They are the one piece of equipment that a runner can not do without. Without the proper shoes, a runner is asking for trouble. The problem is, how do you find the right ones? Well, there are a few general guidelines that can be followed. Note: this is just a list of general guidelines that I have picked up along the way. It is just meant to get you started in your shoe search. You still have to find the pair of shoes that is right for you. First, a few rules before you head out to get your shoes.
Rule #1: Try on your shoes. I know this goes against the e-commerce that I am trying to support but this is the most important part of buying a pair of shoes. If you are not buying the exact same style of the exact same model of shoes as a pair that you already have, try the shoes on before you buy them. If you can, try to take a few running steps in them. They should feel comfortable right away. I can say from personal experience that the best training shoes I have ever had were ones that felt like they were already broken in when I tried them on in the store. If you buy mail order, make sure that the place you are getting the shoes from has a good return/exchange policy.
Rule #2: There is no one perfect model of shoes. Different shoes work for different people. If someone tells you that they have the best shoes ever made, don't believe that person. The shoes may be perfect for that person but they may not be right at all for you.
Rule #3: More expensive doesn't mean better. Many times when you go to a shoe store, the dealer may try to convince you that the expensive, "top of the line" shoes are the ones you should get. The fact is, they probably won't last longer and they most likely won't work better. If they don't feel like they are worth more than another, less expensive pair, they aren't. Get what feels best. Many times, this means a mid-priced shoe.
Rule #4: Less expensive doesn't always mean a better deal. This goes right along with the last rule. There is a point of diminishing returns in training shoes. If you don't plan on spending some money, you will get an inferior pair of shoes that will end up breaking down very quickly or giving inadequate support and cushioning. Either way, wear the inexpensive shoes for too long, and you end up with expensive and painful injuries.
Rule #5: Try different models. Just because you have been told how great one model of shoes is and how perfect it is for you doesn't mean it's the best option. Try different models and see if you can find one that feels better.
Rule #6: Try different brands. This goes right in with the last rule. If one brand of shoes doesn't feel just right, don't be afraid to try a different brand. Often, brands as a whole may have some specific characteristics that hold true in general throughout the brand.
Rule #7: Look past style. The best shoes I can find right now for myself are the least stylish. They are very basic, down to earth shoes. Many times, that's how things work out. Just because a pair of shoes looks good doesn't mean it will perform good. Buy your running shoes for performance, not style. After all, they are going to get dirty within a matter of days.
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The key to selecting the right pair of shoes for yourself is knowing what kind of foot you have. Some say the "wet foot test" is the best way to find this but I think the best way is to analyze your old shoes.
First, a short description of the "wet foot test". This can be done real easily after taking a shower. Place a towel on the floor and step on it with your feet wet. Next, take a look at the print you left. You will most likely notice one of three things:
The problem I have with this is that I know people who fall into categories 1 and 3 but need shoes from the opposite categories. This is why I believe a better way to find what kind of shoes you need is by analyzing your shoes. If you go to a good running store, an experienced worker there may be able to help you analyze your shoes. The worker may also want to watch you run a little. This is a good way for the person to see first hand how your feet work.
If you can't get to a good running shoe store, here's how to analyze your shoes. First, to analyze your shoes, find an old pair of shoes that is well worn. Take a look at the soles of the shoes and notice the wear patterns. You will probably notice that part of the sole is worn more than other parts. The normal wear pattern is from the outside of the heel, forward and in toward the ball of the foot and the first and second toes.
If you notice that your shoes are worn more on the inside, either on the inside of the heel or very heavily on the very inside of the toes, this means you are an overpronator. This means that your foot rolls inward more than it should. If this is the case, you need stability shoes. The more you pronate, the most support you need in your shoes.
If you notice that your shoes are wearing in the normal pattern, from the outside of the heel to the ball of the foot, that means you are a normal pronator. Some pronation is natural, as it is a cushioning motion. If you are a normal pronator, you can probably wear almost any kind of shoes. Just choose what feels best.
If you notice that your shoes are wearing more toward the outside of the toe, you are an underpronator. Your feet are not rolling inward enough, which means you are not getting the natural cushioning you need. If this is the case, you need cushioned shoes.
Once you have done this, you have just narrowed the search. You still have many different shoes to choose from. The next step is to find out the dimensions of your feet. This is best done at a good running store by an experienced worker. Don't just measure the length of your feet but also the width. Once properly sized, you should be down to just a few pairs of shoes.
Next, fit on the options. Choose the pair that feels best. If the store doesn't have a pair of shoes that feels good, try other stores and see if they have different models that you could try.
If you find a pair of shoes that seem to work perfectly for you, hold on to them. Take a close look at their features. Do they have a lot of cushioning? Do they have special support features? What are the sizing and width like? Take careful notice of all of the features of the shoes and do your best to get the same type of shoes. If possible, get the same model. If the model is discontinued, try to find the shoes that most resemble them in function.
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Here are a few things to look for when buying your shoes:
Last: First of all, you can find the last of the shoe by looking under the insole. You will most likely see one of two types. The first is a board last. This is just what it sounds like, a board in the bottom of the shoe. Board lasts offer more support but are not real flexible. The second kind is the slip last. The slip last basically looks like the upper is wrapped all the way around the foot and there is one line of stitching down the middle of the shoe under the insole. This is more flexible than the board last but less supportive. Board lasts are commonly used in support shoes, while slip lasts are common in cushioned shoes.
Midsole: This is the heart of the shoe. It is the functional part of the shoe, protecting your feet from the pounding of the ground. There are many features that are used in here but there are a few general rules that can be followed.
First, there are the cushioning technologies. These are what get all the publicity and what shoe companies like to spend all kinds of money promoting. The fact is, there is no real performance or durability difference between these. Just find shoes with adequate cushioning and that's what matters.
Next, there are support features. These vary more than cushioning features. There are dual density soles, where the inside of the sole is harder than the outside. There are also medial posts, which are basically pieces of plastic placed on the inside of the heels to slow pronation. Again, I have not seen any evidence that any form of dual density soles are better than any other or that any kind of medial posts are better than any other. The dual density soles are good for people with mild levels of pronation, while medial posts are more for heavy pronators who need a lot of support.
Other Features: Most other features of shoes don't make a big difference. Outsoles are mostly the same and the uppers are mostly just for style. As for these, just get what feels best, while focusing on the midsole and last.
By now, you hopefully have a pair of shoes that will treat you well. Good running.
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