10 rules for finding your ideal running shoes

May 05, 2015                 5m read time
Kathy Murdock


Minimal, stability, cross-trainers—with so many styles and brands of running shoes out there, how do you choose the right shoes for you? Read on to find out how to narrow down all those options and find the perfect fit.

One of the best things about running is its simplicity. All you really need (unless you decide to go barefoot) is a pair of running shoes. Unfortunately, finding the right pair is not so simple. Not only do running shoes need to fit well, they need to work with your stride.

“Shoes that aren’t mechanically fit can cause a massive variety of injuries that get worse the more you run,” says Dr. Heather North, doctor of physical therapy at Red Hammer Rehab in Colorado. “Those injuries can range from simple shin splints to plantar fasciitis and even stress fractures.”

To help you find that perfect pair (and protect your feet), we’ve compiled the following key tips. You can thank us later when you're enjoying that first cushy 3-miler.

Dog following a runner in the street ZOZI

Dog following a runner in the street

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1. Track your miles

Running shoes should be replaced every 300 to 500 miles. Exactly how often you need to replace yours will depend on where your foot hits the pavement, how hard, and which surfaces you tend to run on.

2. Study your arches

Those with flat feet and low arches tend to overpronate while those with high arches are more likely to underpronate (that said, underpronation is rare). If your arch falls in the medium range, you likely have neutral or normal pronation.

Take this “wet test” at home to find out where your arches fall. Knowing what sort of arches you have will help you decide if you want a stability shoe (overpronators), a flexible well-cushioned shoe (underpronators), or a neutral shoe.

3. Do some sole searching

Another way to suss out if you over or underpronate is to look at the bottoms of your current running shoes. More wear on the outside of the sole is an indicator of underpronation. More wear on the interior of the shoe is a sign of overpronation. Wear that occurs on the outer heel to the big toe in an S shape could mean you have neutral pronation.

In the past, those who overpronated were encouraged to purchase specific shoes that controlled motion. This still stands true in some cases, particularly for runners who are extreme overpronators. However, a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows it may not be as important as once thought. The study looked at 927 new runners and found that moderate-pronators didn’t suffer more injuries than low-pronators even though both groups ran in neutral shoes. So unless you are an extreme overpronator, a neutral shoe might work for you.

4. Get support when you need it

Motion control shoes work by offering the most control to stop pronation, and they are good picks for those who are significant overpronators. Look for shoes that provide medial support.

runner adjusting laces mid-race ZOZI

runner adjusting laces mid-race

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5. Be mindful of swell times

Consider trying on shoes in the evening or after you’ve gone on a long run. You might find you need a size larger than you normally wear.

“Our feet contain many muscles, which play an important role in how the body stabilizes against impact during running,” says Dr. Emily Splichal, podiatrist and author of “Barefoot Strong: Unlock the Secrets to Movement Longevity.” “Just like all other muscles in the body, as these muscles work they will begin to swell from increased circulation.”

If you don’t account for this when you purchase shoes, you’ll pay for it on the days you go the distance.

6. It takes two

“Varying your shoes is important because injuries are caused from repeated trauma to tissue,” says Dr. North. “No one shoe is 100% perfect and by having at least two pairs of shoes that are not exactly the same, you insure that you offer variability to your feet and all of the tissue, joints, and bones that are affected by the mechanism of your feet.”

7. Listen to your body talk

Listen to your body when you wear new shoes those first several dozen miles. If aches and pains start telling you to stop, you might be wearing the wrong shoe. Dr. North notes that pain on the outside of the foot, knee, or hip can be associated with underpronation while knee pain, shin splints, and IT band issues might be created by overpronation.

8. Keep your options wide

If you have wide feet, choose shoes known for wider toe boxes or purchase a shoe that offers varying widths. Too-tight shoes can cause a host of problems, like blisters, and toe numbness. You don’t want the shoe so wide your foot slips around inside, but you’ll want some wiggle room for comfort.

9. Remember: Location, location, location

Running on pavement is a completely different beast from running on a trail covered in rocks, limbs, and stumps, and for this reason runners should tailor their shoes to the location they plan to run.

“Trail shoes... are designed with treads that are able to tolerate multi-directional movements and uneven surfaces,” says Dr. Splichal. “If you are running on a flat pavement in trail shoes you are fighting the transfer of forces between the ground on the foot.”

Trail running shoes feature traction on the bottom for tackling obstacles you might encounter off the grid. “As a general rule,” adds Dr. Splichal, “I would try to be as activity-specific with shoes as possible.” Which leads us to #10 ...

10. Don’t train for races in cross-trainers

Cross-trainers can take you from spinning class to kickboxing. But if you are accumulating serious mileage, you’re going to want true running shoes. “Shoes are designed with specific activities in mind,” says Dr. Splichal, “especially when it comes to the soles and treads on the sole.” Running shoes, she explains, are designed for linear movements. Cross-trainers are designed for multi-directional movement. For this reason, a cross-trainer may actually resist linear movements and could potentially lead to injury if used primarily for running.

runner leaping over rocks by the ocean ZOZI

runner leaping over rocks by the ocean

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Kathy Murdock

Kathy works as a freelance writer and marketer from her home in sunny Florida. An avid runner, she has completed nine half marathons and two full marathons, along with a variety of other racing distances. She loves her family, long runs, hot coffee, and peanut butter.

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