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To Buy or Not to Buy (Running Shoes in January)

This time of the year is always exciting for runners. Once the calendar turns to January, we can reset the year and aim for new running goals, new race endeavors and a new level of fitness. It’s the equivalent of a blank canvas that we can spend the year decorating. Now is also a time to refresh your quiver of running shoes, too, knowing that the pairs you wore through the fall are probably a little bit beat up and have quite a few miles on them.

Should you be buying new shoes this month? Yes! But it’s not quite that simple.


There is an amazing crop of new shoes coming out this year, including the Nike Alphafly 3 ($275), which was released earlier this month and immediately sold out. (A secondary release is expected to drop on April 4.) The Alphafly 3 was an outlier as the majority of new shoes won’t hit running stores and online sites until after Feb. 1.


If you’re looking for new marathon racing shoes, the New Balance FreshFoam SuperComp Elite 4 ($250) and Puma Fast-R 2 Nitro Elite ($260) (pictured above) are exceptional models that drop on Feb. 1 and Feb. 22, respectively, but several other brands (including Hoka and Tracksmith) will be releasing new marathon supershoes on Feb. 1-2 just before the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Orlando, Florida.


There is also a motherlode of new training shoes that will begin to appear at running shops in February, plus amazing new trail shoes that will arrive between mid-February and early April. So far my favorites are the Adidas Terrex Agravic Speed Ultra ($220), Brooks Catamount Agil ($180), La Sportiva Prodigio ($155) and Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 Matryx  ($210), but there are many more in the pipeline.


We’re in what I have called the Golden Age of Running Shoes. Not only are there a lot of exceptional shoes, but there are also not many bad shoes. I said on the Believe in the Run podcast recently that 20 years ago, maybe half of the running shoes were too heavy or just not optimal for running, but now I’d say that figure is less than 5%. (As always, the key is finding a pair that fits the size and shape of your foot and also matches your gait style.) The best (and highest priced) shoes will get a lot of hype on review sites, but the shoe wall at your local running store has dozens of mid-range (and moderately priced) models that are very worthy new shoes.However, as much as we all crave the latest and greatest models, last year’s shoes were pretty darn good, too! I only mention that because most of those shoes can be purchased at a discount right about now, either at your local running shop or at online sites like RunningWarehouse and FleetFeet or on each brand’s direct-to-consumer site. A quick search this week turned up $40 off the Brooks Glycerin 20, New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v13 and ASICS GEL-Nimbus 25 – all amazing and well-cushioned training shoes – for $120 each. The new versions of each of those shoes that will be released soon are slightly improved, but $40 off last year’s model is a great deal.


There are two things I always suggest when you’re buying new running shoes. First, I would highly recommend visiting your local running specialty shop to go through the try-on process with one of the store’s shoe-fitters. Yes, I’d recommend doing that even if you’re just going to hunt for shoes on the store’s sale table. Finding a pair of shoes that matches the length and shape of your foot – and hopefully your gait, too – is crucially important, and the best way to figure that out is by taking the time to try on several different models and getting the input from a shoe fitter.


There’s nothing wrong with shopping for deals online, but finding a cheap price shouldn’t be the only part of your process. The other valuable aspect of visiting your local running store is that it’s more than just a transactional experience tied to buying shoes. You’re bound to be inspired about running just by walking into the shop, chatting with the staff and connecting with other runners who are also eager to renew their running energy and fitness in the new year.

Secondly, I always recommend runners to develop a quiver of shoes – the idea of having at least two pairs, or maybe even three, in your regular rotation – and expert running gait analysts like Jay Dicharry agree. Why? Because alternating between different shoes during each week allows you to experience slight gait differentiation that contributes to the strength and stability of your feet and lower legs and also can reduce the chance for overuse injuries. Wearing your old pairs of shoes too long – after they’ve broken down considerably – can present challenges, too, so you don’t want to wear them too long, However, if the training shoes you wore last fall and through the first part of winter are still relatively supple and responsive, now could be a good time to pick up a new pair and blend them in your mix.


Another thing I often tell runners is that “happiness is a new pair of running shoes.” I say that because buying a pair of running shoes is a great investment in your health. Not only will a new pair of shoes motivate you to run, but you’re also bound to get several months out of a new pair. And several months of running will almost always boost your running fitness, general health and mental well-being. Ultimately, buying a new pair of shoes is less about buying the shoes and more about where those shoes will take you.

OK, that’s my two cents about buying shoes. I’ll be visiting a local running shop this weekend, too, because, for me, that’s where it all begins.


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