Picking out a running shoe can be overwhelming or even intimidating - it doesn't have to be.
The most important thing about picking a running shoe is to find one that is comfortable!
I know it is crazy, but it's true! I hope this statement causes your whole body to relax and that you are able to let out a big sigh of relief. Despite how much technology goes into shoes, and how many years the running shoe industry has been in place, prescribing a shoe is not evidence based.
Traditionally, the way runners were fit for shoes was by looking at static foot posture; however, research has found no specific support for this approach. Many shoe stores are now using recording devices to watch you run on a treadmill and determine if you are pronating or supinating while running. This is a great step in the right direction and honestly the best mechanism for shoe stores to help you find the right shoe. For most people, this will work. For some people, the process might have to be more involved because the current method doesn't address the entire kinetic chain.
As a physical therapist that specializes in running, I take it a little further. I listen to my clients' shoe history and their injury history, I look at the wear pattens on their shoes and then I watch my clients run and move. I address what is happening from the foot all the way up to the head to get a full picture of my clients' biomechanics, weaknesses and form issues that could be affecting how their foot lands on the ground. Once I have an idea of this, I collaborate with one of the local shops to find a shoe that is best for that runner - one that is comfortable and doesn't provide unnecessary support or not enough support.
What do I need to know when picking out a running shoe?
First and foremost, shoes are tools. Shoes dissipate force but do not prevent injury.
There are essentially four main categories of running shoes (listed from least to most support): minimalist, neutral/cushion, stability and motion control. There are many variables when it comes to shoes: level of support, heel to toe drop, amount of cushion and, of course, feel and color! There are shoes specifically made for running on trails and on the track. Typically, when running on the treadmill, you would use the same shoes as if you were running outside on the road. If you are looking for a shoe specific to the type of running you do, your best bet is to go to a locally owned running shoe store, where the employees are knowledgeable and passionate about what they do.
These locally owned store employees often have far more understanding of running and shoes than those at any large chain I have been to. If it is a good store, they will ask you about what type of running you do, what shoes you have been in previously and what your experience has been in those shoes. They will listen to what you want and be patient, rather than rushing you and trying to make a sale. They may even ask you a little bit about your injury history or go the extra step and speak with your physical therapist or doctor.
Some stores offer orthotics or inserts for your shoes. Don't get caught in this trap; improper use of orthotics is linked to injury. Sometimes, orthotics can be helpful; however, if you truly need orthotics, your physical therapist or podiatrist should be recommending them after a full medical and movement history. If you currently have and love your orthotics, great: just make sure you bring them to the store when you are fit for the shoe to avoid causing your foot to be over supported by the combination of the shoe and orthotic.
How long do running shoes last?
You will need to change out your running shoes about every 250-500 miles, depending on how often you use the shoe, your body type, what kind of running you do and how quickly they are wearing out. If you are running daily, you might even buy two pairs of shoes to rotate between to help the shoe recover between runs and ultimately last longer. Never wear a new shoe in a race - always spend a few weeks breaking in a new pair of shoes so that you don't end up hurting yourself or getting unnecessary blisters!
The take home message
Remember the shoe isn't running, the runner is.If you are a heel striker with your foot way out in front of you, then what you should be concerned about is your form, not your shoe. If you spend too much time on the ball of your foot and your achilles hurts, you will likely need to address your form, not your shoe. Think of your running shoes as tools. How you strengthen, stretch and move your body is much more impactful on your overall happiness in running and injury prevention than what shoe you wear.
So when you buy a shoe, don't get too technical because there is no evidence to support it. Find a shoe that is comfortable and that you love to run in!