As the spring running season kicks off, many runners hare hitting the trails and pavement for the first time in a while–or ever. Now’s the best time to break in some new running shoes, so we asked Thad McLaurin, aka RunnerDude of RunnerDude’s Fitness, for his advice on finding the shoe that’s right for you.
Running shoes are about a $4 billion a year industry in America. With all those shoes to choose from, you’d think it would be a cinch to find a pair. Buying new running shoes can be fun, exciting, frustrating, and expensive—especially for newcomers. Once you start looking for a pair, you quickly get bombarded with terms like overpronator, supinator, motion-control, curved last, midsole, yada, yada, yada. So how do you know which shoe is right for you?
To be competitive, shoe companies have added all sorts of bells and whistles to their running shoe lines. As a runner, especially a new runner, be careful not to let the cool features keep you from purchasing the shoe that best fits your foot type. In order to do that, you need to know a little about your foot type. The best way to determine this is to go to your local running specialty store. They usually offer a gait analysis where they’ll have you run on a treadmill to determine the best shoe for you.
One factor to consider is your ankle and foot pronation, or the rolling of your ankle inward or outward with your step. You can also do a really simple test at home to determine your ankle pronation by your footprint: All you need is a brown paper grocery bag, a cotton ball, and some cooking oil. Lay the bag flat on the floor. Using a cotton ball, spread a thin layer of cooking oil on the bottom of both bare feet. Next, carefully step onto the bag to make a set of footprints. Now examine your prints and compare them to the illustration:
Solid print: You’re what is known as an overpronator. This usually means you have a very low arch or “flat feet.” When running, you tend to land on the outer heel, roll inward, and roll off the big toe. Pronation in itself is not a problem. It’s the severity of the inward roll that can create problems for a runner. Overpronators need arch support to help lessen the inward roll. Stability shoes provide this type of support.
Slight curve: You’re referred to as neutral. This means you have a regular arch and you’re a normal pronator. When running, you tend to land evenly on the heel and have very little or no inward roll. You’re the lucky runner in that your running shoes need very little or no extra support. A bigger or heavier neutral runner may want a shoe with some stability, while a smaller/lighter runner may benefit from a neutral shoe with some cushion.
Large curve: You’re an underpronator (or a supinator). Basically, underpronators have high arches. When running you tend to land on the outer heel and remain on the outer portion of your foot as your follow through with your stride. An underpronator needs a neutral shoe with extra cushion.
Another test you can do is to have a running buddy check your stance to determine ankle pronation. Stand upright in bare feet. Be sure to stand in your usual standing posture. Don’t try to correct anything. Have your buddy stand behind you and observe the position of your lower legs and ankles.
If your ankles roll inward like the first picture, chances are you’re an overpronator. If your stance is pretty straight with no inward or outward lean at the ankle, chances are you’re neutral. And, if your ankles tend to roll outward like the third picture, chances are you’re an underpronator.
None of these self-checks are 100% foolproof, they’re merely simple tests to help lead you to the right shoe. The best option is to visit your local running store and have them check your footstrike and running gate, and the best test of all is to buy a shoe that feels great from the get-go.
SHOE HEEL HEIGHT
Another thing to keep in mind is the height of the shoe’s heel. A shoe with a bigger heel-to-toe drop tends to promote heel-striking which over time can lead to injury, particularly if the runner has a severe heel strike due to an overly wide stride. Traditional running shoes on average have a 12 mm drop from the heel to the toe. A shoe that has a heel-drop lower than that will help to promote more of a midfoot landing, helping you work more with the road as you run instead of against it. Most shoe companies provide shoes with a 5 – 8 mm drop.
Once you’ve determined your specific needs and you’re ready to try on some shoes, be sure you do it in the afternoon, after you’ve been on your feet all day. You’d be surprised how much difference there is in your feet from the beginning of the day to the end. If you buy shoes in the morning you may be surprised that they feel too tight when you go for your afternoon run the next day. Also, make sure your shoes fit snugly in the heel and give you enough room in the toe box. Buying a shoe is often a lot of trial and error, but hopefully this information will help you find the shoe just right for you.
BEST SHOE TO BUY
I’m often asked what’s the best shoe to buy. My response is there is no “best shoe.” Shoes are as individual as each runner. What works for one runner may not work for another and has nothing to do with the shoe company. It has to do with the individual needs of the runner. So, first determine what type of shoe is best for you and then try on several different brands of that type and see which one is ideal.
WHEN TO REPLACE RUNNING SHOES
When should you replace your shoes? Rule of thumb is to replace your running shoes about every 300-500 miles. This varies from runner to runner. A larger runner may breakdown his or her shoes more quickly and may need new shoes closer to the 300-mile mark while a lighter runner may make it closer to the 500-mile mark.
About Thad: Thad McLaurin of Greensboro, NC is the creator RunnerDude’s Fitness. After a 40-pound weight loss in high school, he discovered running during college and has been passionate about running and fitness ever since. Starting with the ’84 Great Raleigh Road Race 10K, he wasn’t fast, but he had a blast and was hooked. Thirteen years later, Thad ran his first marathon: the ’97 NYC Marathon. Twelve years later, he’s run 12 marathons all over the country.
Thad has earned his Personal Trainer and Nutrition Consultant diploma certifications from NPTI (National Personal Trainer Institute), his ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) personal trainer certification, his RRCA Running Coach certification, and his USA-Track & Field Level 1 Coaching certification.