Finding the perfect pair of running shoes can be a challenge. There are so many brands, styles, and features to choose from.
Your local running store will have a lot of knowledge on brands, but it’s important to understand the various factors that will give you the best results from choosing good running shoes.
Let’s break down the key factors you should consider when picking out the best running shoes.
This article is not meant to replace a running store’s advice on which shoe is right for you. Running shoes are very personal to each runner and having an expert review your running gait in-person can be very helpful.
This article can help educate you to make the best choices when selecting a running shoe.
Your Shoes Are Your Contact Points
For running, your feet are your contact points, and they are the first to scream when they’re not happy. Shoes are the most important of all your running accessories. The right shoe can also help in preventing shin splints.
- They protect your feet from the impact of running. This can help to prevent injuries and make running more comfortable.
- They provide support for your feet and ankles, helping to keep them in alignment. This can help to improve your running form and efficiency.
- They can help to improve your performance by providing additional cushioning and traction.
- They can help you to run longer and faster by providing the necessary support and comfort.
- They can help you to save money in the long run by preventing injuries that could otherwise require medical treatment.
In short, good running shoes are critical.
There Are Two Types of Running Shoes
There are basically two types of running shoes – supportive and neutral. A professional at a running store can assist in analyzing your gait to let you know what you need.
Stability Running Shoes
The stability shoe provides a wider “base” than your foot size. Wearing a stability shoe helps if you over or under-pronate your foot when running.
Personally, I tend to land on the extreme outside of my left foot when running. If I were to wear neutral shoes, I would tend to roll my ankle more often. But by wearing stability shoes that “flare” out, they help stabilize my foot landing.
Also, the more cushion a shoe has, the taller the shoe sits. Because of this, most manufacturers will put some stability flaring into their shoes since the possibility of rolling your ankle increases the taller a shoe becomes.
Neutral Running Shoes
Neutral running shoes do not offer much corrective support in the sole portion. If you look straight down from the top, the sole will not be visible.
If you have an extremely efficient landing pattern with your stride, you’ll probably get by with neutral running shoes.
Neutral running shoes tend to be lighter since the majority of them have less foam than more stability-oriented shoes.
Should You Consider Your Arch Type?
I’m not going to suggest buying a running shoe based on your foot or arch type. Instead, I suggest using a running insole based on your foot/arch type and selecting a running shoe based on your running style. This is covered in the next section.
The Best Running Shoes For Your Foot Strike
Different shoes are designed for different types of running and foot strikes. I’m assuming that you are a distance runner or triathlete, so you’ll want to pick a shoe that is built for running longer distances.
Long-distance runners will want shoes with plenty of cushioning and support to protect their feet over the course of many miles. However more cushioning usually means heavier, so it’s important to find the right balance.
You’ll want a shoe that is cushioned, yet lightweight for maximum speed and agility.
You will want an expert at a running store to review your gait and determine if you are a pronator or supinator or neutral runner. This will help you narrow down your selection.
Get 1/2 Size Larger For Running Shoes
There are plenty of reasons for this and they mostly are about how your feet will swell during a long run. It’s important to realize that 1/2 size larger does not mean “loose fitting”, but rather slightly roomier, especially in the toe area. Your toes should not feel squished together at all. Here are some benefits to this:
1) Lessens the Risk of Blisters
Your feet will naturally swell due to the impact of your foot hitting the ground repeatedly. If your shoes are too tight, they can cause friction between your feet and the shoes, leading to painful blisters. By wearing shoes that are half a size larger, you give your feet enough room to swell without causing any friction or discomfort.
2) Reduces Toenail Damage
Running long distances can put a lot of pressure on your toenails, causing them to bruise or even fall off. Wearing shoes that are too small can exacerbate this problem, as your toes will be cramped and have no room to move. This can lead to serious foot problems and make it difficult to continue training.
3) Accommodates Orthotics
I highly recommend running insoles in your shoes, and it’s essential to have enough room to accommodate them. By wearing shoes that are half a size larger, you can easily fit your inserts into your shoes without causing any discomfort.
4) Allows Your Toes to Splay Naturally
Running shoes that fit too tightly can restrict the natural movement of your feet, which can affect your running form and lead to injuries. You want your feet to have room to move around, allowing your toes to splay naturally and your arch to expand. This provides better support to your feet, improving your running form and reducing the risk of injuries.
5) Allows for Socks
Finally, it’s important to remember that you’ll be wearing socks when you run. If your shoes are too small, they’ll compress your socks and reduce their effectiveness in wicking away moisture and preventing blisters.
Consider The “Drop” of the Shoe
The “drop” in a shoe refers to the difference in height between the heel and the forefoot of the shoe. It is also known as the “heel-to-toe drop” or simply the “offset.” In other words, it’s the measurement of how much the heel of a shoe is elevated above the forefoot.
The drop of a shoe can affect the way a runner’s foot strikes the ground. Shoes with a higher drop encourage heel striking, as the elevated heel helps to absorb the impact of each stride. On the other hand, shoes with a lower drop promote a more natural foot strike, as they allow the foot to land more evenly on the ground.
Most running shoes have a drop of around 12mm. I recommend shoes that have about half that much, preferably around 5mm. But this is highly personal to every runner. I would not recommend zero-drop shoes as they put a fair amount of stretch on your Achilles tendon, especially if you’re not used to that position.
The Shoe’s Cushioning is Very Important
Every runner knows the benefit of cushioning in a running shoe.
Running puts a lot of stress on the feet, ankles, knees, and hips. With each stride, the feet hit the ground with a force equivalent to several times the runner’s body weight. This repeated impact can lead to injuries, such as stress fractures and tendonitis. Cushioning in running shoes helps to absorb the shock of impact and reduce the strain on your joints.
Cushioning provides a more comfortable running experience by reducing the impact of each stride and preventing your feet from feeling sore or fatigued for longer durations.
More cushioning generally means that objects that you step on may not be felt as much. Remember the last time you stepped on a Lego with bare feet? How does shoe cushioning sound now?
Better Running Form
When your feet are not comfortable, you may inadvertently change your running form to compensate for the discomfort. This can lead to inefficient running mechanics, such as overpronation or supination. Soon different parts of your body will be hurting. With proper cushioning, the feet are more likely to maintain a natural and efficient running gait.
Can You Have Too Much Cushioning In Running Shoes?
Why not make all shoes with six inches of foam cushion?
Cushioning is meant to “deaden” an impact so each stride ends up feeling more pillowy. However, a heavily cushioned shoe can lack “springiness” and have no “rebound”. You’ll want to find the right balance between plush and bounciness for your personal stride.
Weight of the Shoe Makes a Difference
The weight of a running shoe can have a significant impact on a distance runner’s performance. Every extra ounce of weight in a shoe can add up over the course of a bucket list marathon, making it more challenging for the runner to maintain their pace and energy level.
Have you ever run in the rain? That refreshing feeling is great initially but when my shoes get heavier and I begin to feel it in my hip flexors. I tend to avoid the rain now unless it’s the day of a race.
Participating in a swimrun event forces you to run in wet shoes. So I pick some that are as light as possible.
A lighter shoe has the following benefits:
When running long distances like a marathon, the body expends a lot of energy. Carrying extra weight in the shoes can make the body work harder, leading to fatigue and decreased endurance. A lighter shoe can help conserve energy, allowing the runner to maintain their pace for longer periods.
A runner will be able to move more quickly and efficiently since there is less weight to lift and move with each stride. Combined with training to make you faster, a lighter shoe can also help a runner transition more smoothly between each stride, leading to a faster-running cadence.
Reduced risk of injury
Heavy shoes can lead to a greater impact force with each stride, putting more stress on the joints and increasing the risk of injury. A lighter shoe with proper cushioning can help reduce the impact force and decrease the risk of injuries.
A lighter shoe can also make it easier for a runner to change direction quickly and maintain their balance. This can be especially important for marathon runners who need to navigate crowded courses or dodge obstacles.
Test Them Out For a Month
While you’re at the store, try on each pair of shoes and walk around the store to get a feel for the fit and comfort. If possible, take them for a short jog on a treadmill or up and down the sidewalk to see how they perform.
Many running shoe manufacturers will give you a 30-day test period where you can return the shoes if they are not what you wanted. Hoka and others all take returns regardless of the condition if still within the trial period. It’s a great customer service move by them and something you should use if needed.
Shoes Wear Out
Today’s running shoes are made out of different foams that simply don’t hold up for many seasons.
The typical thought is to replace your shoes after 400-500 miles of use. Personally, I will start to feel aches and pains after about 300-350 miles. I use that as my cue to find a new pair since the cushioning is fading away on this set.
I’d also add that if your running shoes are two years or older, you may consider replacing them. The materials change over time, even if they are unused. Fresh shoes and their cushioning materials are simply more supple when new but tend to harden over time.
Speed-Laces Are Awesome
Most shoes don’t come with speed laces, so I’d recommend buying these separately.
Speed laces replace your standard shoe laces so that you don’t have to tie your shoes ever again. You just slip your shoes on and they’re tight.
- Time-saving: Distance runners are often in a rush to get to the starting line or to complete the race within a certain time limit. Speed laces save time by eliminating the need to tie and untie traditional laces, allowing the runner to quickly and easily adjust the fit of their shoes.
- Convenience: Traditional laces can come untied during a race, which can be frustrating and distracting for the runner. Speed laces stay securely in place.
- Consistent tension: It’s annoying to have a loose or overly-tight feeling when you tie your shoes. With speed laces, you can set the desired tension and simply slip into your running shoes every time.
- Reduced risk of injury: There are no laces to become loose to trip on.
- Flexibility: Speed laces are made of stretchy material, allowing for greater flexibility and comfort for the runner’s feet. This can be especially beneficial for marathon runners who need to adjust the fit of their shoes to accommodate changes in foot swelling or to prevent blisters.
There’s a lot of information here, but hopefully, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision regarding purchasing the best running shoes for you.
High-quality running shoes are an investment in your health and fitness, so take the time to find the perfect pair. Especially if you are training year-round with winter endurance sports, you need to take care of your feet so they stay happy.
If you are training for a marathon in your new shoes, check out our free marathon pace chart. It can help you on race day.
Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to me at no cost to you if you decide to purchase the product. This site is not intended to provide medical advice and you should always consult with a physician before beginning any physical activity.