The Beginner's Guide to Comfortable Running Shoes
- Ignore the footwear brand battles
When it comes to what brand is “the best” running shoe, the debate is mostly artificial. winners of competitive racing events have alternated between the two throughout the years. It is reminiscent of the soda wars between Pepsi and Coca-Cola—everyone forgets that plenty of people love RC Cola for their own reasons. In this analogy Puma is probably RC cola.
Nike currently has the greatest marketshare, although Adidas has been gaining an edge over Nike in usage by winning professional athletes and marathon runners. In any article about “what athletes are wearing,” Nike and Adidas are consistently at the tops of the list, usually multiple times with different shoe styles of the same brand. Nike and Adidas have always been competing heavily with each other. If you are an athlete, or just like to have good footwear, you are probably on one of these sides, and not the other. The truth is, it is likely that the reason you or your brand-conscious friends are on “Team Nike” or “Team Adidas” isn’t because of the performance, or the comfort, but because of the branding, marketing, and what professional athletes are wearing. Before listening to the guy that tells you “Nikes are just better, buy those,” know what you are looking for, and what your needs are in a pair of running shoes.
Although Nike and Adidas are solid, established brands professional athletes alternatively trust and are paid to use, you don’t need a name-brand running shoe to be able to pound out your daily 5k run. A pair of New Balance, if they fit right and have good traction, is almost certainly perfectly fine. There are many other important things to consider when shopping for a running shoe.
- Try on your shoe at running speeds.
Specialty running shoe stores are becoming increasingly popular, and it’s not because of their low-cost options (on the contrary). It’s because these types of stores employ actual runners, coaches, and fitness experts who will not only help size your foot old-timey style, but they will suggest styles for your feet, and actually watch you while you run to make sure the shoe isn’t moving awkwardly or negatively affecting your gait.
This may not be a premium you want factored into your shoe cost, understandably. I myself have purchased both Adidas and Nike running shoes online, and I am always worried why exactly I’m able to find such a good deal when I do—is it just because they’re ugly neon colors that didn’t sell? Or are these sub-optimal shoes? You want to get a good deal on your running shoe, but you don’t want to end up being stuck with footwear that is going to make you miserable just to save a few bucks.
Most stores have pretty lenient return policies, Amazon in particular. It is important not to give into sunk costs mentality and spend months with a running shoe that is too tight, too loose, or that literally just rubs you the wrong way. First thing when you get your running shoe in the mail (or you try it out in the store), don’t just make sure it is comfortable to walk around inm make sure you can comfortably run in it. If after resizing and tightening the laces, if your shoes aren’t getting the job done at full stride, DON’T BUY THEM. It doesn’t matter if they feel comfortable standing in place—running shoes are for, well, running! If you ordered them online, return them ASAP before you get grass or dirt stains on them.
- Replace your shoes when the traction wears
In the above image, you can tell these shoes have clearly seen a few runs, but the traction is clearly defined and able to still grip the asphalt. You only need to worry when the grooves between the treads in your shoes become less distinguishable, similar to tire treads. Whereas the above image is perfectly acceptable, this is an example of a shoe you should not be running in.
I once pointed out the horribly worn traction on the shoes of a running buddy of mine. “But I’ve only had these for three months,” he told me. While they were still looking pretty, his running shoes were woefully inadequate for the miles-long runs we were doing every other day. Sure compared to his other shoes, they have been his newest, and they didn’t even look that beat up. But I told him to feel the bottom of his feet I had seen while we were stretching. “Feels fine to me,” he said. I laughed and told him that his soles were completely smooth. Even the flat-footed converse soles have a tiny bit of traction. A flat-bottomed shoe is not a good running shoe!
My friend didn’t realize that he may have only had his shoes for a few months, but in that span, those same shoes had seen probably a hundred miles of activity, compared to his loafers which probably only averaged the length from his front door to his car and from his car to his office chair.
My friend’s shoes had essentially zero traction. Every stride was less efficient; every contact with the ground more stressful on his arch, ankles, shins, and knees. Running is already a pain sometimes; don’t make it harder on yourself! As soon as you notice your running shoes’ traction starting to wear significantly, it is time for a new pair. You wouldn’t drive your car on tires with virtually no treads—treat your feet with the same respect!
- Safety first, gimmicks second
You may have seen a blog about the benefits of running literally barefoot, or maybe you find those Vibram “finger-toe” or “barefoot” style shoes all-too compelling. While there are success stories from individuals who tout this method of running, it is important to remember that for your average runner in your average city, these types of barefoot-style footwear are not only sub-optimal for traditional running styles, they are actually quite dangerous. A proper running shoe prevents your average stumble from breaking a toe. A proper running shoe will also not make the average rock in your path send shooting pains up your leg if you step on it wrong.
- Get the right size shoe
Wikihow has a great guide on how to measure your shoe size properly at home. Most of us know our shoe size and always get the same size without thinking. The temptation for new runners is to get a shoe that is snug as a bug and doesn’t slip at all. It’s true you don’t want a shoe that will slip off your fee, you do want a bit of extra space. A tight fit in a running shoe is a bad fit.
Wiggle room is important, and you want at least a thumbnail’s worth of extra space when trying them on. If your big toe is flush against the tip of your shoe, they are way too tight. Don’t be fooled into thinking shoes should be perfectly snug. This is bad for your feet because when you run, your feet swell, and you need a little bit of extra space to accommodate this physiological fact.
- Consider your running environment
To many runners, the best running shoe is one that can perform in most environments. I like a general running shoe that I can take on a trail, on asphalt, on grass, or gravel. Some shoes are designed and marketed for specific purposes, though.
If you live in a particularly hot area and run mostly on tracks or smooth-surface trails, a thin, “breathable” style shoe could be perfect for your running style. If your runs occasionally have you stomping through a puddle or bearing through uneven surfaces, you may want to make sure you have a hardier shoe.
By Andrew Hendricks