Shopping for running shoes: Style vs. substance

I was ecstatic when I realized that learning to run meant shoe shopping. I hate to prove the Carrie Bradshaw stereotype, but the prospect of acquiring a new pair of trainers made the burden of running in them seem worthwhile. No, neither Jimmy Choo nor Manolo Blahnik has launched an athletic line of essential footwear…yet. Still, from the sneaker ads I’ve seen, casual footgear has come a long way since Chuck Taylor All Stars. 

A little research proved the ads more than hype. These days every serious athletic shoe is a specialized engineering marvel. Shoes are made for soccer, aerobics, tennis, golf, bicycling and anything else you can imagine – each designed to enhance an individual athlete’s (or wannabe’s) performance and safety…and do it with style.

As I browsed Spidermanesque gooey webbing, decoupled heels, blown rubber outsoles and silicone gel midsoles, I started to wonder which shoe was the right one for me. Instant gratification mode whining, I beat a hasty retreat from the brick and mortar marketplace to the virtual. Online, I could take all the time I needed to investigate my options. 

I understood why “Shoe Finders” on and asked for my weight and arch height before recommending a shoe, but I was surprised when they asked for my gender. I mean, come on! A shoe is a shoe. I’m a size 9 in women’s and a 7 in men’s shoes. I’ve never been shy about crossing the gender line for more appealing sneaker styles or colors. Turns out that my metatarsal cross-dressing had been at my own peril. Women tend to have a greater angle from the hip to the foot. In the shoe trade, this is called the “Q angle,” and now many running shoes are designed to accommodate and celebrate the difference.

Then the prognosticating “Shoe Finders” asked for one more intimate piece of information. They wanted to know if my foot strike was neutral, pronated or supinated. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. A quick Google search led me to understand that a neutral gait is what you want, but not what most people have. Most of us pronate (touch the ground on the outside of the heel and roll inward along the arch and big toe) or supinate (touch down slightly on the outside of the heel and roll along the outer edge of the foot). Those with low arches to flat feet tend to over pronate. Those with high arches tend to under pronate, or supinate. Clear as mud, right? 

Guess wrong when picking your new pair of joggers and you’re begging for muscle fatigue, running inefficiency and even injury. To make it easier, check out the wear pattern on your current shoes. Are they worn the most along the outer edge, inner edge or straight down the middle? If straight down the middle, congratulations! 

You’re one of the only about 25 percent of folks with a neutral strike.  If tea leaf or tread reading isn’t your forte, you can always ask a professional. Well-trained sales persons at running exclusive stores can analyze your stride, or ask your doctor for an assessment before slapping down the plastic.

Barring other variables, over pronators should look for motion control sneakers that provide support and firm midsoles. By the way, this is also the prescription for heavier runners. Those who supinate should purchase cushioned shoes for shock absorption that are flexible enough to encourage the foot to move during the stride. Neutral runners – as obvious as it may seem – should buy shoes rated as neutral that balance the extremes of control and cushion and don’t alter their natural stride. Those with extreme over or under pronation should consider over-the-counter or prescription orthotics. Orthotics – also known as insoles, inserts or footbeds – correct musculoskeletal alignment, reduce pain, increase joint stability and allow for optimal functioning of muscles, tendons and bones. Many runners and walkers can benefit from orthotics, but that’s a whole other story.

Once you’ve pegged your needs, it’s time to stalk and subdue your quarry, also known as purchasing your new pair of running shoes. As a veteran shoe buyer, here is where I must summon all my strength. For this purchase I have promised myself to reject choices influenced by color combinations, design aesthetics or sale price. Yes, this time I will choose substance over style and my feet will thank me for it. 

For the best success, enter the store prepared. Know what features are recommended for your stride, weight, gender, arch height, heel strike, running goals and environment. Be prepared to continue your search at another store if nothing feels right. Shop in the evening. Our feet generally reach daily maximum swell by 4 p.m., so shopping earlier could mean buying a too-small shoe. Get measured and try at least several brands in that size while wearing your running socks. Balance on one foot, run downhill, make certain the widest part of your foot lines up with the widest part of the shoe, be alert to minor pinching and seam rubs, don’t be self-conscious about walking around for a while. Each of these strategies will quickly eliminate poor fitting shoes. The shoe should feel comfortably secure through the midfoot, like a hand cradling your foot in a band around the arch. And remember when it comes to sneaker fit your mother was right, the heels shouldn’t slip and there should be about a thumb’s width of room between your longest toe and the end of the toe box. 

If all these functional demands take you down a path that disregards your personal taste or sense of style, remember this is a journey. You’ll have many chances to try and buy new trainers. Perhaps your perfect shoe is on a design table right now. Since sneakers lose their shock absorption between 300 and 500 miles and have a longer life when alternated in use, there is always a good reason to keep shopping for the perfect shoe. Isn’t that the fascination of shoe shopping after all?



The running rEVOLUTION begins tomorrow. I’m excited and thrilled, but a small portion of my brain is cursing my big mouth and searching for a cheap flight to Bali. Likely I’m not alone in my cold feet. Especially considering that we will be running out-of-doors in the middle of February. I mean if you’re looking for a reason to bow out, that’s enough right there. Add to that my innate fear of running on hard surfaces, running out-of-doors and repeating my past jogging failures and you’ve got a recipe for one chicken on the lamb. 

But before I pack my bags, I remind myself that joining the running rEVOLUTION isn’t as stress inducing as taking on a mortgage in Indonesia or learning to speak Bahasa. The running rEVOLUTION is just ten meetings filled with advice and encouragement. Ten opportunities to meet and run with women who have similar interests and goals. Ten Tuesdays that could improve my perception of myself and my abilities…permanently. 

When you think of it that way, what’s a little cold weather, fear of the unknown or even physical challenge? So until tomorrow, I’m just going to tune out those negative, self-defeating voices and promise myself I’ll be there. Showing up is usually the hardest part of the battle. It is true what they say about the people who show up being the ones who get what they want. Besides, once there, I’ll be among others whose energy and enthusiasm will overwhelm our trepidation and put us on a path to personal empowerment. Our chosen path will be one of jogging and running, trodden with friends old and new.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s