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More Training Info > Running Shoes

Choosing Running Shoes

Q: Can you provide some advice on choosing proper running shoes?

A: It used to be that one athletic shoe could be worn for just about every sporting activity. Now, we have specialized shoes for tennis, soccer, aerobics, walking, running, cross-training, mountaineering, rock climbing--you name it. When it comes to jarring impact activities such as running, it's crucial to have the right type of shoe in order to prevent ankle, knee, hip, and lower back problems Below are a few general tips on selecting running shoes.

First take a look at your foot size, shape, and running or walking mechanics.

Foot size
You probably already know your shoe size. If you're not exactly sure, or if one foot is larger than the other, it's best to have your feet measured at the shoe store.

Foot shape

Next you need to know the shape of your foot. Do you have high arches? Are you flat-footed? Do you have a "normal" shape foot? Take a walk barefoot on the beach, or just look at the imprint your foot leaves on the bathmat. The width of your footprint suggests the shape of your arch and the way your foot moves as you walk or run. The wider and straighter the footprint, the lower your arch is. A very narrow, curved footprint (or one in which the ball and heel are not even connected) suggests a high arch. Between these two is that so-called "normal" foot which seldom exists!

Running mechanics

Foot shape is closely related to its movement as you walk or run. Typically, as your foot strikes the ground heel first, it rolls slightly inward, flattening the arch to cushion the force. This inward movement is called pronation. Next, your foot rolls slightly to the outside, stiffening up and creating a springboard that propels the next step. The outward motion is known as supination.

Runners who pronate (or roll inward) may need extra support for their flat feet ("fallen arches."). Runners who supinate run on the outside edges of their feet, which in turn don't absorb much shock as they land. This is frequently the result of inflexible feet and high arches. The preferred shoe for this type of runner offers plenty of cushioning and flexibility. But how do you determine what sideways motion your foot makes? The answer is probably in your closet.

If you own a pair of "experienced" running shoes, check the wear pattern on the soles to see whether you over- or under-pronate or if your foot motion is normal. If the wear is centralized to the ball of the foot and a small portion of the heel, you have a normal amount of foot movement. Over-pronation is identified by wear patterns along the inside edges, while under-pronation is marked by wear along the outer edges.

Visit any reputable athletic shoe shop (such as Super Jock 'n' Jill near Greenlake in Seattle); most will have trained staff members who can help you choose the shoe that will be right for you. Be sure to let them know what you are training for (a marathon? 40 miles a week? 10 miles a week?) and which shoes have worked well for you in the past (if you know). Bring (or wear) one of your comfortable pairs of sneakers so they can look at the bottoms for wear patterns. Take any orthotics or inserts that you usually wear for fitting purposes. Wait to buy shoes until later in the day, to avoid purchasing shoes that are too snug. Bring a pair of socks just like those you'd wear for running. Also make sure you try the shoes on both feet and give them a test-spin jog up and down the length of the store. Finally, most stores will allow you to bring the shoes back, for exchange, if you are not totally satisfied. Make sure you keep the receipt.


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