9 Big Dumb Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Running Shoes

Running ShoesImage via Josiah Mackenzie on Flickr. (Creative Commons)

Blisters, black toenails, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, IT band pain, straight-up discomfort — if going for a run causes symptoms like these, shoddy shoes might be to blame. According to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, during a 10-mile run, your tender tootsies endure about 15,000 strikes at three to four times your body weight. That’s a lot of impact for those 26 bones, 33 joints, and 112 ligaments to handle, so you don’t want to go jamming your paws into just any ole foot holder. But how do you find the right shoe on that giant wall of options? We turned to Karen Kaye, director of communications and community relations for Atlanta-based Big Peach Running Co., for answers.

It’s new running shoe day! You’ve got some money in your wallet and some good-lookin’ footwear on your mind. What could go wrong? Plenty. Here are nine big mistakes you could make during your shopping sojourn. Take heed:

Unicorn Shoes

Unicorn image via Christian Heilmann. Shoes via torbakhopper. (Creative Commons)

Don’t choose a shoe based color. Put function before fashion. If you select your new running gear based solely on the fact that they look like a whimsical and delightful unicorn puked on them,there’s a reasonable chance you’re going to wind up feeling just as sick as your imaginary unicorn pal. Find the right shoe then choose from one of the colors available (you’ll have more than one option in most cases), rather than vice versa.

Don’t choose a shoe because of its brand. Keep an open mind. Kaye says, “People ask all the time, ‘What’s the best shoe in the store?’ The best shoe is the one that feels the best to you. That sounds like a load of you-know-what, but it’s the honest truth. Because we are all built differently. Not everybody has feet like you, or you may have a back issue that somebody else who has feet like you does not.

Don’t choose a shoe that’s not designed for what you’re doing. Are you gonna play basketball? Then step away from the running shoes. Training for a marathon? Put that walking shoe down! Wrestling crocodiles? Stop it. “Running shoes and walking shoes are meant for forward motion,” explains Kaye. “They don’t have a lot of support for sharp lateral movement, so if you’re going to be playing some court sports or doing some pretty wicked aerobic classes that have a lot of lateral movement, you’re gonna kind of blow out the sides. You’re not gonna have enough support. With that said, if you are a fitness walker, a speed walker, a power walker, or one of those people who does Olympic-style race walking, you need a running shoe. Walkers actually do best in running shoes. They’re lighter, they’re more flexible, they breathe, and most walking shoes do not [take pronation into account], so if you’re walking for fitness and not just kind of strolling around in the mall, you want a running shoe.”

iStepDon’t choose a shoe that’s the same size you normally wear. If this is your first time getting fitted for running shoes, you have to assume you have no idea what size you are. Your runners may be up to one and a half sizes larger than your dress shoes. Don’t get distracted by the number on the box. Sometimes, admits Kaye, Big Peach’s fitting experts just hide the box and hand you the shoes. Put ’em on, see how they feel, and take them for a test drive. She explains that you want a thumb’s width between the end of the shoe and the end of your longest toe (which may or may not be your big toe). “If your feet are too close to the end of the shoe, you’re going to bruise or lose toenails. We don’t like that. That leads to runner’s toe — or black toe is another name for it — it’s painful, it’s ugly, and it’s unnecessary.”

FitProciPad2Don’t choose a shoe without getting fitted. Sure, sure, you can tell if a shoe fits onto your foot or not, but a trained expert will be able to help you find one that works with your biomechanics and foot characteristics. There are all manner of fancy video gait analyses that can reveal pronation tendencies (look for a post on pronation next week); digital foot images that can help determine your arch type, foot width, and weight distribution; and of course, the trained eyes of a running specialist who can wrap their mind around all of that and determine which shoe fits your needs as well as your foot.

And because getting fitted is so important, don’t choose a shoe at a big-box or warehouse store. When’s the last time you went to Costco or Sam’s Club and had someone in the shoe department ask you about your running habits, your injuries, and your goals? How about “never”? Get your bulk fruit there, not your athletic gear. Oh, and bulk toilet paper. That’s a good idea too.

Don’t choose a shoe based on a cheap price. In fact, a price that is too low is a red flag (in much the same way that a hotel that advertises “$29.99 a night!” should probably cause some concern). Kaye says, “If the suggested retail price of a shoe, when it’s not on sale, is somewhere in that $50 to $60 price range, it is not a technically well-made running shoe. Use it for running around, but do NOT use it for your fitness walking or your running. Unfortunately, you’re gonna spend over $100 for a good running shoe, most of the shoes are $115-$120 on average.”

Taped Shoes

Image via Kristin Brenemen. (Creative Commons)

Don’t choose a shoe then wear it until the soles fall off. Yeah, you dropped a pretty penny on them — like $115 worth of pretty pennies, in fact — but putting a bazillion miles on your shoes is a terrible idea. “Running shoes should not celebrate an anniversary,” says Kaye. “If you wait for the outsole to look worn out, there’s a good chance you waited too long. What happens is, the midsole — the stuff you can’t see, the stuff that protects you from the elements — starts to break down and the shoe’s just not rebounding back. For a regular trainer, you’re going to replace them at around 300-500 miles. Most people get right around 400. But from a lighter weight trainer, a more minimal shoe, you’re going to maybe get 200 miles. For those true minimalist shoes, it’s basically when it falls apart because there’s really no midsole in there. On the average it’s six months. And it’s like, “Oh my god, I spend $120 or $130 every six months?’ Yeah, but that’s a whole lot cheaper than the orthopedics office.”

Don’t choose a shoe because a friend told you it was the best. “If a friend tells you that they run in XYZ shoe and it’s the best shoe ever and that’s what you should get, nod your head and smile and say thank you then ignore them and go get fitted,” says Kaye. “We’re not all built the same. If we were, there’d be one pair of running shoes in the world.” Wouldn’t that be easier?