Running Shoes

Getting the correct type of shoes is critical to running without injury. However, unless you're a podiatrist it's hard to know what shoes to buy. Choose wisely, because wrong shoes are one of the most common causes of running injuries.



Be prepared to pay close to $100 (or more) for your shoes. You'll probably be running 400 or 500 miles per pair of shoes, and your body will take a lot of pounding. Each step subjects your body to a shock of 2-3 times your body weight. Your shoes are your main protection against that pounding. Running is a relatively low-cost sport, and your shoes are probably your biggest expense.


How to Buy Shoes

Dr. Weisenfeld in The Runners' Repair Manual (available at Amazon) has a chapter on "How to Buy Shoes" Let's take a look at what he says:
Personally, I believe you shouldn't have to have an engineering degree to buy a pair of running shoes. Beginning runners and experienced runners sometimes get very worried about whether they'll pick out the right shoes....But you can learn, in about fifteen minutes, how to buy the right shoes for you. -- The Runners' Repair Manual, copyright 1980, chapter 3, pp. 19-20
Here are a few points made by Weisenfeld. Read his chapter for more information.
  • Look at the heels of your present shoes. If they are worn more on one side than on the other, you need shoes that will give you correction.
  • You want about 1/2 inch of space between the ends of your toes and the inside edge of your shoes (toe box)
  • You want the width to be snug but not tight
  • Buy your shoes in the afternoon or evening because your feet swell during the day.
  • Put the shoes on a flat surface and look at the rear of them. The counters (the rear part that wraps around your heel) should sit square and straight on the shoe.
  • Get good cushioning and flexibility at the ball of the foot and in the heel
  • Get good arch support in the shoes
  • Overweight runners, and runners with arthritis or knee damage, may need extra cushioning from liners.

  • Runners with Achilles tendinitis need extra lift in the back of the shoe.

  • For shin splints, be sure the shoes are flexible and have good heel lift ability.
  • For corns on top of your toe, or black toe nails, get more room in the toe box.


Three types of Shoes

Because of the ways a runner's foot moves when it hits the ground, shoe manufacturers make three types of shoes to counteract that movement. During running, most runners land on the outer side of their heel and then their body weight shifts towards the center of the shoe. Many runners have the correct amount of shifting of body weight, and those runners have a neutral gate. Some runners suffer from pronation, where the weight shifts too much and your shoes have excessive wear on the inner side of the heel/sole. Other runners suffer from supination, where the weight doesn't shift enough and you get excessive wear on the outer side of the heel/sole.
Here are articles about buying shoes.
Runner's World magazine has a yearly "shoe issue" that gives recommendations for shoes, and the RW web site has good information about shoes.


Shop for Specials

When you buy your first pair of shoes, go to a reputable running store so you will get the correct type of shoes for your feet. These stores usually have clerks who are trained in properly fitting shoes. The clerks usually watch you walk so they can observe the movement of your feet (some stores take videos of you walking). After you have selected a a brand and model of a shoe, walk around the store for 10 minutes to be sure the shoe feels comfortable and doesn't allow your feet to slip inside the shoe. Ask about the return policy of the store. When you go shopping, wear the same stockings you will use during your runs, and shop in the afternoon, if possible, because your feet swell during the day.

When you buy your second pair of shoes, try and get the same brand and model of the shoes you've been wearing (assuming they have worked fine for you). By doing this, you will have an assurance that the new shoes will work for you since the shoes you are replacing have done so. And, you can now shop for specials, locally as well as on the Internet, because you know the exact brand, model, and size that you should use.


Your Shoes are Collapsing

As we run, our bodies are subjected to heavy shock and pounding. A number of years ago, I had surgery and couldn't run for about six weeks. I had been running an hour during my lunch period, so I used that hour to walk. After my recovery period, I resumed my running. On the first day that I ran, I had knee pains. The pains weren't serious and didn't lead to injury, but they helped me realize that running really does pound our bodies!

Running shoes are built to cushion our bodies from that shock and pounding. However, after many miles of use, shoes lose their cushioning and should be replaced. Following is a statement I gleaned from a running newsletter that gives a suggestion about reducing the collapse of the material in the soles of our shoes.
A runner who runs daily should alternate a minimum of two pairs of shoes. Why? Because each time you run, some air cells in the midsole collapse. If you look at the midsole material under a microscope, you'll see material similar to a sponge, with round air cells throughout it. As you run, some of these cells will collapse or flatten out. If you allow the material to recover, by alternating your shoes, many cells will return to a round shape filled with air. If you run daily with the same shoes, these air cells will flatten and remain flat permanently--hence, you experience midsole breakdown, especially if you are a heavier runner. -- George Lecours, Striding Along, February/March 1996, A Publication of the Gate City Striders, Nashua, NH
Shoe-collapse is probably the main reason why runners only get 400-500 miles on a pair of shoes, although newer designs are incorporating new materials that have less collapse.


Anonymous said...

I think your recommendations on running shoes are BS. For years, I have been buying the most expensive shoes with the latest in support, cushioning, etc., and all I've experienced is injuries - knees, Achilles, you name it. Lately, I've been running barefooted or with minimal shoes with GREAT results. Highly-engineered shoes CAUSE injuries, not prevent them!

Anonymous said...

It's not the shoes pal, it's you. The biggest downfall of the internet is that it allows people like this to make these kind of comments. Most ridiculous thing I've seen on a running site in a while. Yeah genius, no one designing running shoes has any idea what they are doing. Are you serious?

Allen said...

Hey Anon,

Thanks for your comments about running barefooted. There are runners who do that. I need to read more about not using shoes, and when I've learned more, I'll add appropriate comments to this page.

Wayne said...


Great page on choosing shoes. Different people have different feet. It's not the price of the shoe that matters most, it is the fit.

Running barefoot? It has some benefits, works muscles in the feet that atrophy when we wear stiff shoes all the time. When these muscles are developed we run much better. But be carefull. Any radical change is likely to cause injury. Transition to lighter more flexible shoes should be gradual.

Allen said...

"Any radical change is likely to cause injury. Transition to lighter more flexible shoes should be gradual."

Great advice, Wayne. Thanks!

Lilia said...

I am looking for "how to choose running shoes " information. I found this blog that have info I need. Thank you for that

Allen said...

Hi Lilia,

There have been a lot of changes in running shoes, over the years. A few years ago, running shoes started having round laces, and I always had problems keeping the laces tight. I found that double knotting the laces kept the laces tight. I recently got a pair of Saucony shoes that had flat laces. I'm hoping flat laces will become popular again.

Alisa Stevenson said...

Every runner needs to have the perfect running shoe that fits well and works well for them. Specific footwear characteristics should match the individual needs of a runner. It is important to know which kind of running footwear match your specific goals and individual needs. Read here about how to choose the best running shoes for women