How to Choose Running Shoes

Part of Coach Lydia's Shoe Collection.
Part of Coach Lydia’s Shoe Collection.

Wearing the wrong running shoes can lead to injury. With so many different running shoes, how do you choose? We have advice to help you find the right shoe for you.

Runners have a love affair with their shoes, and there are certainly plenty of options and brands to consider. Technology constantly changes and influences running shoe designs like it does everything else. You shop around and research when you buy a computer or phone, so why not shoes?

Whether you are new to running or just looking to expand your running shoe repertoire, we have assembled some advice for how to find the right running shoes.

Why Shoes Are Important

When we run, our feet hit the pavement with force. Each impact sends that force up to the ankle, through the leg to the knee and hip. Our feet are the first part of us to feel that force. As a result, our tootsies need shoes with the right cushion and support.

Wearing the wrong shoes can lead to injuries. For example, shin splints, a well-known runner injury often caused by overloading the muscles or tendons along the shinbones, can result from shoes that are too narrow. In tight, ill-fitting shoes, your toes are cramped together and may even be bent at the ends of the shoes. Worn out shoes can also contribute to shin splints.

Another common injury runners experience is plantar fasciitis. This happens when there is inflammation of the tissue on the bottom on the feet that can lead to stiffness and pain in the arch. This is commonly caused by unsupportive footwear.

In fact, this is a good time to note that we do not recommend the barefoot running shoes for most people for this reason among others. The only people who should embrace that trend are people who are accustomed to being barefoot and who are very lightweight.

With so many potential footwear pitfalls and so many options, how do you know what shoes are right for you?

Before You Buy

First off, if you intend to get serious about running, you will need the appropriate shoes with the right comfort, shock absorption, balance, support and design for your specific needs. Without the proper shoe, running will end up being pretty unpleasant, if not painful, and to quote the band Three Dog Night, “That ain’t the way to have fun.”

The best thing to do when shopping for the right shoe is to go to a store that specializes in running footwear and apparel like 1st Place Sports. The store you choose needs to offer a personalized experience where a knowledgeable staff member will analyze your particular needs, conduct a gait analysis and a shoe fitting. Some shops will even let you go on a short test run.

For new runners, gait analysis studies the motion involved when you run. Pronation is a big part of this analysis. Pronation is the inward roll of the foot as the heel hits the ground. When it comes to those who over-pronate, you need a shoe to stop that excessive inward rolling, or you will end up with sore knees.

Supination or under-pronation lacks enough inward roll and instead rolls outward. These runners tend to have higher arches. Shoes may be a powerful indication of this according to a Runner’s World article called, “Supination, Explained,” as these people wear out the entire outside edges of shoes, and if placed on a flat surface, the shoes tilt outward.

Neutral pronation happens when the foot lands on the outer edge and rolls inward neither too much nor too little so that weight is evenly distributed, body is aligned, shock is absorbed as much as possible, and the pressure of pushing off the ground is also even.

Even neutral runners can develop issues from wearing the wrong shoes. If a neutral runner wears stability shoes, the shoes can markedly change the gait because the shoe is designed to prevent the rolling, which helps those who need it but will actually hurt those who don’t.

When you have your gait analyzed, ask for multiple recommendations and try many shoes. Your own perception of comfort will be a great guide for you. Another tip is if you find the shoes for you, buy at least two.

Most runners have at least two (if not many, many more) pairs of shoes, which prolongs the life of each pair. Also, if you find shoes you love, be warned, we have found through experience that those are often the ones that end up getting discontinued. Yet another reason to buy more running shoes!

Coach Lydia once bought 40 pairs of one of her favorites when she heard rumors the shoes were soon to be discontinued. She got a really good deal on those shoes, lol!

Close up of some of Coach Lydia's shoes.
Close up of some of Coach Lydia’s shoes.

Types of Shoes

If all of that info wasn’t enough, there are also different types of shoes that we will briefly introduce.

  1. Trainers

Trainers are your affordable, everyday shoe. While they do have cushioning, they don’t have as much cushion as running shoes. Trainers and running shoes have different soles because running shoes are designed for straight, forward movements with smooth soles for less traction whereas trainers are heavier and designed for lateral movements. Wearing trainers while running can eventually lead to injuries.

  • Spikes

Spikes are precisely what they sound like. These shoes will not be in most runner’s closets as they are meant for racing at the track. They can be hard on the calves because the plates of spikes are heavy. These shoes are designed to go fast. They can also be used for cross-country when running on grass.

  • Flats

Flats are for racing on the track or road. These lightweight shoes are built for speed. They are great for interval work or if you want a lighter shoe for moderate to faster paces. Flats make an affordable option for races, but they should not be your only running shoe.

  • Carbon-plated Flats

Carbon-plated flats are the more impressive relative to flats. These shoes are expensive and designed for optimum performance in races. They wear out quickly but are an investment, especially if you are running after a PR.

  • Long-run Shoes

Long-run shoes are for you if your objective is to run long-distances instead of focusing on running fast. The many miles require cushion, comfort, stability and responsiveness.

A Shoe We Are Excited About

Nike Air Zoom Tempo NEXT% expands on the Zoom Air innovation of the air pods beneath the feet, which increase energy return and propulsion. This new shoe has those pods isolated from the foam and stabilized by a plate that is not as rigid as previous designs. The purpose of this shoe is to get your foot to build strength. We are excited because the intentions behind this shoe’s design would be great for protecting the leg, especially for older runners.

View of Nikes from the ground.
View of Nikes from the ground.

Things to Consider

When our shoes get worn out, our feet are the first to feel the effects. Check for signs of wear in the foam. Little horizontal lines mean it might be time for those shoes to be retired. If your shoes feel loose, it might be time to lose the shoes.

If you are slipping and tripping, you probably need new shoes, especially if it is happening on dry surfaces. If you are someone who easily ignores the signs, you can write the date somewhere on your shoes where it won’t rub off and figure that in at least six months, you will probably need to replace you kicks.

Some apps have features to keep track of this stuff. Isn’t it a saying these days that there is an app for that? Strava can likely keep you on track with your running shoes and when they need to be replaced.

Although runners love their shoes, and we certainly do, nothing is more important than having the proper form. New runners and runners who have had injuries can really benefit from having professional assistance with form and subsequent advice on shoes. Having the right form when running is even more important than the shoes.

For more information or to discuss having one of our experienced coaches here in Jacksonville, Florida and the surrounding areas help find the right form and shoe for you, contact us at Personal Running Solutions.

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