How do I know which running shoe to buy?

So you are ready to train for your first 5k, or you are moving on to bigger things such as a 10K, and you are wondering: what is the best running shoe for my venture?

However, finding a running shoe in today’s market can be a daunting task.  From tons of brands to overwhelming running jargon, it can be difficult to decipher. Ultimately, the answer lies in not only in what is the perfect shoe but which is the perfect running shoe for me?

From fit and feel to the brand, here’s a complete, foolproof five-step guide to choosing the perfect running shoe for you.

1. Decide which type of running you would like to do or a goal race

From trail running to couch-to-5k programs, running can be a new hobby or an effective way to lose weight. The beauty is almost anyone can do it – you just have to figure out what niche suits your lifestyle or interests you most: Road/treadmill running, trail running, minimalist and/or barefoot running, sprinting, cross training or interval training.

For example, “I’d like to train for 10k as a beginner”, “I’d like a versatile option for my interval training,” or, “I would like an all-terrain shoe for trail running.” Once you’ve nailed this down, you can refine the type of running shoe you will need:

  • Road and or/treadmill running shoes: They should be able to log around 400-500 miles total. You will wear these for the majority of your runs and even on race day if chosen. Road running shoes are also great for treadmill running for beginners. These shoes are typically very durable, cushioned, and you should not be able to bend them in half. For example, the Brooks Glycerin.
  • Trail running shoes: These will typically have a rugged outsole (bottom of the shoe), and some include a rock plate. This is so when you run on a trail; you will not have your feet harmed by the numerous sticks and rocks you’ll be trampling. These shoes can also have a waterproof upper or water-resistant mesh. Check out the Nike AirZoom Wildhorse.
  • Minimalist or barefoot shoes: Designed to mimic barefoot running, or natural running, these shoes typically have what is called a “zero drop” or a low “heel-to-toe drop.” This means the cushion on the heel and the forefoot has no difference or sits flat. Minimalism ranges from zero-drop shoes like Altras, to the extreme of Vibram’s Five Finger shoes or even running sandals that offer virtually no cushioning.
  • Track shoes: Traditional track shoes have spikes on them if you are doing short distances such as the 100-meter. This is mostly for athletes that practice the sport in competitions. If you are not a practicing track athlete, you may just want to get a lightweight trainer for your track workouts with good traction like the Pearl Izumi E: Motion Tri N1.
  • Cross training shoes: They tend to be more flexible and sit lower to the ground so you won’t roll your ankle by doing any side-to-side movements.  They include a mix of features from traditional road running shoes but are a bit more flexible.
  • Interval training or HIIT (high-intensity interval training) shoes: Need some tips on how to run for weight loss? HIIT training is very effective in burning calories quick. The best shoes for interval training are going to be either lightweight trainers or cross-training shoes like the Asics GEL-Fit Sana.

Still stuck on deciding which type of running niche is best for you to narrow down your shoe type? Why not decide by selecting a goal race. Take a look at interesting race listings and decide which one looks fun to you. Invite your friends, family or coworkers to train or run it with you. There are plenty of obstacles races, 5k’s, trail runs, and bi or triathlons all over the United States.

AskRunners Pro Tip #1: Select a type of running that interests you or fits your lifestyle

Check out the largest online directory of races and clubs for every imaginable race in the U.S.

2. Understand the anatomy of your running gait

It requires some knowledge of your biomechanics to select the perfect running shoe. The importance of this is twofold: staying injury-free and training smart which makes it worthwhile. Not to mention, you won’t walk into a running store or shoe store completely clueless.

So, how do you determine your running gait so that you are matched to the proper pair?

A visit to your local running store will be the best investment you can make because the employees are typically experts of running and will analyze your gait (usually for free). A simple online search should provide you with local running specialty stores in your area.

AskRunners  Pro Tip #2: Visit your local running shop for a gait analysis

There are three types of gaits: neutral, over-pronation, and under-pronation (supination). In other words, it is what your feet do when they hit the ground while running.

If you are at home and buying online, check out the different ways to test your gait type at home.

Once you know your shoe type and gait type, you can select your support category.

3. Pair your running gait to your category of shoe for the right amount of support

When you run, you are pressing four times your weight into the ground and your feet, so it is important you have a shoe that is the correct support category in order to prevent injury.  Your feet are like the foundation of a house-it’s going to support everything on top. The shoe is the foundation for your ankles, knees, and hips.

Your running gait will determine which support category you will need: neutral, stability, motion control, lightweight, or minimal shoe.

Running Gait Support Category
Neutral, Under-pronator (supinator) Neutral, Lightweight/Minimal
Over- pronator Stability, Lightweight/Minimal with caution
Over-pronator (to an excessive degree) Stability, Motion Control
Under-pronator (supinator) Neutral, Lightweight/Minimal

For example, “I’d like to train for a 5k road race (type of running) and I over-pronate (gait type), so I need a stability shoe (category of support).”

If additional arch support is needed or you deal with foot issues such as plantar fasciitis, many running specialty stores carry over-the-counter orthotics that can be placed in your running shoe such as SuperFeet or Spenco. You can also purchase these online and cut to fit them into your shoe.

Now that you know the type of running you will do, your running gait, and the support category you will need, you can try them on.

4. Try them on and pay attention to fit and feel

It can be easy to overthink the fit of a shoe. Really, it comes down to: how does the shoe fit your feet? Do you have the right size and width? Size up half a size to a full size and ensure you get measured if you don’t know.

The best running tips for finding a shoe will answer: Does it feel comfortable?  Better yet, does it feel like you are NOT wearing any shoes?  If the answer is yes, you have a good fit.

 

AskRunners Pro Tip #3: Keep in mind you always need to size up half a size to a full size and have a thumb’s length at the tip. This is because your feet swell when you run.

 

Make sure when you are trying on the shoe you are taking a short jog. You should not feel any bunching, pinching, pressure, lumps or bumps in the shoe. Your heel should fit cradled in the shoe and should feel stabilized.

The feel is more about levels of cushioning, firmness, roominess, contouring, and subtleties of features within the shoe. It deals more with personal preference. For example, “I really love the cushy feel of this Asics Nimbus and how it contours my foot! It makes me want to run for miles!” or “I love the firmness and flexibility of the Mizuno Wave Rider.”

 

5. Select features you enjoy

Every running shoe has its unique set of features.  For example, the Adidas Boost uses BOOST technology as for its midsole foam and boasts a longer-lasting, cushier ride. Asics uses Gel for its cushioning system. Mizuno uses a wave-plate for a springier stride. Nike uses FlyKnit as their upper in some of their shoes to give it a more contoured feel.

Overall, be sure to look at all components of the shoe: the upper, or top part of the shoe, midsole material, cushioning system, heel counter and stability foam, and the outsole.

The upper, or top of the shoe, is usually made with mesh for breathability. Make sure you notice if it is very structured, or rigid, or if it is more relaxed. This can provide additional support but is usually preference on the feeling of the shoe.

The midsole is the large piece in the middle of the shoe. It is usually made of what is called EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate rubber), PU (Polyurethane) or other burgeoning technologies like E-TPU (expanded thermoplastic poly- urethane) in the Adidas Boost. These are types of foams but some will give you a springer step or are lighter than others.

Cushioning systems are additional layers of gel-like substances, material, or foams that provide that cloud feeling in the shoe. Some people love all the cushioning they can get like in the Hoka One One Clifton.

Next, heel counters are to help with stability in the shoe and feels like a cradle to your heel; this is important for stability shoes and over-pronators. Make sure if you are buying a stability shoe, you feel that cupping in the heel which helps guide your foot in a neutral stride.

Along with stability shoes and heel counters comes the stability foam on the medial side of the shoe. Again, if you are purchasing a stability shoe, make sure this is not too much stability or too little. If you still feel your foot collapsing inward in a stability shoe, you may need thicker stability foam.

Lastly, the outsole or bottom of the shoe is made out of blown rubber and should feel hard to the touch.

AskRunners Pro Tip #4: Features in running shoes are important preferences because they can allow you to enjoy the feel of your shoe and help you have happy feet on your runs.

In conclusion, if you are still lost, here are some recommendations

Now, there is something to be said of brands when it comes to running and your fit. A lot of the times, runners find a particular brand, or brands, that fit them the best. For example, neutral runners with a high arch and narrower foot, typically do well in Asics, Mizunos, Brooks, and Nike. Over-pronators with lower arches typically do well in Brooks, New Balance, and Saucony.

If you are still not sure, here’s your cheat sheet for pairing you to the perfect match:

  • “I am interested in training for my first 10k and have a neutral foot with a high-arch. I enjoy a lot of cushioning and that cloud-like feel in a shoe.” Asics Nimbus, Saucony Triumph, Adidas Boost, Brooks Glycerin, Hoka One One Clifton
  • “I need a shoe for a basic count-to-5k training plan and I need a stability shoe.” Brooks GTS Adrenaline, New Balance 860, or Asics GT 2000
  • “I’d like an all-around treadmill running shoe for basic gym use and I have a neutral foot.” New Balance 890, Brooks Ghost, Nike FlyKnit Lunar
  • “I want to do more trail-running and explore all types of trails. I need some stability.” Solomon Speedcross 4 or Brooks Cascadia
  • “I like the idea of natural or minimal running but I’m not sure where to start or how to transition out of a traditional shoe” Altra Escalante or Brooks PureFlow
  • “I’ve been running in zero-drop shoes for a while and would like something that mimics more barefoot running.” Merrell Road Glove, Nike Free
  • “I want to make my running gait and stride more natural and effective. I need a stability shoe.”  Newton Motion VI
  • “I have been doing 400 meter intervals with a friend after work as a part of our daily workout. What shoe should I buy?” Brooks Launch, Saucony Kinvara, or Adidas Adizero Boston
  • “I’m already a distance running but I want to have a lighter and more minimal race day shoe. I have a neutral foot.” Nike LunarEpic Flyknit 2 or Adidas UltraBoost, Adidas Adizero Boston, or Nike Free
  • “I’m going to classes that do HIIT workouts.” Nike MetCon or Reebok Crossit Speed TR
  • “I like to run but would like something for doing cross-training like CrossFit, lifting weights at the gym or biking” Reebok Crossfit Nano, Nike Free, Asics GelFit Sana

Now that you have a shoe in mind, ready to get started with a training plan? Check out:

Women Running Beginners

5K Running Training for Beginners

10K Running Training for Beginners

Interval Training

Running Training Schedule for Beginners

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