So, what's a not-so-knowledgeable consumer to do? Below, I've compiled some tips on trying, tying, and buying running shoes:
- Determine your gait and shoe model. Figure out whether you have high arch (supinated), flat (pronated), or neutral feet. Figuring this out will help you know what type of shoe you should look for (stability, support, etc.), and there are a ton of resources online to help with this. One site suggests the "wet test": get your foot wet and step onto concrete or another surface that will leave an imprint. Use this image to help you determine your gait:
- Got to a real running store. Please don't pick your shoes from amongst the basketball and volleyball shoes. Go to a honest-to-goodness running store that is dedicated to all things running.
- Let the salesperson help you. Don't be afraid to admit that you don't really know what you're looking at, and don't worry if they start asking you 20 questions. The seemingly endless interrogation will end (how far do you normally run? trails or roads? how many miles per week do you average? do you have joint pain?). He or she may even ask you to jog to see if you are pigeon-toed or have any other needs in a shoe that you may be unaware of. If none of these things occur, it may be time to move to a new shop that really cares about fitting you with the right shoe.
- Check the width. Runner's World explains that the ball of the foot (the widest part) should fit exactly to the width of the shoe. Furthermore, your foot should "rest gently against the sides of the shoe, rather than jamming up against them or not touching at all. Also, be sure your toes aren't being pinched from the side."
- Leave room for your toes. A lot of people make the mistake of buying running shoes that fit "just right," with their toes nearly touching the end of the shoe. Rather, a well-fitting shoe on a typical runner will have about a half to full thumb's width between the big toe and the end of the shoe. Leaving adequate room at the end of the shoe will help save those precious toenails, as well as avoid pain and soreness from long runs.
- Lace it right. I only recently learned this one, but it has been important in maintaining stability in my foot. Not surprisingly, Runner's World has a great tying guide, including videos. I prefer the loop lock, which helps keep my narrow foot from sliding forward.
- Try it out. Take the shoes for a test run...a real test run. Jog outside, around the corner, up and down a hill if you can. It's worth it: you'll be taking these puppies on some long runs, and they're not cheap, either.
- Ask about the return policy. Good running stores will have a good return policy...say, if your foot goes numb after mile five or you find that the support isn't enough. Make sure that you can return or exchange them until you find your perfect fit.
Of course, this how-to guide isn't complete, but it is a good starting place. At the end of the day, probably the most important things are finding a good running store with a knowledgable staff to help you and not being afraid to really try the shoes until you find the perfect one. Good luck, and happy buying!