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How to Find the Perfect Pair of Running Shoes

 How to Find Perfect Running Shoes

One of the most important decisions you can make as a runner is choosing the right pair of running shoes.

It’s important to spend both time and money to pick out the best shoes for you.  Without proper running shoes, you won’t be running for very long.  While you can choose a shoe off of the shelf, it’s important to get properly fitted by an expert.

How to find the perfect running shoe

Thinking out loud, proper running shoes are going to prevent many injuries such as shin splints and plantar fasciitis.  They are going help you run faster and further because aches will be the last thing you’re thinking about.

So how do you find the best running shoes?

First, it’s important to realize there is no “best-running shoe.”  Each running shoe is designed for a different foot type.  What works for me, might not work for you or your friend.  Reading internet shoe reviews isn’t going to help you find a shoe that will help you.  Every foot is different, including your left and right.

Second, go to a running specialty store. Employees at running speciality stores go through training to figure out which shoes work for which feet.  They can tell you within a matter of minutes which shoe will work for you.  A process that can take you hours will be cut into minutes.  Employees at running stores also have a wealth of knowledge about the sport of running including local events and races.  They are runners themselves and will know local races or even doctors or podiatrists.

You should plan to spend time in the store because the employee will ask you several questions, take a look at your feet, gait and running form.  Don’t get to the store 5 minutes before closing time and expect to have time to be fitted.

So what should you expect?

First, the employee will ask you several questions such as:

  • What are you using the shoes for?
  • Every day walking? Training? Racing? Gym classes?  There is no right or “good” answer!
  • Do you have any aches or pains? Do you have blisters or black toenails? Do you have shin splints or knee pain? Pain in your hips or back? Let the employee know everything and anything…but please don’t show me an open wound.
  • What kind running are you doing?
  • How often you run?
  • Where do you run? What kind of surface are you running on? Grass? Sidewalk? The treadmill?
  • Are you training for race or event

Those are just a few questions you might encounter about your personal activity.

Then the employee will look at the shape of your feet as well as the arch.  It’s extremely common for someone to have two different sized feet.  They will look to see if you pronate,supinate or have a neutral gait.  Determining your foot type is the most important part of finding the right running shoes.

Next, the employee will measure your foot. Keep in mind, your foot size changes and grows.  After having children, most women gain a half size.  Even if you’ve been the same size for years, your foot might have gotten longer or wider.

Another thing to keep in mind is running shoes should be 1/2 to a full size bigger than your casual shoe size.  There are very few exceptions to this rule.  When you workout, your feet swell.  If you are losing toenails, chances are your shoes are too small.  Blisters also form at the top of your feet because of improper sizing.  As someone who works in a speciality store, about 75% of athletes who come in are wearing the wrong size shoe.

After the employee is done proding you with questions, they’ll bring a few options that are best fits for you.  They’ll have you try them on and run around in them.   From there you will decide how you like the shoe.  Do you prefer a soft shoe? Firm? Light weight or heavier? Only you can decide what feels right.

Make sure you are ready to run.  Standing awkwardly in the shoe for one second isn’t going to decide whether you like the shoe or not.  You should run in each pair of shoes.  Trust the employee they have chosen appropriate shoes for you.  The employee’s job isn’t too bring out the wrong shoes.

After making your final decision make sure to test your shoes at home too.  If you develop pain, they may not be the right shoes. Most specialty stores have a policy to allow you to exchange the shoes even if you have run in them.  For instance, the store I work at allows you to exchange shoes for up to two weeks.  If they don’t work out, we want to know and for you to find something that does!

Since I work in a speciality running store, I do believe getting fit for a pair of shoes is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a runner.  There is no right or wrong answer for the best pair of running shoes, but there is a right or wrong answer for the best pair for you.

Other Posts You Might be Interested In:
There is No Perfect Running Shoe
There Difference Between Runners and Non-Runners
Why Running Shoe Reviews are (Mostly) Worthless
Why You Should Rotate Running Shoes

Questions for you:
What are your current pair of running shoes?
Have you ever been fit for a pair of running shoes?

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15 responses

  1. I have multiple pairs of shoes but stick with performance neutral shoes. That’s what I was fitted for (neutral runner, and being pretty light and efficient, the store said I don’t really need a lot of extra cushioning and when I’ve tried heavier shoes, they felt uncomfortable to me). I have been fitted and refitted a few times. It is good to get refitted after an injury of if it has been a few years because your feet can change and your running needs can change.

    Thanks for addressing this in your blog… so many people start out running in the wrong shoes, then get hurt and quit. A lot of people will just run in whatever tennis shoes they had from high school or college and are most likely already worn out from walking/daily activities/life. You may not run all your life, but you only have one set of feet for life… so good shoes are important!

  2. Like Amy I run in various running shoes depending on the race, training session, weather. I generally buy Brooks and currently run in Launch 3’s and GTS 14’s. For trail running I have branched off to ASICS. I believe that any serious runner needs to have more than one type of shoe. Running shoes are designed with specificity in mind. If you run on the trail and the pavement, you need a shoe for both.

    You make a lot of great points about considering all the factors before buying. I also agree that going to a running store will help immensely, even if you end up buying the shoe somewhere else (although I wholeheartedly endorse supporting your local running store). Do not buy a shoe that you cannot return or exchange. You will absolutely buy a shoe at some point that just doesn’t work. Unless you have lots of money to throw away, you need to be able to exchange them for something that does work.

    Tip: Consider the laces. I have purchased shoes before that worked great for my feet, but the laces were a pain. Some of them don’t stay tied well. I don’t know how that escapes the design part of shoe development, but you may want to consider trading out laces if you find that to be case.

    • I had to buy laces for my shoes because the laces were too slick and waaaaaay too long! So I tried tying them tighter. But that only left a bruise on top of my foot. Excellent point!

  3. I have many different type of shoes. My go to all-around shoe is always the Saucony kinvaras for most training and marathons.for ultras i like Hokas. I am currently running in the new hoka claytons. I just ran the Pinellas trail challenge 46 miler in them and they were awsome.i do get fit at the local running store in Cape Coral(the run shoppe).Unfortunately my left foot is almost a half size longer than the left. For some reason itdoes not matter what type of shoe I am running in I still manage to lose a toenail or two. I used to be a heel striker and over the last year I have tried to change and I’m wondering if maybe that has been part of my problem.

  4. 75% of people are wearing the wrong shoes?! THat’s crazy! I’ve never dealt with blisters or black toe nails, but I do have issues with my knees sometimes that makes me wonder if it’s my shoe. Then again, I’ve always had knee problems so there’s that as well. Love the helpful post, Hollie!

  5. I usually get neutral shoes but since having my son I was recently told to get a stability shoe. Although I feel like it causes more issues than it solves!

  6. People ask me this all the time so these tips are great! I have found that I do best when I have a rotation of shoes. I have some that are best for long runs, some for speedwork and the ones I love for trail running.

  7. Ah I love my Altras! I’ve tried Mizuno, brooks and Asics but Altras seem to be my sole mate. When I’m running in them I just feel nothing but a natural stride. Like they’re molded to my feet. And gotta enjoy that wide toe box! Great post. You’re right on the money with all the points! 🙂

  8. I’m currently in love with my Altras! I was first fitted for shoes almost 10 years ago as a freshman in college at the local specialty shop (where I still shop and sometimes train!) and it’s been fun exploring different models. Nikes, New Balance, Salming, Altras…and of course I collect them for different kinds of training runs 😉 I whole-heartedly agree, it’s so important to consider all those questions you posed as well as gait and foot strike to find a good fit. I’ve definitely been in the boat too where I ended up with a pair of shoes that after a few miles just turned out to be a horrible fit. I felt bad that I’d already done a couple runs in the shoes, but my local store was adamant about finding me the right shoe and exchanging them. 💛
    PS I’ve also heard it’s good to shop in the afternoon when feet are swollen if you’re going to run long distance (which can cause your feet to swell). Thoughts on that?

    • You’re feet definitely swell as the day goes on. You should always accommodate by going a half to full size up. It’s not crucial to measure in the afternoon but it helps.

  9. I always always send new runner friends to my favourite running store in London. But i’ve heard some really shit things about other running stores like Sweatshop, who apparently now make you a custom insole whilst you wait to get your gait analysed, and then pressure you into buying it. Not cool.

  10. The shoes can make or break your run (or your foot). I started running over 6 years ago, and I broke my foot during a marathon due to the continued impact (and under training). My podiatrist told me to stop running and that my feet weren’t made for running. I stopped for a few years but started up again, this time training properly, but found the right shoes. I’m a big fan of the asics Nimbus shoe and the cushioning has saved my feet. Not only have I run numerous half marathons, I’m training for a full in October, and my feet have been 100% a-okay!

    I’m also a fellow NJ-er and I’m from Ocean County. My favorite store is one I’ve been going to forever and the same people still work there. I think it’s really important to go to a running store that actually employs runners! I’ve been to some brand name stores (I won’t name names) that push insoles and whatever shoe they want because they aren’t runners and don’t really know the shoes. They’re a bunch of high schoolers/college age kids, and it’s just a job to them. Which is fine, but if you really want to run and especially for distance runners, the right shoe is SOOOOOOO important!

    • I agree! What part of Ocean County? I’ve been wanting to get to more diners up there.

      Anyways, I definitely agree that the right shoes are important. I probably know which stores push insoles/which don’t. Not every person needs insoles and it’s important to think they can’t fix a bad shoe.

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