If you already have a pair of running shoes that you’re happy with, you can skip to Step 3. But you’re going to miss out on recommendations for running gear (other than shoes) and a couple of jokes if you do. I think that’s a fair warning.

 

On the one hand, shoes are shoes, right? On the other hand, you will often hear runners say choosing the right running shoes makes a huge difference in running performance and minimizing running injuries. On the other other hand (yeah, I have 3 hands for this point), spending upwards of $150 on a pair of shoes can be a difficult idea to come around to. How do you balance these factors when deciding which shoes to buy? I'll do my best to make this very simple.

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These are my top 3 recommendations for finding a pair of running shoes:

1. Get fitted at a running store.

2. seriously, get fitted at a running store.

3. do it on your own but trust expert opinions and science.

Let me break these recommendations down.

1. Get fitted at a running store.

A poorly fitting pair of running shoes can lead to blisters, black toenails, stress fractures, and plantar fasciitis, so a good pair of shoes is important for minimizing injuries while you're running. Finding a running shoe that matches the length, width, and shape of your foot is more important than the features of the shoe itself, according to Geoffrey Gray, Doctor of Physical therapy, bow-tie aficionado, and founder of the footwear research laboratory Heeluxe. Simple enough, right? Find a pair of running shoes in your size and you're off to the races. 

 

Not so fast.

You may think that you know what your shoe size is, but when was the last time you actually had your feet measured?  When you were 15 and your mom dragged you to the shoe store for some back to school shopping? The length and width of your feet change as you age, so you might not have the same shoe size today as you did in high school.  

Gray recommends getting your feet measured once a year, but he's the research director of a shoe lab. Of course he would say that. That's like the dentist telling you to floss every day. You smile and nod, but everyone in the room knows you're going to start flossing 1 week before your next appointment. Let's say that you don't have to get your feet measured every year, but you should certainly do so before buying running shoes if you haven't had your feet measured since you were a kid.

 

The best way to get a measurement for running shoes is by visiting your local running store.  

 

I recently talked to my friend Libby who has finished 4 half marathons and 2 full marathons. (Feel free to read that previous sentence as "my friend Libby who can run circles around me.") This is what she had to say about running shoes: 

When I started running in an old pair of Nikes I had around, I got terrible shin splints and had pretty bad foot pain. It wasn't until I actually went into a running store and got fitted/tested for the best pair for me that I felt much better while running. I know that it can be daunting for people, but I do think that is super helpful. Everyone that works at running stores is approachable, kind, and knowledgeable. By getting in the best shoe for you, your chance of injury is way lower. 

What's going to happen when you step into a running store? 

 

The staff will immediately ask you what your fastest half marathon time is and laugh you out of the store if it's anything about an hour and a half. Just kidding. Obviously not.

 

First, the staff member will ask you to take off your shoes and walk around the store. As you do this, they are looking to see how your weight is distributed as you run. Is your foot pronated (your weight tends to be more on the inside of your foot) or supinated (weight on the outside of your foot)? Next, they will measure your feet in a Brannock device (yeah, those have a name) while you're standing. Based on these observations, they will bring you several different shoes to try on. According to Gray, and Dr. Kevin Vincent, director of the University of Florida Running Medicine Clinic, you should do the following things while trying on running shoes:

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Take the insert out of the shoe and stand on it. The size and shape should match the size and shape of your foot.

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Put the insert back in, put the shoes on, and lace them tightly.  You should be able to slide a single finger between the knot and your shoe when they are laced.

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Stand up and check the feel and fit. You want about a thumbnail’s worth of width between your longest toe and the front of the shoe. Check that there’s little to no pressure on your pinky toe and only slight pressure on your big toe.

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Walk and, preferably, run. Check that your heel doesn’t slip and that nothing pinches or rubs uncomfortably against your ankle.

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Repeat with different shoes until things feel just right. Don’t settle for something cramped thinking you’ll break them in; they should fit properly right from the start.

In the end, buy the shoes that feel the best when you're running/moving in them, not just standing. Some running shoe stores offer a 30-day return period, so be sure to ask about that. You're not going to get that kind of offer on an online store, and your iPhone certainly isn't going to measure your feet. Invest the time and get a proper measurement and fitting at a running store. It's worth it.

2. seriously, get fitted at a running store.

I know it sounds intimidating. I wrote this guide and the last time I needed running shoes I had to talk myself into going into a running store the last time I needed running shoes. It helped me to remember that the staff at a running store are there to help you. It's meant to be an uplifting and encouraging experience. They want you to find a good fit and they are there to help you run your best. In the end, I had a great experience going in for my fitting. The staff asked me questions about my running goals, put me through the fitting described above, and helped me stay within my price range with my shoe purchase.

3. do it on your own but trust expert opinions and science.

Getting fitted at a running store can be a great experience.  However, in some cases, it can be more expensive than buying shoes online.  If you're on a budget and need to save money when buying running shoes, I still want to help you get into a comfortable pair of shoes on your own.

Like any normal person, I read some academic research studies on running shoes to figure out how to find a good pair of shoes if you are shopping on your own.  Feel free to skip to the bold text for the summaries.

 

A 2013 study assigned 247 casual runners to wear running shoes with a soft midsole (the part of your shoe where your arch lies) or a hard midsole.  Participants ran, on average, at least once a week for 5 months, at which point the researchers studied their running-related injuries.  Interestingly, the midsole hardness of the running shoe was not associated with running-related injuries.  The authors suggested that runners are likely to adapt their running style to avoid excessive impact when the foot strikes the ground, so the hardness of the midsole really doesn’t make a difference.

In other words, no matter which shoes you choose, this study suggests that you are not more likely to get injured based on how hard or soft the sole of your running shoe is. 

 

Expanding on this idea, a 2015 study analyzed the data from dozens of studies on running injuries and running shoes, and concluded that shoes that runners rated as more comfortable were associated with lower movement-related injury frequency than shoes that were less comfortable.  The researchers proposed something called the “comfort filter paradigm.”  This says that when selecting a running shoe, a runner selects a comfortable product based on his/her own comfort filter.  This comfort filter automatically reduces the injury risk.

 

In other words, if you choose the shoe that is the most comfortable for you, research suggests that you are less likely to experience running-related injuries.

So after all of that information, what should you do? Basically, your best strategy for finding running shoes is to go with the most comfortable shoes you can. Nothing earth-shattering there. Once in awhile, science delivers a simple solution. Now let's solicit the opinions of running experts to get into a comfortable pair of running shoes.

Finding a Pair of Running Shoes

 

For this, I’ve turned to Wirecutter and their extensive research to find the best running shoes. 

For these recommendations, Wirecutter* enlisted 29 women and 19 men between ages 21 and 61 who ran approximately 3,700 miles total in 32 different pairs of shoes.  They also talked with podiatrists, physical therapists, running coaches, and running shoe designers to solidify their recommendations.

 

They really get into the weeds about their methods and give lots of great advice in the article, but if you’re just interested in the results, here are their top 3 running shoes:

#1: Brooks Ghost 14

#2: New Balance Fresh Foam 880v11

#3: Brooks Glycerin 19

 

When it comes to running shoes, board-certified podiatrist Dr. Paul Langer suggests that specific features for female or male runners are less important than whether the shoe has the comfort features that each runner prefers for themselves.

 

Given the results of the academic research and the wirecutter recommendations, my advice (if you're not going to a running store) is to try on running shoes and simply choose the most comfortable pair in your price range.

 

Once you have a pair of running shoes, you are ready for step 3.

 

*Wirecutter also has recommendations for sports bras and other running gear (headphones, running belts, armbands, fitness trackers, gloves, tights, and running watches).

Brooks Ghost 14

New Balance Fresh Foam

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Brooks Glycerin 19

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