I know what it’s like to get overwhelmed when it comes to options for finding the right running shoe because there are quite simply too many choices. Some of it is marketing and sales ploys but a quality shoe isn’t necessarily about the style and color. And a good pair will probably be pricey, as in most important investments. But picking the prettiest or most expensive may not be the right fit for YOU.
There are several aspects involved to individualize the process of buying sneakers which include foot type, weight, biomechanics, running style (forefoot, midfoot, or heel striker), weekly mileage, road or trail running, and cushion preference among a few. Each category can take up its own blog but for the simplest and quickest way to pick a shoe, especially for a novice, go by your foot type.
Basically, this is the type of foot you are given with birth and is dependent on where your arch rests in standing.
Try this wet test to determine your foot type. You will need water, a shallow pan, and a paper bag.
- Pour a thin layer of water into a shallow pan
- Wet the bottom of your foot
- Step onto the paper bag and put weight onto that foot
- Step off and look at the shape of your foot
Compare your shape to the following shapes.
Flat/Over Pronator (low) Arch: If you see no visible arch, this typically means you probably collapse inward when you run. This can cause additional stress to your feet and knees and increasing your risk of injury. Motion control footwear is recommended. These types of shoes emphasize medial support with the use of internal wedges, dual-density midsoles, and supportive posts.
Normal/Neutral Pronator (Medium) Arch: Typically the most common foot type, the arch that naturally supports bodyweight and pronates normally under load. Some pronation of the foot is desirable and acts as a natural shock absorber. Most runners with this pattern can wear just about any shoe, but typically stability or neutral shoe is recommended. This type combines cushion and neutral support features into its design.
High Arch/Supinator: If you see little arch contact and more of the heel and the ball of your foot, you have a high arch. Your foot may not roll in much when you run, but it also doesn’t absorb much shock. It is recommended to use a well-cushioned shoe with little or no arch support or stability features. Cushioned footwear emphasizes enhanced shock dispersion in its midsole.
If you have the ability, ask your physical therapist to analyze your gait mechanics in a running analysis video. This will help determine the type of striker you are or where you may have faulty biomechanics that can be addressed with a formal treatment plan.
Some people have a preference to improve speed but others choose shoes for comfort. The firmer and thinner the midsole, the faster you are but the higher impact on your feet (this leans towards the minimalist group). The softer and more supportive your shoe, the more comfort you will experience but at the cost of slowing your pace.
Once you are aware of your foot type and running style, seek out a fit specialist from a specialty running store who can assist you by asking questions about running and injury history, looking at old shoe wear patterns, and observing you run. You should absolutely try on and run in any shoe before you buy it.
Update 2/26/16: my good friend and colleague Dominick Marchesiello, PT, DPT and owner of Advanced Foot Orthotics in Saratoga Springs, NY who works closely with specialty running store Fleet Feet, pointed out my original lists contained some errors. Check out this corrected list to find the right brand and model for you!
Picking the right shoes for running is a process of experimentation and elimination. It will be purely subjective based on the right fit, feel, and functionality. And if you are training for a marathon, expect to buy two pairs. The typical shoe can last about 300-500 miles. For a marathoner or high mileage runner, expect to be replacing your sneakers every 6 months. I’ve personally stuck with Asics GEL-Nimbus for each of my marathons because I need extra cushioning for my toe box, and through 7 marathons I’m not gonna fix what ain’t broken!
What’s your favorite running shoe?