After my first run ever I was barely able to walk. My knees were on fire and my poor feet were blistered and begging for mercy. I almost cried as I hobbled to the kitchen for breakfast, penguin style.
I had just bought new running shoes the day before that I was really proud of. These were the Cadillac of running shoes.
From the description, they sounded more technologically advanced than my computer. Gel cushioning systems? Customizable insoles? They seemed to fit well enough in the store, so I paid and took them home.
Running in them later, they were significantly less comfortable. There was so much cushioning that I felt like I was wearing veal cutlets on my feet, and they weighed a ton. I pushed past the discomfort and finished my run anyway, but I should have stopped as soon as my feet began to blister.
An improperly fitted sneaker can lead to all sorts of problems that are much more serious than blisters, from back pain to tendinitis. It’s important to get footwear that conforms comfortably to your foot while offering the support that you need.
There Are Two Main Types of Running Shoes
Pronation is a fancy term for the way your foot rolls inwards when you run. How much stability your sneaker needs to offer depends on how much you pronate.
One of the easiest ways to figure out your pronation tendencies is to look at the sole of an old sneaker. If you have neutral pronation, then you’re a lucky runner. This way of moving absorbs the most impact and relieves stress on your knees and joints. A neutral pronator will have soles that are worn pretty uniformly across.
If they are more worn on the inner side of the sole, then you tend to overpronate. This means that your foot rolls farther inwards than it should when you run. Overpronation is a pretty common problem among runners, and if it’s not addressed you can find yourself with some serious knee pain.
The opposite of this is supination, or under-pronation. If your soles are more worn along the outer edge, it means that you roll your foot outwards as you run. Under-pronation puts extra stress on your foot and can lead to a number of nasty conditions such as iliotibial band syndrome.
Your pronation tendencies determine what style of trainer you should wear. Runners who overpronate need to wear stability shoes which are also referred to as motion control for the most extreme overpronators. Here’s a list of excellent shoes for mild to average overpronators.
If you’re an extreme overpronator and need motion controlled shoes, here are some high quality options.
Cushioning trainers are designed for under-pronators. They protect your feet with soft material that helps to absorb shock and protect your feet. Here is a large selection on cushioned options available on Eastbay.
Once you’ve figured out your pronation tendencies, you can decide which style you need. Along with the way you walk, the size and shape of your feet is another important factor when picking out a running shoe.
Figuring Out Your Shoe Size
If you want to figure out what size to try on, you don’t have to get your foot measured by a professional. It’s easy to do by yourself at home. Place your foot flat on a piece of paper with your knee bent and your shin just in front of your ankle, then trace around your bare foot with a marker. I have the artistic skills of a goldfish, so I used lined paper to help keep everything straight.
Once you have your outline, measure the length and width. Since there’s a small gap between the marker line and your actual foot, subtract 3/16ths of an inch from each number. After you’ve figured out the length and width of your foot, you can look at a sizing chart and see about what size you should be trying on.
Just because a shoe is the right size for you doesn’t mean that it will fit perfectly. Every footwear brand has a different idea of sizing. I measure out to be a size 10, but I have a pair of boots in a size 11 and some ridiculously comfy tennis sneakers in just a size 9.
The only way to really pick out the right shoe is to try it on. That’s why I only get mine from Zappos and I order I size up and a size down. They make it ridiculously easy to return the ones that don’t fit and the return shipping is free.
If a sneaker is even just a little uncomfortable in the store, it’s going to feel ten times worse after a run. You might feel ridiculous, but it helps to run around the store a little and see how they feel in action. Some stores that specialize in running shoes have treadmills for this very purpose. If nothing else, at least see how they feel while walking around.
They should have a snug fit, but leave enough room for you to wiggle your toes. Your feet swell while you run, so a shoe that’s too small can have you smashing up against the tip. There should be about a thumb’s length between the end of your longest toe and the end of the sneaker.
A running shoe shouldn’t be too narrow either. You should be able to move the tips of your feet from side-to-side just a little bit. A good way to tell whether or not a sneaker is too narrow is to pinch up a quarter inch of the material along the widest part of your foot. If it’s too narrow it will push the bottom of your pinky toe up against the side when you do this.
Don’t feel limited to just options for your gender. A man with narrow feet may want to try on some women’s running shoes, and conversely, women with wider feet often fit well in men’s options.
It’s always best to try on shoes in the evening. Your feet swell as you walk around all day, just like they do when you run. A sneaker that fits perfectly at breakfast time may start feeling cramped by dinner.
Good Brands For Narrow And Wide Feet
Every brand is just a little different but they are usually predictable. If your feet are just a touch on the narrow side I would try Nike first. They tend to be just a touch tight on people with slightly wide feet and tend to fit people with slightly narrow feet perfectly.
If you’re on the opposite side of the spectrum and your feet are slightly wide, I would start with Adidas. They offer a bit more room than average for slightly wide feet.
But if you’re truly a narrow or wide foot check out New Balance first. They make the widest array sizes for hard to fit feet. Zappos carries the largest selection that I can every find and they nearly always have what I want in stock. If they’re not absolutely perfect just slap on the prepaid postage sticker that they supply and send them back for a size up or down.
Support and Comfort
A shoe can be the perfect size for your foot and still leave you cramping up. Our feet are much more complicated than just length and width measurements. You also have to consider how the overall shape conforms to your foot.
What To Choose If You Have High Or Low Arches
My foot has an arch flatter than day-old soda. Honestly, it’s more of a non-arch. Flat-footed runners like me tend to overpronate and need more stability from their shoe. Someone with high arches instead should look for flexible shoes with a cushioned midsole that can absorb shock.
If you start to feel your arches cramping up, then your shoe has too much support. You can also experience arch pain if the flex point of your running shoes doesn’t line up with the arches of your feet. To figure out where the flex point of a shoe is, hold the heel and push the shoe’s tip into the floor. Your arches should match up with wherever the sole bends.
Easily Identify Poorly Constructed Sneakers By Quickly Testing For Torsional Stability
The torsional stability of a shoe is also easy to test for. Gently twist the heel and the toe of the sneaker in opposite directions to see how easily it bends. It should only give in just a little bit. Torsional stability helps to prevent your ankles from twisting and turning too much when you run, much like the shock absorbers on a car.
The Right Sneaker For Heel Strikers And Midfoot Strikers
The heel-to-toe drop effects the way your foot strikes the ground. It is the height difference between the heel and the toe in a shoe. A low heel-to-toe drop encourages a forefoot or midfoot strike, while a shoe with a higher drop encourages a heel strike. The heel-to-toe drop that you choose depends partially on the shape of your foot, but even more so on how you run.
The heel of a shoe can offer additional support to runners who suffer from Achilles tendon problems. The heel counter is the rigid structure around the back of the sneaker that keeps your heel in place. A more supportive and cushioned heel counter, or supplementing the counter with a heel wedge, can reduce stress on your Achilles tendon.
Sometimes, after days of battling malls and department stores, you find that one pair that’s almost perfect. Maybe the top is a little tight on your foot, or the sides are a tiny bit too narrow. Sometimes just changing up the way you lace a shoe can affect how it fits you. This page has pictures and instructions for all of the most common techniques.
A loop-lacing or lock knot can be tied anywhere along the eyelets, not just at the top. To make the knot, you have to loop each lace back around so that it enters the same eyelet twice. Take the ends of the laces, and then stick each one through the loop on the opposite side of the shoe. Pull to tighten, and you have a complete loop-lacing knot.
For Narrow Feet
If you have a narrow forefoot, you might need the midsection of your shoe to fit more snugly. Adding a loop-lacing knot the middle of your shoe’s regular cross lacing will give you a tighter fit. A wide forefoot, on the other hand, needs more room in the midsection. Only cross lace the top portion of your shoes to add a bit more wiggle room for your feet.
If you have a high instep, try lacing up only the toe and the very top, leaving the middle portion unlaced. This will give the midsection of your foot more room to breathe and reduce pressure across the arch of your foot.
A common problem with running shoes is heel slippage. I’ve had the backs of my ankles rubbed raw by many a poorly fitted heel. If you add an extra loop-lacing knot to the top of your shoe, it will fit more snugly around your heel.
Shoes Are Slightly Tight Or Feet Have Swollen
For sneakers that are a little too tight, you can try out an alternative to the cross lacing technique that most people use. Parallel lacing connects eyelets that are opposite from each other instead of diagonal, creating horizontal lines instead of crosses. This style of lacing gives you a little bit more room throughout the entire sneaker.
It’s smart to shop for a shoe that fits you just right from the moment you try it on. Sometimes it’s not possible to find a perfect fit, though. Luckily there are plenty of ways to customize your sneakers through lacing techniques.
Materials to Choose From
Running shoes are made from all sorts of different fabrics and rubbers. Depending on your running style and the type of terrain you like, there are materials to suit every need.
Nylon and nylon mesh are popular materials for running shoes. Nylon is durable and can withstand some abuse over time, and is also lightweight and breathable. If you plan to be running in wet environments, you might want to opt for shoes made with special waterproof lining. A membrane is bonded to the inside of the lining and is able to block out moisture while still allowing air to flow in and out.
The midsole is the area between the top of the sneaker and the bottom outsole. Depending on how much stability you need, you can find midsoles with different levels of firmness and flexibility. Ethylene vinyl acetate, or EVA, is a foam that is used in a lot of midsoles for running shoes. For even more stability, specific areas of EVA can be reinforced.
For those that like to run on rough terrain, some midsoles come with strong plates made of nylon or thermoplastic urethane. These stiffen the front to protect your feet from getting attacked by rocks. Shanks, on the other hand, stiffen the midsole portion and can add additional arch support. These are also good for running on rocky trails.
The outsole is the last consideration. For runners who stick to roads and sidewalks, outsoles made of soft blown rubber reduce the weight of the shoe and increase cushioning. Rough terrain runners should opt for shoes that have outsoles made of tougher all carbon rubber.
Don’t Forget Quality Socks
Socks aren’t usually my top priority when it comes to running gear. I try to pick the pairs that aren’t riddled with holes, but that’s usually the full extent of my effort. Socks are more important than I give them credit for, and some are better than others when it comes to running
Whatever socks you wear should be breathable and made of a moisture-wicking material to keep you feet cool and dry. Stay away from absorbent fabrics like cotton, which will basically marinate your feet as you run. A soggy foot is at an increased risk of blisters and other health issues.
When you go to buy shoes, try to wear the socks you plan to wear when running. Thicker socks can affect the way a sneaker fits your foot.
Which Running Shoe is the Perfect One?
Every person’s perfect running shoe is different. Just because your trainer or running buddy swears by their designer stability shoes doesn’t mean that you’ll feel comfortable in the same pair. The only way to pick out the perfect sneaker is to try it on for yourself. Everyone’s shoe sole-mate is waiting out there somewhere.