Finding the perfect running shoe

Finding the perfect running shoe
The warmer weather means people get active. It also means many runners will become more visible and new running shoes are often on peoples buying list. Running stores during the latest recession were busy because running is an inexpensive sport. You put on shoes, go outside or on your home treadmill and go. There is little else that is needed except for maybe the ipod shuffle which is inexpensive as well.

Which shoe should you buy?

This depends on your style of running (road or trail, track). This also depends on your feet too.

Trail running – These shoes are designed with a bottom designed to handle the uneven pavement and to maximize ground contact. For example, here is a New Balance shoe designed for trails and notice the bottom.

Regular Running Shoe – This is most common and as you can see from the bottom, this has a different type of contact surface. This too is a New Balance Shoe.

This is a racing shoe, specific for running on a track and typically used for sprinting and also longer runs of perhaps 400 or 800 or more meters. You would not want to use these running for a few miles since they offer little support and are purely built for speed. They also have little or no support or cushioning. These also accommodate spikes on the bottom as shown, for better grip and speed.

Other things you need to know about running shoes.

Last Style – All three pictures are of the shoes last (bottom of the shoe). Typically, there are two basic styles of last – Curved and straight. People with flat feet or feet that toe out should wear a straighter last. Those with high arches typically do not require as much support unless they toe out significantly, and they are ok with a curved last which is more flexible. Most stores offer straighter lasts with different degrees of motion control. The more you toe out or the flatter your feet are, the theory goes, you should have more motion control. Here is a photo of different last styles. The shoe on the left has a more curved last (less motion control_) and the one on the right is much stiffer (more motion control), preferable with someone with very flat feet.

Often, people will spend quite a bit on a very controlling shoe which tends to be quite stiff and on long runs, feel clunky. I usually recommend dialing down the stiffness and instead, substituting either a custom foot orthotic or and off the shelf one. The less controlling shoes are more comfortable and less expensive, and you can purchase an insert such as this model by Superfeet inexpensively, which will give you the motion control in a more comfortable shoe. In the racing shoes, which are quite snug, superfeet makes a smaller dress orthotic which will go right in the shoe and take up little room in it. As I explain to most of our runners, if we improve your performance with an orthosis, you will reduce your times and improve your running efficiency, which translates into faster runs and fewer injuries.

Many running stores now feature treadmills, which is a great tool for you. They use it to sell the shoe, you can use it to buy the best shoe for you. You can actually use their camera’s on the treadmill to figure out the best shoe for you. Most stores have knowledgeable salespeople who understand the power of using a treadmill and its camera system in slow motion to see how you hit the ground with a particular shoe. One thing that I have pointed out to many store salespeople is that if you put off the shelf inserts in people who truly need them, their shoes wear better, they hit the ground with less force (less calf , shin and Achilles pain and soreness) and since their stride will open up, their times improve with the same level of effort.

One last thing… Proper fit.

Never ever just use the stores Braddock device (the metal measuring tool all shoe stores use) as the ultimate guide to the best shoe because it is not. It is just a guideline. Most running shoes are made over seas and the last size can be as much as 1/2 size different depending on the factory it was manufactured in. When trying on shoes, ignore where the toes end (some of us have longer and shorter toes) and put the shoe on. Your foot bends at a certain point when you lift your heel off the ground with the forefoot planted. The shoe is designed to bend at the same place (look for where the shoe curves on the inside of the last on the bottom). Your foot should bend at that place. If your foot bends in front of that curve, the shoe is too small and you should go to the next size. If the shoe feels ok in the width, the next size will be longer but also wider. You may wish to try a narrower size if the shoe feels to lose at the proper length. Also, if your heel slides with the right fit, you can use the last loop in the shoe which will pull the heel in better and prevent sliding which can cause blisters.

Buy what feels right for you. Certain brands fit certain styles of feet better. People with a wide forefoot will love Saucony. They will likely also like Asics. People with normal withs will like Nike, Addidas, regular New Balance (who makes narrow and wide as well as Nike). Brooks have a nice feel and are gentle on the mid step for people who are sensitive there.

I hope this helps. What do you think? As always, I value your opinion. Email your questions to