To avoid both blisters and serious injuries, forget everything you know about sneaker shopping, and use these expert tips to find the pair that’ll keep you going and going and going — or at least make running less torturous.
1. Ignore recommendations from your friends.
While you might be tempted by the running shoes that your fittest friend swears by — after all, she ran a freaking marathon in those! — they may not be the best pair for your feet. “The way you move is highly unique — as unique as your signature or your voice,” says Paul Langer, DPM, podiatrist, president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, and co-owner of a shoe store. Because your stride is almost definitely different from your friend’s, your ideal shoe probably will be different too.
2. Never buy a totally new pair online.
“You can’t assess comfort without making comparisons, so you have to try on at least two or three pairs before you select one,” Langer says. (And before you cry, “Free returns!” admit it: It’s easier to try on a bunch of options in a store than it is to lug boxes back to the post office.) If you’re new to running, try at least one lightweight pair with a super-thin sole, and one thicker-soled pair that looks sturdier. It will help you figure out what feels best and narrow down a large selection.
3. Don’t trust running store technology.
Shoe salespeople often use fancy-shmancy gizmos to assess your gait and find the perfect shoe, i.e., one that improves performance and minimizes the risk of injury. But real scientists who wear white coats and work in labs and devote their entire lives to motion analysis can’t even truly do that. Langer’s best advice: “Focus on comfort, and remember that the authority on comfort is the person wearing the shoe.”
4. Run before you buy.
According to Langer, studies that compare standing, walking, and running have found that running is the least comfortable activity. (Thanks, science.) It’s why you can’t accurately assess a pair of running shoes without taking them for a test drive. Langer suggests running around the store (or on a treadmill, if they have one) for 30 to 60 seconds to assess comfort before you throw down for the pair.
5. Color does make a difference.
Well, at least when it comes to the shoe sole. Black soles are made of carbon rubber (the same stuff used in car tires), so they’re heavy and super durable. White and colored soles are made from blown rubber, a lower-density, softer material that contains more air and weighs less. So how do you know which color to choose? Consider the surface you typically run on. If that’s concrete or asphalt, which cause more wear and tear on your shoes, go with black soles. And if you run on a padded track, treadmill, grass, or dirt trail, colored soles will take you the distance.
6. Cushy shoes aren’t always comfortable.
Your joints move more when you wear super-soft soled running shoes, which may not work for your body or stride. Try pairs with different levels of cushioning to see what really feels best.
7. Trail-runners don’t need super-stable sneakers.
It’s true that you’re more likely to twist an ankle when you run off-road. However, your safety net isn’t cushioning — it’s control. A minimalist-style shoe (i.e., thin-soled) can help your foot adapt to an uneven surface so you don’t end up sprawled on it.
8. Don’t buy shoes that fit perfectly.
Really! You want your running shoe to be snug in the back two-thirds with plenty of wiggle room up front to accommodate swelling, which almost always happens when you run. Most people are good to go with a half-size larger than whatever they typically wear. If you run ultra-long distances, though, your feet will swell even more, so go nuts and get a full size larger.