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...
...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.