What shoes should I wear…

as a runner. You’ve left the couch, no turning back. Whether you plan on hitting the road, the treadmill or the elliptical machine, you just need the right shoe to be on your way. Still, finding the perfect pair can be a daunting task, especially as a beginner. There are, however, a few things that you can note:

1.     Old shoes are for gardening and mowing the lawn, not running

You might have had your favorite pair for years and consider them almost like family but old shoes are bad news. Your running shoes have a life expectancy of about 350 miles and then it’s time to upgrade them to memorabilia status (or to use them while doing outdoorsy work). If you run a total of 10K every week, you will need a new pair of shoes every year. As a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine (June 2010) explains, “older shoes have previously been shown to be associated with increased injury risk.”[1] If you are worried about the costs of new equipment, just think of the hospital bills you might be avoiding: running shoes are worth the investment.

2.     Looks can be deceiving

Just because a shoe looks like the perfect running shoe, it doesn’t mean it was created with running in mind. Many shoes are meant as more of a fashion statement than running gear. They may look good but they sure wont feel good after a couple of miles. Ask questions before you purchase your shoes and find out what the best shoe is for your type of running. 

3.     The shape of your foot is not as relevant as you think

Whether you enter an actual shoe store or do your shopping online, you will find more shoes than you can choose from. If you ask a sales associate for help, you will notice that the shape of your foot is considered a key factor in selecting a pair. You will be asked (or even shown) whether you have high arches, flat feet or your type of pronation. You will leave the store thinking you found the perfect pair, until you take them out for a test drive.

As a study conducted with Marine Corps recruits in Basic Training showed, “assigning shoes based on the shape of the plantar foot surface had little influence on injuries even after considering other injury risk factors.”[2] The findings, published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine (June 2010), confirm similar studies conducted with recruits in Basic Training for the US Army and the Air Force.

Another study, conducted in Australia, targeting runners with high arches, showed that the location of the pain, the running style and the point of pressure were more significant than merely the foot shape.[3] Researchers point out that it is simplistic to think that just because two people have the same foot shape, they will need the same shoe. Your running style goes beyond the shape of your feet and will be a better determinant for what type of shoe you will need.

4.     Study your running pattern

How you run and where your foot hits the ground will have more impact on the type of shoe you need than the shape of your foot and will determine whether you need stability or motion control. As the previously mentioned researchers point out, athletes who hit the road with their heel first may be better protected in a shoe that reduces pressure in the back area, while runners who hit the pavement with the ball of their foot first would benefit from a shoe that most effectively decreases pressure in the front area.[4] Figure out where you put pressure when running, find a shoe that help reduce pressure in that area and voila! You may have just found your match. It is important to listen to your feet, they will tell you what fits them best when running.

5.     Comfort does not mean reduced pressure

The study mentioned above also found that the perceived comfort of the shoe did not show an actual reduced plantar pressure. Just because a shoe feels comfortable, it does not mean that it relieves pressure where it should. Make sure that you buy a shoe that is designed to reduce the pressure in certain areas even if you don’t feel it when you try it on. Your foot looks different when static than when in motion, so don’t just trust the comfort. Although it goes without saying that a shoe should not feel uncomfortable.

Don’t despair, your perfect pair of cool running(s) shoes is out there; just pay attention to how you run and where you put pressure: your feet will thank you! As you become a seasoned runner you will figure out what type of shoe works best for you and then you can start building a fabulous collection, just in case your favorite style gets discontinued.

If you’d like to skip the shoe-issue altogether, barefoot running is also an alternative option. By running barefoot, your body acts as the pressure reliever and it has been shown that your feet will do their own “correcting” while in motion. The way you run when you are barefoot is different than when wearing shoes; your body will be more sensitive to how you hit various surfaces because it is directly in contact with them. If you opt for that route, you can invest in a pair of five-finger shoes if you want some layer of protection or just go completely au natural.

[1] Joseph J. Knapik, Daniel W. Trone, et al., “Injury Reduction Effectiveness of Assigning Running Shoes Based on Plantar Shape in Marine Corps Basic Training,” Am J Sports Med, September 2010 38: 1759-1767; published online before print June 24, 2010.

[2] See note above.

[3] Caleb Wegener, Joshua Burns, and Stefania Penkala, “Effect of Neutral-Cushioned Running Shoes on Plantar Pressure Loading and Comfort in Athletes With Cavus Feet: A Crossover Randomized Controlled Trial,”

Am J Sports Med, November 2008 36: 2139-2146; published online before print June 24, 2008.

[4] See note above.

2 responses to “What shoes should I wear…

  1. Pingback: The real deal on footwear for runners. | Bluefin Software Blog

  2. In February this year I converted to barefoot running and got a pair of vibram five fingers. Never looked back. Had so many issues with foot pain and now I can run without it. Love it.

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