How to Find the Perfect Running Shoe

STACK Expert T.J. Murphy surveys knowledgeable running shoe store owners for tips on finding the perfect fit for comfort and performance.

Running Shoes

A shoe can not only make or break your enjoyment of running, it can be the key to your most critical training runs. How a shoe feels in the first few miles of a long run is one thing; how it feels at mile 18 is a different (and potentially excruciating) ball game.

With a seemingly countless number of running shoe makes and models to choose from, it's easy to get confused. Check out the following tips from some of the most experienced running shoe specialists in the country.

Do the research

Finding a good running shoe store is a potent first step to cutting through the confusion. Scott Dvorak, owner of the Charlotte Running Company, in Charlotte, N.C., suggests chatting with local runners and coaches about where to go.

"Make sure you go to a store that is reputable," Dvorak says, "one that will spend time with you to determine the best shoe for your appropriate needs."

Such a store will have a well-trained staff that understands running from the inside out as well as a broad selection of shoes. Dvorak says a good starting point is to search the roster of the Independent Running Retailer Association to find dedicated running shoe establishments near you. Failing that, ask runners and triathletes in local running clubs for their thoughts.

Inquire about the fitting process

When searching for a running shoe store to partner with, consider the depth and breadth of their fitting process. If they just ask what size you wear and point to a shoe on the wall without any sort of fitting process, go elsewhere. Dvorak says, "First thing, ask about their fitting process."

He recommends asking the following questions, which will show you the light:

  • Do they have you run on a treadmill or on the sidewalk?
  • Do they do gait analysis?
  • Do they measure your foot?
  • In how many shoes do they offer different widths?
  • What brands do they carry?
  • What is their return policy?

One important measure of a good running shoe store is how many questions they have for you, Dvorak adds. A strong sales associate will ask about your running history, injuries you might be dealing with and your running goals.

Bring in your old shoes

An old pair of running shoes may hold clues about what is and isn't working for you. Bring them with you to the store, says Dave Welsh, owner and operator of three Running Company stores in New Jersey.

"Always bring the shoes you have been running in with you," he says. "I always look at someone's old shoes for the wear pattern and try and coordinate this with any injuries they may be having."

Keep an open mind

Ray Pugsley, co-owner of the Potomac River Running stores in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., advises runners not to cling to any favorite brands in their search for their dream running shoe.

"If each customer keeps an open mind to brands and lets our staff determine the correct stability category for him or her, then the chance of finding that perfect shoe goes way up," he says.

Let them hear you

Welsh says the customers should open up when consulting with a sales associate.

"It's the most important thing," he says. "Talk with the sales person you are working with as openly as you feel comfortable with. The more you say the better the chance you will get the perfect fitting shoe."

Set high standards

"A shoe should feel great when the customer leaves the store," Pugsley says. "It should not need to be 'broken-in.'"

Scan how the shoe feels on your foot for hot spots, and for areas of pinching or abrasion. Make sure the heel doesn't slip. At the same time, make sure your toes have a little bit of room to breathe and do not feel crammed. Any discomfort you feel during your time in the shoe store will likely be exacerbated five-fold when you're out on a 10K run.

Repeat the fitting process each time

Let's say you find a shoe you love, spend four months running in it, then decide it's time for a fresh pair. Pugsley suggests repeating the entire fitting process rather than just dropping by for a replacement pair.

"As a runner continues to improve, and thus runs a faster average pace, foot strike patterns will change," he says. "It is a good idea to continue to get fitted to make sure future shoe choices continue to be correct for that person's evolving foot strike."

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