3 Secrets Every Runner Should Know About Shoes

Secret #1: Go.

When I want or need to buy shoes, I almost always put off going to the store or even ordering online for at least a month. “I’ll go next week,” or “I’ll look online later,” becomes my mantra until it’s too late to try new shoes for an upcoming race or my feet start to hurt after every run because the soles on what I’m wearing have worn out.

When you start to think, hey I might need new shoes, that’s the exact moment you need to get new shoes. When you’re a new(ish) runner, you may not know the feeling when the soles that help you run efficiently and with good form start to wear out. That’s when the general rule of replacing shoes after 500 miles or six months is useful. But that’s not an exact science, so your mileage (pun intended) may vary. My last trail shoes lasted five years because I didn’t train in them very often or run very far. My neutral shoes (without much padding) last longer than my cushiony ones. Again, the time you’ll spend in a shoe varies, so listen to your body--especially your feet--about when it’s time to go buy a new pair.

Secret #2: Shop Around.

My first stop when I want to buy shoes is our local specialty running chain. Based on what I had read in Runners World, a shoe I used to love--the Brooks Ghost--had been revamped and was highly rated. I asked to try a pair, and was shocked to hear that the store didn’t carry Brooks AT ALL. When I looked around, all I saw were shoes by Hoka, Nike, New Balance, Mizuno and ON. Unbeknownst to me--and probably a lot of other runners--specialty running stores make deals with brands. And those deals limit what those stores offer their customers.

What I decided to do was shop at all three stores nearby: the specialty chain running store (where I bought two pairs of Hokas--one road and one trail and a pair of Mizunos), the local chain sporting goods store (where I bought a pair of the Brooks Ghost) and the locally owned independent running store. I did this for two reasons: to try the broadest array of shoes available and to experience three approaches to selling shoes. At the specialty running chain, the salesperson talked to me about the shoe and then let me run around the store to test them out. She said some things that I didn’t necessarily agree with, but for the purposes of this blog I didn’t disclose that I was a coach or knew more than a typical runner.

In the local sporting goods store, I found the running section and the pair of shoes I was planning to buy (the Brooks Ghost 11) fairly easily. But I couldn’t find a salesperson to help me, so I couldn’t get the few questions I had answered. After seeing a few frustrated customers leave, I decided to buy the shoe anyway. I left the store feeling disappointed in the experience because I really wanted to get the gait analysis that was advertised in the run section. Also, as a coach, I was concerned that the customers shopping around me were picking shoes at random or at best, based on whatever shoe advice they had found online.

And, despite all my best efforts, I never went to the independent running shop because it is across town, a pain to get to, and that’s reality. But I really should go (see point #1).

Secret #3: Listen to the Experts, But Trust Yourself.

Most employees in running specialty stores pride themselves on knowing their inventory and giving their customers the best product possible. A reputation for knowing your stuff about shoes and gear brings more runners through the door. That being said, only you know you.

You know your history: what shoes you’ve worn when, what your injuries have been, what mileage you tend to run. And, most importantly, you know what your preferences and needs are right now. Where you’re at in your training cycle, what you’re training for, what your goals are, whether you’re working on speed, endurance, consistency; whether you like a cushy ride or to feel each piece of the trail under your feet. Every single one of those variables will make a difference on what shoes work for you. There are trends in running just like anything else; a few years ago, everyone was talking about barefoot running, now we’re chatting about drop. And somehow we seem to have completely forgotten about pronation. But the point is, you know yourself best.

When you go for that little jog around the room or on the treadmill, ask yourself:

  • Does this feel good?

  • If I’m trying to fix or work on something, do I believe this shoe can help?

  • Am I feeling positive and happy on this little jog?

If you answer yes to all of those questions, buy the shoes. If you don’t, don’t.

An extra BONUS tip:

DON’T BUY ONLINE unless you’re buying the exact brand, model, and version you run in now.

Shoe makers are notorious for making “improvements” to shoes between versions. Unless you’re buying the exact shoe you have right now--like the Brooks Ghost 11 or the Saucony Ride 10, it’s worth your time to try it on in person. Brands can make small changes that will make you (or your body, or both) hate the next version.

I’ve run in Mizuno Wave Riders for years. The Wave Rider 18, 19, and 20 were all great for me. But the Wave Rider 21--I just don’t like it. I couldn’t even tell you what it is that I don’t like. Ends up that there is a softer heel and a different toe box in that particular model of shoe. I don’t mind the Mizuno Wave Rider 22 as much, but it’s still new so we’ll see.

Runners are picky about our shoes for a reason. Shoes can make or break a performance. Shoes make our body feel good or feel bad. Shoes can even cause injury. So take your shoes seriously.

What shoes do you like? What shoes do you hate?

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