Shoes; Finding the Right Fit

Shoes, shoes, shoes!  Walk into any specialty running store and you will be greeted by a seemingly endless wall of shoes.  Track spikes, trail shoes, racing flats, walking shoes, and just regular trainers.   Within these groups of shoes there are even more options, minimal, stability, motion control, and zero drop, just to name a few.

With all these choices its no wonder so many people are confused about what to run in.  Wondering where to start?

My first suggestion is this, go to a specialty running shoe store where they watch your gait and fit you…and know what they are doing.  I know what you’re thinking, we are all busy and going through one of these shoe fittings can be time consuming.  However, if you are spending time, energy, and money to train for a race and want to stay uninjured (not to mention want to keep all your toenails) then going to a pro is well worth it!

I am able to determine which shoes I like, and which shoes I do not almost instantly.  For me, I have a high instep, a wide forefoot and a fairly neutral stride.   When looking for a shoe, I want something that feels good around the heel; nothing that hits my ankle, achilles or may cause blisters.  Very firm shoes are too stiff for my foot pattern.  I am not a heavy foot striker and, if a shoe is inflexible, I am unable to properly move through my gait cycle.  I almost don’t want to feel anything at all.

Feet expand when they are hot, or when you have been on them all day.  If the toe-box is too narrow, or too short I am almost guaranteed to lose a toenail.  My rule of thumb is; shoes are not meant to be broken in, they should feel good right out of the box!

Realizing not all feet and people are like mine, I decided to ask two of my local shoe fitters; Jordan and Jeff.  Both work at the Fleet Feet in town, and have been fitting shoes on all types of feet for years. Being athletes themselves, they have run all sorts of races on all sorts of terrain, and have tried nearly every shoe under the sun.

Altra vs Altra: the Lone Peak 1.5 takes on the Superior

Which shoe is best?

Jeff recommends that, “Shoes should feel fairly loose on your foot with no pressure points. Its not necessary that the heel isn’t moving in the shoe, as long as it is not rubbing. ”  He finds that many folks like their shoes too tight, and try to tie them too tight as well.  ” Your foot expands about 15% when you are running and fully load your weight onto one foot.  You should have enough room in your shoe to allow for that expansion.”  Shoes that are too tight can lead to blisters and the ever dreaded black or lost toenail.

Jordan agrees with Jeff about sizing mistakes.  Often people get stuck on a certain shoe size in their mind.  For example someone could be measuring at a size 10, but insist that they have “never been over an 9 a day in their life.”   Heat, time on your feet, babies, and even running, can all change the size and shape of your feet over time.  Just because you were a size 7 in your Jimmie Choo’s in your 20s doesn’t mean that you can run comfortably in a size 7 running shoe in your 40s.

Jordan says, “Wearing a shoe that is too small will bring a quick halt to training. Numb feet, blisters, black or lost toenails are all common results of shoes that don’t fit properly. When any of these occurs the runners gait will change, once that happens you are running on borrowed time.”

He also feels that people get hung up on price, and as a student he’s the first to admit that cost can be an issue.  “Sometimes more is not better, I’ll admit. Usually the difference between $130 and $170 shoes is cushioning and weight. The more expensive shoe is usually softer, lighter or both. It probably won’t make you run faster or prevent injury better than the $130 shoe. ”  On the flip side of this he says, “the difference between a $70 and a $120 shoe is significant. In this price range the cheaper shoe is often made with lower quality material. With cheaper material that breaks down faster a runner could be wearing a minimal shoe without knowing it after 100 miles.”

In addition, they both feel that; “over-pronation” is often seen as an evil that always needs to be corrected.  Neither of them really like the term “over-pronation” as it is used to describe anyone with a flexible foot. “Over-pronation” is really only a problem when someone exhibits injuries or aches and pains as a result of their gate. People are put in stability shoes all the time who don’t need them. A little strength training and running form drills will go a lot further in helping alleviate running induced aches than a stability shoe may. This is not to say that people can’t benefit from stability shoes, it’s just that they’re overprescribed.  Some of the best runners in the world are “over-pronators.”

Jordan states, “There have been many times (countless in fact) I have had someone say “I have high arches so I have (insert foot or running ailment)” and just as many say “I have low arches so I have (insert foot or running ailment).”  There are studies that correlate injuries with all foot types. It’s unfortunate that some runners think they are predisposed to bad form or poor mechanics because of over-pronation.”

My Altra Lone Peak’s have carried me 907 miles, through races, up mountains, and around the woods. Finding a good pair of shoes that make your body feel good, is most important!

Hopefully this article has given you something to think about the next time you are searching for running shoes.  A good shoe, that fits correctly can be a wonderful thing–helping you to race PR’s, go on fun adventures, and just feel better overall in your active life!

What are your thoughts? What are some of your favorite shoes and why?



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