Part One: An Ode to the Run Specialty Shop from a Shoe Guru, Holly Martin
When I first started running, I loved it because it was so simple. Put on some shoes, and just go. Obviously, it’s not that simple, and you’re not going to go running naked with just your shoes, right? But honestly, your running shoes are probably the most important part of your running wardrobe. They’re what separates you from the road, and when you consider that up to three times your body weight is exerted on your foot at every step, it’s pretty important to get a high-quality shoe that can take the mileage.
Now, full disclosure: I’ve worked at three different running stores over the last 6+ years, so I have some pretty strong opinions about buying in-store versus online. While I understand that’s it not always an option for everyone, I wholeheartedly believe that everyone is better off purchasing shoes from a locally owned running specialty shop whenever possible, and I will be focusing on that particular method of shoe buying.
One of the perks about shopping local is that you can get a gait analysis, which is a quick test to see what style of shoe would work best for you. This doesn’t mean that the sales associate is going to recommend a specific brand, or even a specific model — but they will typically recommend a level of stability, depending on whether you overpronate, underpronate, or have a neutral foot. (More on that in another post!)
After the gait analysis, you’ll be able to try on multiple pairs of shoes that fit your stability type, which is another bonus to shopping local. Make sure you’re actually running in the shoes, not just standing up and walking a few steps. My preferred method is to put a different shoe on each foot and run around the store– it’s a quick way to try on a lot of options but eliminate them easily.
The best pair is the one that feels so good, you forget it’s even there. If you’re noticing a weird bump, or it’s pinching somewhere, try on a new one. If it’s noticeable now, it could become a bigger problem a few miles down the road. Another important thing to remember is that running shoes are made to fit a big audience of people, so if you don’t get a perfect fit right out of the box, don’t fret. Heel slippage can be fixed with the runner’s lace (using the back eyelet of the shoe that most people ignore), and many shoes are laced relatively tightly and can be easily loosened up for a better fit.
This is the part where it’s easy to get distracted. Make sure you’re choosing shoes based on how they FEEL, not how they LOOK. Most shoes are available in multiple colors anyway, so if you’re unhappy with how they look, you can always choose another!
Another option is to add an orthopedic insert to the shoes for additional arch support. Some places will tell you that you need it, but this is where you need to use your best judgment. Many people only need the additional insert if the support of the shoe isn’t enough, which the associate should tell you. You can also add an insert if you prefer having something directly under your arch, as most running shoes are pretty flat on the inside.
Once you’ve chosen your shoe, ask about the return policy. Most run specialty shops have very generous return policies and allow exchanges for 30, 60, or even 90 days. That means you can take your shiny new shoes out for a few runs to make sure they’re the winners… and if not, take them back and try something else.
Now, the nitty gritty. Most running shoes will last you between 300-500 miles, depending on the surfaces you run on (softer surfaces = more mileage), the efficiency of your stride (more efficient = more mileage), and the composition of the shoe (more cushion = more mileage). Running shoes are generally $100-150 for medium-cushion and high-cushion models, and many running stores have discount styles too. The good news is that many running stores have rewards programs too (that are free to join, FYI) where you get a percentage back of the money you’ve spent!
Finally, keep an eye on the event calendar of your local shop. Many stores team up with brands to do demo nights where you can test out new shoes on the run. The brand reps are more than happy to answer questions and give you recommendations, too!
I’ve had customers tell me that shopping for running shoes is always a chore, that it’s not easy and they never have any luck. While I agree that it’s not as easy as picking your favorite pizza from the frozen section, it shouldn’t feel like a job! Go in with an open mind, make sure you clearly communicate what you want and how everything feels, and ask a lot of questions. These are the perks of shopping in a store, so take advantage of them!