Image courtesy of Guido Mieth, Getty Images
The perfect running shoe can make you feel invincible when you’re running that morning mile (or even a half-marathon). But wearing shoes that don’t fit can seriously mess with your stride. Conveniently, they’re pretty much the only thing you need to worry about up-front: “One of the wonderful things about running is its simplicity—no need to reserve fields, find a team, or buy equipment,” says Kate Reese, manager of the specialty running store Brooklyn Running Co., and assistant coach of the women’s cross country and track and field teams at Haverford College. “But the repetitive foot-strike and impact of running can take a toll on the body, especially for those of us that are confined to concrete and asphalt for the majority of our mileage.”
Running is a pretty intuitive and simple form of exercise, but “finding a shoe that will work with your individual biomechanics is a critical component of both injury prevention and overall comfort,” says Reese. She recommends heading to a specialty running store, where an associate can analyze your gait (the way you run) to find the best shoe. Whether you’re an experienced runner or just getting into jogging, there are five things you should know before you invest in a new pair of sneaks.
1. Try on a half-size larger than you normally would to give your toes some space.
Even if your casual sneaks fit just right, when it comes to technical running shoes, they should probably be at a half size larger than casual footwear, explains Reese. Wiggle room is a must! You want to have about a thumb’s width between the tip of your big toe and the front of the shoe to avoid blisters and broken toenails, explains Reese. “Pressure on the toe is never okay,” says Reese. “If the fit is so constrictive that the toes can’t move, you will most likely develop a blister during the course of the run. Any friction will certainly result in a blister that even the most technical sock can’t combat.”
2. Make sure the rest of the shoe isn’t too tight, too.
“The collar [opening] of the shoe should fit snugly around the heel without gripping too tightly,” says Reese. You shouldn’t feel pressure under your foot or constriction along the top of your foot, and “the arch of the shoe should align comfortably with the arch of the foot,” she adds.
3. Consider the support you need.
Speaking of arches, yours will definitely determine the type of shoe that’s best for your foot. “Runners with high, rigid arches typically need a more neutral shoe, with uniform cushion front to back, while those with flatter feet tend to need additional support under the arch,” says Reese. “Most footwear falls within one of these two broad categories, but different models have different amounts and placement of correction. A shoe with too little support can result in excess arch drop, while unnecessary support can push the foot laterally. Over the course of many miles, these slight shifts can contribute to injury.” The best way to make sure your arches are correctly supported is to—you guessed it—ask a store associate to help you out. Here’s a quick primer on how to determine what foot type you have.
4. And know that a lightweight shoe isn’t always better.
Even if those sleek, lightweight bad boys in the window had caught your eye, sometimes less isn’t more. “We need to be realistic about the surfaces on which we run,” says Reese. “Many of our customers love the weightlessness of minimal footwear, but find that these shoes simply don’t provide the support and shock absorption needed for urban running.” Minimal footwear typically means the shoe has less cushioning, a more flexible arch, and a heel that’s lower to the ground than a traditional running shoe, she explains. And while it all depends on the person, Reese recommends transitioning to this type of gradually to give your body time to adjust, if running long-distance in a minimal shoe is your goal.
5. Most importantly, consider comfort first.
At the end of the day, comfort should always come first. “Find a shoe that feels natural, almost like an extension of the foot,” says Reese. Make sure the shoes you choose are comfortable enough that you could run out of the store in them (just don’t forget your bag). If you’re looking for some sneaker inspiration, get started with these SELF favorites.
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