10 tips for buying running shoes

Running has been my primary fitness activity since I completed my undergraduate degree and started running to stay in shape for activities like hiking and softball. I love running not only the health benefits running offers but being able to enjoy being outdoors for most of my runs.

New Balance shoes

I’ve run in several different brands of running shoes. New Balance is my preference because I have narrow feet.

I’ve even included running in my teaching, with an assignment where students created ads for running shoes based on doing research on a particular model. Students have told me that they began running because of that assignment — and my enthusiasm for running.

I’m often asked for advice on how to select running shoes. Getting a pair of running shoes that fits you and matches your running needs is important to provide you with a comfortable run and to help you avoid running injuries.

So here are my 10 tips.

Tip #1 – Think about your feet and your running goals before you get to the store.

By thinking about your running goals and what you already know about your feet will help you answer the questions the shoe salesperson will ask (or should ask).

  • How much do you run every week?
  • What kind of surface do you run on – pavement, trails?
  • Do you have any running issues, like overpronating?
  • Anything special about your feet that could affect fit – wide, narrow heels, high arches?
  • What running shoes have you worn previously – and how did those shoes work?
  • How much are you willing to spend on running shoes?

Tip #2 – Purchase shoes from a store that has staff who are knowledgable in selling running shoes.

You want a salesperson who can assist you with the models and fit of shoes – and not just someone who can find a shoe size in the storeroom and process your purchase. A knowledgable salesperson can help you determine the best shoe for your feet and your running. You may have a particular brand and style in mind, but the salesperson can show you other shoes that could work and give you the ability to compare different shoes.

Tip #3 – Try on running shoes later in the day.

As the day progresses and you’ve been standing, your feet swell. So a pair of shoes that would fit well when you try them on the morning might be too tight in the late afternoon. So try on running shoes later in the day.

Tip #4 – Try on the shoes with the kind of socks that you’ll be wearing with the shoes.

rack of running socks

You have lots of choices for style of running socks.

How shoes fit and how they feel when you run is affected by the socks you wear. You want to try on the shoes with the kind of socks that you plan to wear when you run.

For example, if you try on shoes with thin socks and then run with thicker socks, the shoes may be too tight.

Gone are the days of just plain white cotton socks. Lots of choices in colors and styles. You can chose socks of different blends to be more breathable. You can select socks that provide arch support or five toe socks.

Tip #5 – Focus on the fit, not the shoe size.

With running shoes, you want a little space between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe because your foot will be moving a little when you run. You may find that the running shoe that is the best fit is a half or whole size larger than your dress shoes. If you are too focused on the shoe size, you may end up with a pair of shoes that are your usual fit but are too small for comfortable running and can lead to blisters or other injuries. (I can attest to that.)

Tip #6 – Be aware that running shoes have different designs.

By doing some research ahead of time —  checking online or reading running magazines — you can become familiar with some of the factors involved in your running shoe decision.

Arch – You should know if you have a high arch, a normal arch or a flat arch because running shoes are designed with different arch support. If you aren’t sure, you can do a simple test to determine what type of arch you have.

Pronation – Pronation is how your foot rolls when it lands as you run. Everyone’s foot is going to roll some, but if you overpronate (rolling to the inside of your foot) or underpronation (rolling to the outside of your foot), you can develop running injuries. Shoes are designed to help control how your foot lands.

Cushioning – One of the big changes in running shoes in the last few years is shoes with less cushioning — minimal running shoes. A knowledgable running shoes salesperson can help you decide if you need more or less cushioning, which depends on your foot strike — whether you land on your heel or land on the ball of your foot.

Barefoot running – When I’m at the beach, I almost always see at least one person running barefoot. Over the years, I’ve seen a few barefoot runners running on pavement in road races. But most runners who are barefoot runners are taking a minimalist approach to their running shoes and not actually running barefoot. In addition to the less-cushioned running shoes, some wear “barefoot shoes.” Again, the knowledgable running shoes salesperson can help you decide if barefoot shoes match your foot type and your running objectives.

Tip #7 – Take (or wear) your current running shoes to the store.

Especially if you have had an issue with your current running shoes or are having a running-related issue (such as sore arches or achy shins), take your current running shoes to the store. The salesperson can examine your shoes to look for shoe wear. That can help in determining what shoe you need.

Tip #8 – Try out running in the shoes before buying them.

treadmill in running store

Trying out running shoes on a treadmill can let you better determine the fit.

Almost any running shoe that fits is going to feel good when you stand on carpeting in the store. You need to try out the shoes.

Some stores that sell running shoes have a treadmill that you can use to run in the shoes or even provide a running area in the store. Some stores will let you run in the mall or store’s parking log to try out the shoes.

I’ve found running in the shoes before buying them to be very helpful. For example, a pair of shoes that felt fine when I took a few steps didn’t work when I ran in them on the treadmill and could feel pressure on the arch of one foot.

Tip #9 – Purchase the shoes from a store that allows for exchanges or returns.

Even running briefly in the shoes on the treadmill at the store isn’t the same as actually going on a run in them. When you purchase a new pair of shoes, try to go for a run in them in the day or two and go on a surface where the shoes won’t get dirty. That way if the shoes don’t work, you can promptly return them to the store for an exchange or return.

Tip #10 – Avoid purchasing shoes online unless you’ve actually tried on the specific style and size.

Many of us who have been running for a number of years can tell at least one story of purchasing a pair of shoes online that didn’t work out. You get this year’s model of the same shoes you had last year, but this year’s model has a change in design. You normally get a particular size but the this year’s model run a little small but you don’t know that. So you order the shoes online, and they are too small. Wearing a shoe that’s isn’t the correct fit – even if the shoes were a good price – can lead to running injuries, from blisters to strains.

Running is a terrific athletic activity — from improving your health to helping you make new friends and connect with nature. But the foundation (literally) for success long-term running is the right pair of running shoes.

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