October 12, 2015

If the Shoe Fits…

The only thing more maddening than getting home with an expensive pair of running shoes that don’t end up fitting is a pair that actually causes you to get injured. Before reading this article, you may wish to check out, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Pronation

While arming yourself with the latest shoe reviews and heading down to your local specialty running shoe store can improve the odds of getting a good fit, you are still ultimately responsible for what you walk out with tucked under your arm. Here are 9 rules to remember when getting fitted (or fitting yourself) for a pair of running shoes.

  1. Never talk yourself into a pair of shoes! This first rule is the most important rule, and supersedes all other rules. No matter what a review, a magazine ad, a friend, or a store employee tells you, if they don’t feel right, DON’T BUY THEM! If you have any hesitation regarding a particular pair of shoes, refer to this rule. 
  1. Running shoes don’t need a break-in period! This rule is a corollary to the first rule. Running shoes should feel good right out of the box. Actually, anything that bothers you a little bit now will usually become a bigger problem later. A hot spot becomes a blister, a pair just a tad too short becomes a lost toenail, etc. A caveat to this rule is that some shoes feel “odd” when standing in them, but feel great when running in them. A perfect example of this phenomenon would be Newton Running Shoes. The shoes have lugs which help you to run more toward your midfoot or forefoot.
  1. Buy your shoes when your feet are at their “biggest!” The best time to buy running shoes is later in the day AFTER you have run for the day. Not following this rule is probably the number one reason runners end up with shoes that are too short or small. Also, if you have wide feet, many brands have 2E and 4E widths, as well as 2A widths for skinny-footed runners. Also, Altra Running Shoes are designed to more accurately fit the foot, and tend to run wider. 
  1. Numbers are just a guide! Do not take the shoe size printed inside the shoe as gospel. Sizing varies considerably, even between models of the same brand. In fact, I have seen where there is even a different fit between COLORS of the same model! In other words, if you can try them on, that is what you should do. Women are especially “size” sensitive. Get over it, ladies! 
  1. Fit the bigger foot! If you have a discrepancy in length between your two feet, which is not uncommon, it is necessary to fit the longer foot, not the shorter one. Of course, the ideal situation is when you can find a pair of shoes that is just long enough for the longer foot, so you get the best fit possible on the shorter foot. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to purchase two pair of shoes in different sizes to get a good fit.
  1. Wear your own socks! You want to bring a pair of socks to try on shoes that is typical of those you normally wear when you run. Using a pair of “try-on” socks at the store can lead to buying a pair of shoes that don’t fit when you wear your own socks. A side note is that you want to wear Coolmax® socks, like these at Gizmo Socks. Other materials, such as bamboo and wool, have also been used to make moisture wicking socks. Many people suffer blisters when using cotton socks. Finally, if you wear shoe inserts or custom orthotics, make sure to bring them with you. Don’t assume that they will fit!
  1. Yes, you do want more than one pair! If you run more than 3X per week, or are really starting to add mileage, rotating 2 pair of running shoes is may be advisable. Doing so will allow them to dry out and for the foam to bounce back from being compressed. However, there is some debate as to whether you want 2 pair of the same model or two different models. There is no exact answer to that question. 
  1. Buy them before you need them! One trick in buying running shoes, especially if you want to rotate more than one pair, is to start with one pair of shoes. Then, when they have around 200 miles on them, buy a second pair. Continue this process so that you always have a newer pair for longer runs and an older pair for shorter runs. This approach also helps you to not get hit with the expense of two new pair at the same time.
  1. More expensive doesn’t mean better! As mentioned in a previous article, Expensive Running Shoes Are Not Better Than More Affordable Running Shoes. Also, beware of “trends” in running shoes. Minimalist shoes led to a lot of injuries, especially in older, heavier runners who had always run in more substantial shoes. Likewise, maximalist shoes can increase the likelihood of sprained ankles. Regardless, be careful when changing to a different type of shoes.

All feet are different. No matter how closely you follow these rules, you still may buy the wrong pair of shoes. One of the best things to do after you buy your new running shoes is to put them on and wear them around on a carpeted floor for about 30 minutes. Generally, you will be able to feel if these shoes are ultimately going to work. If they don’t feel right, you should be able to bring them back in new condition. However, if after running outside they don’t work, it is a plus if you purchased them from a store with a liberal return policy. For example, Roadrunner Sports offers a “90-Day Ultimate Test Run On Shoes,” where any pair can be returned within that period.

So now you should be ready to confidently buy that next pair of running shoes. Next up will be articles on alternative footwear, shoes vs. inserts, cross training, qualifying for the Boston Marathon, training plans, nutrition, weight loss, and more!

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Larry LaHodny has a B.S. in Physical Education, with Emphasis in Sports Medicine from Willamette University and an M.B.A. from National University. Larry has over 20 years’ experience coaching runners, including at the youth, high school, and adult level. Larry has trained National Champions, All-Americans, State Champions, and Boston Marathon qualifiers.