a running-specific shoe store, the employees can help you find something similar if you like the shoe, or they can help you find the antithesis if you think your shoe is the devil’s spawn. Plus, those smarty-pants running shoe store clerks can also look at the wear and tear on your shoes and see what kind of shoe might work best – this is especially handy if you’ve been running in non-running shoes.
Finally, bring your wallet. Unfortunately, running shoes don’t buy themselves.
At the Store
So you’ve walked into the running shoe store. Now what? Any store who has withstood the test of time certainly has passed Customer Service 101, so a friendly person will ask what they can help you with. It’s pretty standard. Just tell them you are looking for new running shoes.
Most places that specialize in just running shoes will start asking you questions. What kind of runner are you–new? An old hat? Long distance? Sprint? They’ll also ask where you like to run and what your shoe history is and if there are any shoes you’ve particularly enjoyed. These cats aren’t being nosy without cause–they really do want to know so they can get you into a shoe that works for you.
Assessing Your Foot
Once all the questions are settled, different stores have different methods of foot assessment: basically, this means they are looking at how your foot is shaped – high arches or flat footed? They might ask you to run or walk for them so they can see whether you pronate or supinate (if your feet roll inward or outward). They might be able to tell without much movement on your part, or they might just try you in a shoe and have you feel it out. It all depends on the store.
Why does this matter? What we’ve come to know as traditional running shoes come with different types of stability. There are neutral shoes, which do not offer reaction pronation or supination. There are stability shoes which assist with mild cases of pronation, and there are motion control shoes, which assist with more severe cases of pronation. If you supinate, a neutral shoe usually is fine so long as it’s bendy.
My personal recommendation is to start with a neutral shoe and see how it feels on your foot. You don’t want to go into a stability or motion control shoe unless you need to, and really, most people do not need to.
Getting Those Shoes On
Hopefully your shoe-person is a shoe-store savant, and they will bring you out shoes akin to your foot, taking into account the width of your foot and your running preferences. Now, it’s a trial and error process. With the socks you intend to run in, start putting on shoes.
You can’t just put them on and admire them from afar though. You must run in them. I’m not kidding, nor do I recommend you leave a running shoe store without moving in the shoe you’re shelling out for. Get up and job. Almost every store will let you run outside, so go out to the sidewalk and give it a go. Try to run as normally as possible, with the same stride and foot strike.
Run in all the shoes. This will help you learn what is working and what is not.
Watch Out – You’re About to Be Upsold
So it’s not that running shoe store clerks are like used car salesmen and being all shady, but they are most definitely in the selling industry. Every employee at any establishment that has goods for sale is taught to try and add on more items when someone is looking to buy. And some of them will attempt to wow you with their knowledge of all things running. Like…
Socks: if you have problems with your feet, yes, you might want special socks. But if you don’t have issues in the socks you currently run in, getting compression socks or a special blend made only in the West Indies isn’t relevant to you, and these socks can cost a bundle. A savvy sales-person will try to talk you into socks. A really savvy shoe shopper won’t bite.
Cushioning: Oy, so many shoes are packed with cushioning. Every brand has their own unique “cushioning system” using air, foam, gel, Furbies, you name it, it’s in a shoe to make it fluffier. The debate between whether cushioning is causing injuries and ensuring our feet muscles don’t develop and whether cushioning makes running more comfy isn’t yet resolved. It is more expensive, and if you are even just 40% sure you can go without it, go without it.
Hydration: sure, many people are dehydrated, including runners. And sure, you should definitely be hydrating before and after runs, and on long, hot runs, you probably want to hydrate during. But unless you really need a new hydration system, don’t get talked into something fancy.
Nutrition: see above.
Tricks of the Trade
Finally, a note about how to save some money. Yes this is America, and we don’t name our price at retail stores for what we’re buying. But you can go into a running shoe store and specifically say “I am looking for any shoe you have on sale or that is last year’s design and has a price cut.” Every year or two, each brand gives each shoe line an overhaul, and it immediately makes the previous generation of shoes cheaper. Many of these stores end up with a backlog of shoes, but they keep them on a sale rack and when you’re working with a clerk, they often do not offer shoes you might be interested in unless you specifically ask. Save between $20 and $50 for a great pair of shoes. It’s sweet.
Back at Home
Wear and enjoy. And keep your receipt. If something goes wrong or you truly hate the shoe, most stores will discount a second purchase to replace a first.
Oh, and how do you know when it’s time for new shoes? There’s plenty of people out there saying “every three months” (um, it’s not a toothbrush) or “every X number of miles.” Part of me is tempted to say “trust me, you’ll just know.” My body tends to just know, to feel the tread on the shoe is worn down and I can feel every pebble under my feet in true Princess and the Pea style. But that won’t work for everyone. The answer is you probably need new shoes less often than you think. All that running will eventually break down the shoe, but it’s going to take some serious time.
Okay. Questions? Holler.