Running is like a cult for some people. It can feel like you’re either in with the marathon crowd, or you’re out. But don’t let that passion and exclusivity deter you! The first time you step into your neighborhood running store, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the open-armed welcome into the running community. Because if there’s one thing runners love, it’s making more people fall in love with running. (After all, the only thing better than being crazy enough to run 26.2 miles is having someone crazy enough to run next to you.)
Whether you’re looking to join a weekday running club or an ultra-marathon, there are a few things you need to know before you buy your first pair of running shoes. Use this as your shoe-buying guide and get ready to hit the road.
1. Someone may ask you to get on a treadmill. Finding the perfect shoe is like finding your solemate (ha, get it?): Great running shoes can change your life. (Just ask any Olympic track athlete.) When you first start chatting with a salesperson, they’re likely going to ask to see how you run. Be prepared for this. They're not judging your ability, but rather looking to see how your feet strike the ground. This is a tell-all for the type of shoe you need. Mario Fraioli, a running coach in San Diego and a former cross-country All-American at Stonehill College, recommends in his column for Competitor.com that there’s no “best” running shoe for beginners. He notes that the best shoe is one that addresses your individual needs.
2. How do your feet move? Unless you’re studying to become a physical therapist, it’s unlikely you’ve come across the term pronation, but it’s the first thing a running store associate will ask you about. Pronation says a lot about runners and dictates the type of shoe that is ideal for your body and your style of running. Don’t be scared if you’re told that you "overpronate" — you don’t have some sort of severe medical condition. It’s just a fancy way of describing the movement of your foot. People with normal arches are likely "normal pronators," meaning the outside of your heel makes initial contact with the ground when you step. If you have high arches, it’s likely that you "underpronate," meaning your heel makes the initial contact with the ground. People who "overpronate" have a tendency to strike with the outside of their heel, but with the foot rolling inward more than 15 percent. No matter how you pronate, you need to get the right shoes for the safest run.
3. Stability. Think about shoes in a ride-or-die sense. How much support are you really looking for from your shoes? If you have a natural stride and normal pronation, a neutral shoe is the way to go. If your strike tends to be unnatural and you need a bit of correction, motion control could be the right fit. If you accidentally come home with the wrong style, you could be straining the other muscles in your calves and ankles.
4. Think about where you're running. Whether it’s on the beach, on a mountain, or through a trail, where you run makes a huge difference in the type of shoe you need. Running on pavement can start to stress your knees if you don’t have enough support, and running on a treadmill in trail-running shoes could be detrimental. Find the right balance, and you’ll be set to take off no matter where you’re planning to run.
5. Ask yourself how often you'll be running, too. When you’re just starting out, the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to start slow. It’s exciting to take off on the track or around the park and you may forget how fast you were going or how long you’ve been running because you’re having a good time. When you hit your stride for the first time, it feels like flying. But don’t take it too far. It’s safe to increase your distance by around 10 percent per week. Always take rest days and let your body heal from an injury before lacing up again. If you’re training for a race, be sure to know how long your shoes will last you. Marathon training can amount to hundreds of miles. Make sure your shoes can handle it!
6. Do your homework. Do your research online before going shopping and look for coupons. Also, don't hesitate to ask the sales associates at any shoe stores questions, and don't feel like you have to buy anything the first time you go into a store. Running shoes can be expensive, and finding shoes that fit is crucial to your health. Don't let anyone pressure you into purchasing a pair that's less than perfect for you.