Health & Fitness

Want the best running shoes for you? Here’s how to shop for them

Before you choose a shoe, you’ll need a good evaluation of your foot and gait by a fit specialist at a trusted running specialty store.
Before you choose a shoe, you’ll need a good evaluation of your foot and gait by a fit specialist at a trusted running specialty store. MCT

“Show me your best running shoes.”

This sentence strikes dread in the hearts of running specialty store employees on a daily basis, because finding the ideal shoe for any customer is much more complicated than pointing out a particular brand or style. The “best shoe” could be different for every runner, and the first step in figuring out what you need is a good evaluation of your foot and gait.

Here’s what you need to know for your next hunt for running – or walking – shoes.

Know the lingo

There are a few terms that will help when you show up for your shoe fitting.

▪ Pronation: The inward roll of your foot as you transition from foot strike to toe-off in the running or walking gait cycle. Pronation is your body’s natural shock absorption mechanism, and everyone does it to some extent. Which brings us to ...

▪ Overpronation: The excessive inward roll of the foot as you move through the gait cycle. Overpronation creates the potential for inefficient shock absorption as you run and uneven force and stress distribution on the joints, muscles and tissues of the medial side of your leg.

▪ Supination: On the other side of the pronation tendencies coin we have supination. A foot that supinates maintains an excessively lateral weight distribution as it moves through the gait cycle.

Now that you are hip to the fancy biomechanical lingo, let’s talk shoes.

Neutral vs. stability

Different feet and different strides need different shoes. A good running specialty store will evaluate your unique feet, gait tendencies and running goals to determine whether you need a stability shoe (with medial support to offset overpronation) or a neutral shoe (one that lacks medial support to accommodate a neutral or supinating foot strike.) Neutral runners might be over-corrected in a stability shoe, while excessive pronators may over-stress joints and tissues on the medial side of the foot and leg running in neutral shoes. Therein lies the value of knowing where you fall on the neutral-stability continuum.

Be specific

Bear in mind that the fit process at a running specialty store is relevant only to your shoe needs in terms of running and walking. If you are shopping for shoes for Zumba, CrossFit, boot camp, underwater basket weaving, etc., your ideal shoe may be different than your ideal shoe for running. Explain to your fitter the specific activities you’ll be using your shoes for.

What to expect

▪ First, a trained fit specialist will want to watch you run (or walk, if that’s what you’re buying the shoe for), either on a treadmill or outside on the sidewalk.

▪ He or she will also want to look at your bare feet, so don’t be self-conscious about chipped polish or smelly toes (they’ve seen it all and it’s doubtful your feet are the worst).

▪ Bring in your current pair of running shoes. Your forefoot wear pattern tells the story of how well your shoes have served your gait tendencies. And having the shoes on hand helps you describe exactly what you did and did not like about them.

▪ Allow about 30 minutes for a good fitting – this includes your gait analysis and time for you to try out several different shoes in your ideal support category.

Keep an open mind

Remember that no two feet are the same and there is significant variation in the fit and feel of running shoes across brands – and even across models within brands. In other words, just because a certain shoe works and feels great for your marathoner friend doesn’t mean it will do the same for you. You’ll get the most out of the experience if you keep an open mind regarding brands and styles the fit specialist recommends.

Ellen Moss, an avid runner and workout fashion blogger at fastandfab.wordpress.com, is Director of Community Engagement at Bull City Running Co. in Durham.

Run faster

After you get your perfectly fitted new running shoes, you’ll need a copy of “The Running Revolution” by Dr. Nicholas Romanov with Kurt Brungardt. The book’s subtitle says it can teach you “how to run faster, farther and injury-free for life.”

If you’d like to win one of our two free copies, send an email to giveaway@newsobserver.com by midnight Tuesday (June 9) and include your mailing address. You must put the word “running” in the subject line.

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