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Tell Me Tuesday: Finding the Right Running Shoe for You

A birthday card I bought ages ago that I can't bear to part with

My dear father, like all parents, likes to brag about his children. He often tells anyone who will listen, "My daughter Sarah is the foremost female expert on athletic shoes." Okaaaaaay, so my dad tends to hyperbole, but I was the athletic footwear editor for SHAPE magazine for a billion years, and before that I wrote shoe reviews for a now-defunct mag called Walking magazine. So, in addition to being duller than dishwater, I do know a thing or two about what to put on your feet when you exercise. Let me impart some of the wisdom I gained over the years.

Get the best shoe for you. Your running partner loves Brand A, and that mom at preschool drop-off is always sporting Brand B. Those shoes might make them feel like they are prancing on clouds, but if they don't accommodate your hammertoe or offer your creaky knee the cushioning it demands, they aren't good options for you. Thus you need to...

Almost all the shoe salespeople we've met have been charming

...get fitted by a a pro. As we wrote in Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving--and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity, you need to brush aside feelings of intimidation, walk yourself into local running specialty store, and have a guy (or gal) with chiseled calf muscles and less body fat than Dwayne Johnson measure both your feet and watch you run (either on an in-store treadmill or track or on the sidewalk outside the store). Once he or she has chatted with you to determine your mileage, needs, goals, foot type, and price range (give honest, proud answers to all the questions), the sales associate will bring out several options for you to try on, run a few steps in, and consider. At which point....

...don't be taken in by pretty colors or cute designs. As the founding fastinista, I feel you on this one. You just have to have that ocean blue pair with the silver and midnight accents to go with your new running jacket or skirt. But if they fit you as well as your jeans from high school or offer you as much support as that deadbeat boyfriend you dumped after grad school, it doesn't matter how cute they are because you'll be sidelined by injury after running in them. It's how a shoe fits, feels, and functions, not how fashionable it is. (Don't make me pile on anymore words that begin with "f," ladies...)

As for a few quick-hit practical tips:
Shop in the late afternoon when your feet are at their most puffy. Unfortunately, this is also the time when your kids are at their most cranky or need to be driven 15 different directions at once, so maybe try to shop on a day when your spouse is at home or you have some kid-coverage. Or be prepared to buy some Sport Beans to placate the kiddos.
Bring in your current running kicks so salesperson can give them the once-over for wear patterns and hot spots.
Bring along your favorite running socks so you can try on potential sole-mates with them on. (And make sure your toes don't look too heinous since you'll be showing Mr. 6% Body Fat your tootsies...)
Bring orthotics or insoles, if you wear them.

Now, mother runners, prove my dad wrong, as I know a lot of ladies know about athletic footwear: Share your tips about finding the right pair of shoes. 


25 responses to “Tell Me Tuesday: Finding the Right Running Shoe for You

  1. I found that my podiatrist (also a runner) was an excellent source of information on what type of shoe I should look for. Unfortunately, three times I’ve gone to various local running shops, and 3 times I’ve walked out with shoes that ultimately were not the right fit for me (and once, the fit was so far off that I developed IT band problems!). Each time I was “fitted” by young (20s), super fit runners, the kind who run more miles in a week than this busy mama runs in a month. I was also sold top-of-the-line shoes (read: $$$) Soooo….long story short, I found *my* running shoe mecca in another, *family owned* local running store, where not all the employees are super-fit in appearance, but boy, do they know the ins and outs of athletic shoes!

    1. PS. I would also add that a more “mature” (wink-wink) sales person is likely more understanding of various injuries and be able to provide advice on shoe selection based on those considerations as well.

  2. I fought the urge to going and getting fitted for the longest time – I said “I am not paying THAT for a pair of running shoes” … a case of nasty PF is all it took for me to march right into Fleet Feet and it was the best decision I ever made! The difference is amazing. The people were sooo knowledgeable and spent so much time with me – watching me walk/run – barefoot and with shoes and etc… I ended up Asics 2160’s in a whole size bigger than what I had been wearing! Crazy! Asics just came out with the 2170 so I was able to buy a few pair of the 2160’s on sale! Score!

  3. There is a fantastic little startup from here in Pittsburgh called ShoeFitr ( that is in the process of changing how we all buy shoes. They have scanned the inside of hundreds of shoes to figure out to map their shape. You can find their app on Brooks website and many others. I used it last week to realize that new versions of my favorite shoe, Brooks Adrenaline, are a 1/2 size smaller this time around so I need to order a different size to get the same fit. Love them and so excited to see local guys make good!

  4. great post- the first pair of ‘real’ running store recommended shoes I bought were orange- I HATE the color orange. But they felt awesome. And I’ve saved lots of money by not upgrading to the “newest model” in fact with tax $ I just got 2 pairs(last years model so 30-40 cheaper per pair) and I should be set for shoes for about a year.

  5. What I love about my local running store is that I have a 21 day wear them and try them policy. It’s hard to tell just by trying on and walking around. One has to actually run in the shoes a few times to know! 🙂 I’ll be returning the ones I got this past weekend because they are really not working out. Darn!

  6. When I bought my first pair of running shoes, the salesman held up a pair of pink shoes and told me: “These shoes are pretty, but they’re not right for you. Running shoes are ugly. Get over it and buy the pair that fits you best.” I listened and am grateful I did.

  7. Thanks for the tips! I definitely agree with asking about a test run. Just because those shoes feel great for a little run outside, the real test is how they make you feel after a few miles. Being able to return the shoes to try another pair is worth some time on the treadmill.

    Passing this info on to my sister because she is in need of some new shoes!

  8. I like to do major shoe changes between training cycles. That way, if something goes awry, I am not 8 weeks away from a marathon with major blisters or sore calves. Well, more sore than expected, at any rate. So as tempting as it is to get something “bigger badder and better” when you go in to buy your “race day shoes”, my advice is to stay with the tried and true shoe flavor until after race day has come and gone.

  9. What a well timed post. After almost 3 years in the same shoe, two weeks in the updated version gave me plantar fasciitis! Grrr! I got a different pair today and am praying that I can be up and running QUICKLY! This was my first experience with a shoe being the wrong fit for me.

  10. Join the group runs at your local running shop b/c when the shoe company reps come out they bring shoes for you to try out for free. They also usually have non-shoe goodies from their company, too.

  11. Allyson thank you for your comment! Last year I was continually nursing injuries. I have wide feet and flat feet. The specialty store I was going to always put me in a larger size, not wider. Hmmmmm… Makes sense!

  12. If you have a wide foot, don’t just go up a size – get a wide shoe. Running in a shoe that is too big can put the arch support in the wrong place. I would also recommend checking out a few local running stores if you can – some are better at the fit than others. If they don’t care about your weekly mileage and goals, and don’t offer a test period, be careful.

  13. wear the socks you wear when you go running to go try shoes in the store.
    dont buy a shoe because you read from your favorite bloggers that those are the best in the world and they got a BQ thanks to them
    they may be the best for THEM…but not for YOU!!!

    I am on the quest for the right shoe
    it can be $$ and frustrating

  14. It was a hard thing to have to go up a size in running shoes…to an 11! But, my feet thank me.

    In addition to the right shoes, I swear by the pink Super Feet.

  15. Definitely look for the “test drive” opportunity. Even if it means relegating yourself to the dreadmill for a couple of workouts.

    I like to support my LRS, but I also have to buy 3 pairs of shoes a year – so I compromise with an annual pair from there, and the other two pairs online (for way less). That reminds me – time to go and make sure that the model I’ve been hoofing around in for the last 5 years is the right one!

    Great, informative post, thank you.

  16. Even if you find a shoe you love, check in with an expert periodically. I ran in the same shoe for almost 2 decades, switching ocassionally, but always going back. Then it started giving me issues – turns out, according to my LRS expert, the manufacturer started outsourcing and the quality was declining. I felt it, for sure! (I would have saved money in the long run by continuing to support my LRS rather than sale shopping!)

    Also, I tried a trendy running store in a big town that supposedly had “experts” on staff. They put me in a shoe that CAUSED IT band syndrome. I ended up missing impt runs and paying for a lot of therapy and I didn’t figure it out until I switched shoes! This just happened to my friend too, but since I had the experience, I told her to switch back and the ITBS magically went away. My advice? Don’t trust a 20 yr old “expert”, no matter how fancy the treadmill test seems. Find an expert that has been sucessfully fitting people for a decade or more.

  17. Once you’ve FOUND that pair of shoes that fits you like a dream….wait until next season’s newest model and go ask for a steep discount on the older ones…they like to get the old inventory out and they might be willing to part with your faves for a song!

  18. #1 is so, so true. I learned my lesson the hard way after picking up random athletic shoes at Kohl’s in the early years of my running career. Just because they’re athletic doesn’t mean they’re good for how I run.

    My other tip: See if the store will let you test drive them on a treadmill or indoor track. My local running store gives you 7 days to try them out inside and, if needed, bring them back for return or exchange.

    Also, a money-saving tip: My store also gives a 10% discount for belonging to a local gym! Never hurts to ask about discounts!

  19. Love this write up! I can’t be too picky on color etc either – with my wide feet I get two options and with those there is only one color each. My kids go for the Honey Stinger waffles and ask for them before we even leave the house to go.

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