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Four Keys to Finding Your Next Pair of Running Shoes

It’s that time of the year for most runners: time to buy new running shoes! Although most of the spring’s new running shoes hit stores last month, March is the busiest time for running shoe sales, since everyone is busy getting fit for spring and summer races. I’ve said it before, but happiness is a new pair of running shoes, mostly because it’s so much more than a transactional purchase. Every time I get a new pair of shoes, I am inspired to run more. From that point of view, buying a new pair of shoes is a direct investment in your health.

So how do you know which shoes you should buy this year? You can read or watch online reviews, or take a recommendation from your favorite social media influencer. No matter what anyone tells you, there is no “best shoe of the year,” so don’t fall prey to the hype or marketing of a particular shoe. The bottom line is a shoe has to work for you, your feet, your gait, and your budget for it to be great.

A much better way to find your next pair is to head to your local specialty running shop and spend an hour with one of their fit experts, trying on several models to see which ones you like the best. Beyond that, there are four tips you should know before you start shopping.

1. Focus on Fit and Feel

The most important thing you can do is find a pair of running shoes that specifically fit your feet. Sounds simple, right? It is, but everyone’s feet are unique in length, width, volume and shape. What makes it complicated is that every shoe is also unique. The interior shape around which a shoe is designed is entirely different, as are the combination of materials that impact how your feet fit in any specific shoe. It’s also important to realize that the feel of every pair of shoes evolves from the moment you lace them up to the end of your run. Consider how snug the fit is. Do your toes feel cramped? Do your heels feel like they’re slipping when you roll through a stride? Are they too soft or firm? Or are they just right?

Believe it or not, how a shoe feels, specifically how comfortable it is, is one of the key elements that will help you run more efficiently. Before he retired, Dr. Benno Nigg, a leading biomechanics researcher at the University of Calgary, concluded through several studies that comfort should trump unique technological features or fancy gimmicks when it comes to buying running shoes. The only way to know how different shoes fit and feel on your feet is to try on several pairs at your local running store, and do a little bit of running on the sidewalk or a treadmill to see how they feel.

2. Consider What Surfaces You Run On

My weekly running typically includes a few runs on the roads, a few runs on mild dirt trails, a few runs on technical trails, and, if I’m training for a race, often a once-a-week track workout. Could I wear one pair of everyday trainers for each of those types of runs? Perhaps, but I almost always wear shoes specifically geared to those types of terrain. Can you run on the trails with a pair of road shoes? Yes, you can, but it’s not the best scenario. I appreciate the variables of cushioning, energy return, weight and traction of different shoes combine to provide different kinds of interactions with the surface I’m running on, and I know I can run better and more efficiently with the right types of shoes. Bottom line: get the right tool for the job!

3. Consider Your Budget

Running shoes have become a lot more expensive in recent years, with top-tier carbon-plated racing shoes ranging from $200 to nearly $300 a pair and many premium cushioned training shoes approaching $200. But that doesn’t mean you should break the bank on running shoes. While everyday training shoes typically cost $150 to $180, there are a lot of good models that start at $130 and even a few under $120–including the Brooks Launch 10 ($110) or the Skechers GoRun Supersonic Max ($90). What you spend on a pair of running shoes isn’t the only factor you need to consider, but it certainly is a factor for most runners. (Pro tip: you can look for closeout sales on last year’s best models at your local running store.)

4. Start a Quiver

No matter if you’re a new or novice runner, an experienced middle-of-the-packer or an advanced/elite runner, it makes sense to start a quiver of shoes. Trust me, I’m not a secret operative for a running shoe brand trying to force you to buy more shoes. I genuinely believe that every runner benefits from having multiple shoes in their weekly rotation. The reason running form analysts suggest runners have a quiver of at least three shoes is to ensure they experience gait differentiation. In common terms, that means avoiding the daily monotony of a repetitious gait movement within the same shoe can likely lower the risk of some overuse injuries. Leading gait expert Jay Dicharry suggests every runner should have a minimalist shoe, a cushioned everyday trainer, and a light and fast racing shoe in their quiver. It doesn’t mean you need to buy three shoes at once, it just means you need to rotate your shoes so you can get a longer life out of each model. Then, as one pair starts to wear out, it will be time to buy another pair in a few months.


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